Our Favorite Beers of 2017
Year in Review
2017 was a transformative year for craft beer in Houston.
- We saw the rise of the NEIPA (thanks in large part to Larry’s “Who will be Houston’s Tree House or Trillium?” essay) with 8th Wonder, 11 Below, B-52, Baa Baa, Copperhead, No Label, Spindletap, Texian, Whole Foods Market, and others trying their hand at the style.
- Saint Arnold celebrated their 23rd anniversary and 5 local breweries made their own versions of classic Saint Arnold beers.
- We saw Texian and 160ft Beerworks close up shop. Texian plans to return.
- Baileson, Bearded Fox, Great Heights, Texas Leaguer, Vallensons’, and Wicked Boxer opened their doors to the public.
- Both Buffalo Bayou and Saint Arnold are (still) offering Free Beer For Life.
- Chris complained about the lack of on-demand craft beer delivery, and HopDrop delivered in response.
- And in the wake of Hurricane Harvey our city came together, reached out to one another, and got to work helping each other recover. Just about every brewery stepped up in a variety of ways. 8th Wonder used their high clearance vehicles for water rescues. Eureka Heights, Saloon Door, and countless others became donation centers. Saint Arnold spearheaded #ReliefBeers, and breweries from around the country donated $1 per beer sold to the Houston Food Bank, raising $35,000. Spindletap became a local distribution center, even attracting the superstar of Harvey relief – JJ Watt – into the tap room to sort and load supplies on to trucks. Hurricane Harvey will be a rallying point for our community for years to come.
Our Favorite Beers
We like to wrap the year up by sharing our the best local and non-local beer we had in the last year. It’s not an original idea, but it’s fun. We’d love to hear your picks as well!
Eureka Heights ‘Mini Boss’ – To think, there was a time I didn’t think much of Eureka Heights’ beers. Dumb names, I said. Boring styles, I said. I was wrong, and Mini Boss represents everything I was wrong about. This beer explodes with citrus, finishes with a balanced bitterness and is enjoyable all the way through. Eureka took the megatrend of 2017 – hopping late with Mosaic and other big flavorful hops (in this case Citra) and hit it out of the park. It’s become a beer I seek whenever a new batch is released.
Listermann Brewing Company ‘Tricky’ (Cincinnati, OH) – I love all of Listermann’s series of NE-style IPAs with old school rap names, but I think Tricky has become the single example by which I have come to judge all comers in this style. Blending the aromatic elements of Mosaic with the pineapple/tropical flavors of Galaxy, it brings hop flavor and aroma from first pop of the 16 oz can and has very little perceptible bitterness – just a soft, clean, juicy finish. Listermann has a special place in my heart because 2017 was also the year I established a beer trading partner in the Cincinnati area (THANKS SAM), and so have been fortunate enough to get my hands on these delicious goodies.
Honorable mention: Galveston Island Brewing DIPA #7, MIA Brewing MEGA MIX Pale Ale, Urban Artifact Gaslight, Societe The Swindler, Odell Rupture Pale Ale, Grand Teton Brewing Teton Range IPA
Saint Arnold Brewing ‘Icon Red Märzen’ – I am always excited to try a modern take on a classic style. And while there are many misses in the world of beer, Saint Arnold Brewing has proven more than capable in the handling of such styles. So as I expressed in my review of Icon Red Märzen, I was more than pleased with the results. A great representation of the style, and one that I hope will return with their regular fall lineup every year.
The Answer Brewpub ‘I Like Turtles’ (Richmond, VA) – Maybe it’s just me, but rarely do collaborations work out as well as I hope or expect. Two great breweries combining must always produce great outcomes, right? But sadly, seldom do such high expectations equal results. I Like Turtles is an extraordinary gem that greatly exceeds such desires. This collaboration between The Answer Brewpub and Bottle Logic Brewing is a delightful stout with caramel and southern pecan coffee and toasted coconut. This beer sets a deliciously high standard I hope more collaborations can meet.
Eureka Heights ‘Mini Boss’ – In short: liquid gold. I should not be surprised how good Mini Boss is given the strength of Eureka Heights’s output so far, but I was struck by its deliciousness at first sip. A grapefruit nose gave way to crisp, clean citrus and tropical flavors dancing on my tongue. At 6.8% ABV I am glad I don’t have to worry much about crushing too many of this double dry-hopped wonder, but it’s still dangerously drinkable.
Great Notion ‘Double Stack’ (Portland, OR) – I confess I had never heard of Great Notion Brewing before a friend mentioned it, which is actually a bit of a surprise since I visit Portland, Oregon and the surrounding area every other year. But with 70 breweries in Portland proper alone, it’s not hard to miss one. Now I know where I am going next time as soon as my plane hits the tarmac! Double Stack is a decadent treat. An imperial breakfast stout brewed with Portland’s Clutch coffee and Vermont maple syrup, Great Notion nails the flavor: the brew makes me feel as if I have been transported back to childhood and stuffed myself with stacks of syrup-doused pancakes.
B-52 ‘A Tart Frenchie – Peach & Apricot’ – Admittedly, I didn’t get to try as many new Houston beers this year as I’d like, but most of the ones I did try in my few trips back home or from boxes sent to me were very good. I think that my favorite was probably B-52’s “A Tart Frenchie – Peach & Apricot,” which was lightly tart, very well-balanced, and extremely refreshing, without hiding any of the delightful fruit flavor. It reminded me a little of some of the beers I’ve had from California’s Good Beer Co, which are absurdly delightful for many of the same reasons. It’s clear from this beer and others that I’ve now had from the growing Conroe brewery that B-52 is a force to be reckoned with, having already earned my vote for Houston’s second best brewery, rising with a bullet.
Cantillon ‘Nath’ (Brussels, Belgium) – December 1st, 2012, I was sitting at the Avenue Pub awaiting my taste of that year’s “Zwanze,” a special beer created by the Brussels brewery once a year. That year, it was a lambic with rhubarb added, and I recall not getting a lot of rhubarb flavor but still immensely enjoying it. Fast forward to August 26 of this year, and I’m sitting at Cantillon, trying my first bottle of Nath, the newest rhubarb lambic. This time, there’s a lot more rhubarb, with a fantastic balance, an incredible aroma, and an amazing lambic “canvas.” I was fortunate enough to try Nath one more time this year, on tap a month later (again at Avenue Pub for Zwanze day), and found the rhubarb slightly more muted, serving as a bridge to that memory from five years ago. And of course, it doesn’t hurt that it has such a great name…
Jose Luis Cubria
Eureka Heights ‘Mini-Boss’ – My favorite Houston IPA, and the beer that made me forget about Yellow Rose’s quality-control issues. It’s deliciously fruity, and the tropical/citrus notes hit you the moment you start pouring. It’s scary how quickly a crowler of this can disappear. (Honorable mention: the various barrel treatments of Saint Arnold DR17.)
Boon Geuze ‘Mariage Parfait’ (Halle, Belgium) – On the short-list for my desert-island beer, and an insta-buy every time I see it. The fact that this is now a Houston shelf beer blows my mind. For my tastes, it’s a perfect gueuze, and a perfect beer.
Whole Foods Market Brewing NEIPAs – Ok, I realize this isn’t one beer, it’s a bunch of them, but Whole Foods is crushing the NEIPA game in Houston. If you had to nail me down to a specific one, it’d probably be Earn It, but Hop Explorer, NEAF IPA, and the weekly limited Wednesday fruit/shake releases have almost all been on point and delicious. The only problem with them is having to go near the Galleria to pick them up, but it’s well worth it for a fresh crowler.
Funky Buddha ‘Last Buffalo in the Park’ – This beer has been around a couple of years now (previously named Snowed In), but I finally got my first taste this year and it absolutely blew me away. I’m a fan boy of most things Funky Buddha for that matter. Where many breweries fail with trying to make a beer taste like something specific, they execute. From the pie crust you get in Lemon Merinque Pie to the marshmallow you get in Sticky Treats, nothing comes across as fake or off their target. Last Buffalo in the Park stands out the most, a liquid version of a mounds bar with the right amount of bourbon barrel coming through. If you like your mounds bar without the bourbon, find a Last Snow, the non-BBA version of the beer that’s almost as delicious. It’s worth the hunt.
11 Below ‘Big Mistake’ Barrel Variants – My notes for these beers are in some box packed hastily while gathering what could be salvaged post-Harvey, so I’ll keep it brief. This year’s Big Mistake was aged in a blend of Bourbon and Rye Whiskey barrels from Yellow Rose distillery. I was shocked at how much of a difference there was between the flavors from the two different barrels, and how great Rye Whiskey and Russian Imperial Stout are when combined.
Frederiskdal Kirsebaervin Cherry Wine (Harpelunde, Denmark) – My wife and I traveled to the Shelton Brother’s Festival in Atlanta this year. Choosing a favorite non-local beer is next to impossible. This wine is made with a special variety of Danish cherries, and is most similar to a nice port – sweet, but surprisingly balanced. It’s distributed locally by Flood and pops up around town on occasion. And it’s almost as good as the Cheer Wine soda I re-discovered on our Atlanta trip.
Anything NEIPA – So a year ago I was griping to anyone who would listen about my frustration about the fact that no one in Houston was brewing New England-Style IPAs, forcing me to have to regularly import boxes of Trillium, Tree House and Other Half to satisfy my needs. You may have even read an essay about it. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect what would happen in the aftermath of writing that piece — including being asked to collaborate with SpindleTap on what would end up being one of my favorite beers of the year, and among the best New England-Style Double India Pale Ales brewed in Houston to date, the aptly-monikered Juiceton — and the fact that I’m typing up a favorite local beer of the year entry that includes mentions of multiple beers brewed in Houston is a huge testament to how far the local scene has come in a very short amount of time with regards to producing NEIPAs on par with some of the best in the country. Props are due to B-52, Copperhead, Whole Foods and No Label for all releasing bangin’ beers that represented the style well this year. But for my palate, the local NEIPA leaders are SpindleTap and Baa Baa Brewhouse. Beginning this summer Baa Baa kicked off a damn impressive run of new, delicious canned NEIPA after NEIPA in what at times felt like a near-weekly basis. The one that I enjoyed the most was In a Galaxy Far, Far Away, one of the purest expressions of Galaxy hops I consumed all year. As for SpindleTap, they were along the first to kick off the canned NEIPA revolution, and cemented their status early on with the outstanding Houston Haze, a beer that somehow continues to get even better. The aforementioned Juiceton is my top local DIPA of the year, and I’d say the same even if I wasn’t involved with it. But if I had to pick just one for favorite local beer of the year, I’d go with SpindleTap & Parish’s flawless collab, Operation Juice Drop, which delivered everything I want in the style and then some. Preposterous hop flavor on a silky smooth ultra-creamy canvas along with the multiple-waves-of-flavor complexity of the very best beers in the style made for one of the most memorable drinking experiences I had all year. I knew OJD was a special beer when I followed a can of it with Trillium’s Double Dry-Hopped Congress Street — a top 3 all-time beer for me — and found DDH Congress’ flavors to be muted(!) in the aftermath of the full-on hop warfare of OJD. For the completists out there, here’s a link to the complete list of my top beers of 2017.