In 2020, while I didn’t get to a lot of bars to sample the brews, I had some great luck with curbside pickups and even shipped beers. All of this, of course, was for work, in the name of research.
These are the best of my “sacrifices” for the year.
From Maine With Love
Allagash Brewery, thankfully, makes it to my neck of the woods (Wisconsin), so I can get some of their beers from time to time. I enjoyed their Belgian-style influence on a couple of their Little Grove low-cal beers: a blackcurrant and a peach/kombucha blend.
But their fall seasonal Haunted House stole the show. Dark with a great roasted taste, it also wasn’t shy with its hops profile. I hope to find it again next fall to join the usual seasonal suspects.
After years of great success at Fitger’s Brewpub in Duluth, Minnesota, founder Tim Nelson crossed the bridge to Superior, Wisconsin, and brought together an impressive team of brewers at Earth Rider Brewery—Superior’s first production brewery since Northern Brewing closed in 1967.
They brew a fantastic, award-winning coffee pale ale, and they won a silver medal for North Tower, an oatmeal stout, at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in 2020. It’s smooth with hints of chocolate and coffee, but without too much hop bitterness, and a six-pack kept me company at a lakeside campfire back in October.
Indie Brewing in Indy
I had some great beer from Indianapolis. I’ve already talked up Sun King’s superb barrel-aged doppelbock, Afternoon Delight, and made some friends while sharing a sixer of Electric Reindeer, a creative brown ale with ginger and molasses.
A short drive away, however, is the Indy location of Taxman Brewing Co. Founded just south of the city in Bargersville, Indiana, the brewery aims at Belgian styles and serves great food to go with it.
One of my favorites is their winter seasonal, Tax Holiday, a Belgian strong ale brewed with “chocolate” rye—a type of roasted malt—and hops that impart fruit and oak flavors. Full-bodied and red, the beer leans on its maltiness, but don’t drink it too fast—it’s 10 percent ABV.
Founders and Giants
Earlier this year, with socially distant friends, I presented a series of Scotch ales in a sort of taste-off. There were no losers, but Founders Brewing Co.’s Dirty Bastard managed to take the lead as the finest of the bunch: malty but not too sweet, medium-bodied, and with the tiniest hint of smoke.
Giant Jones Brewing in Madison, Wisconsin, didn’t stand in that lineup, but should have. They make another tremendous Scotch ale, and in keeping with the certified-organic brewery’s commitment to “big” beers, it goes up over 10 percent ABV.
Sour FTW (For the Wine)
New Glarus typically releases a special sour beer or three each year. Cran-bic, a cranberry lambic, bore the 2020 label, and I went back to the store two more times before it disappeared from the shelves. On occasions where I might consider wine, I often swapped this in. And those cranberries are good for my kidneys, right? Well, they taste great at least.
Lindemans of Belgium, long a legend in fruited lambic beers, added Peche to their line-up in the 1980s. I’d normally skip anything peach-flavored, and perhaps I was avoiding it here, but I have to admit: this really worked. Sparkling and crisp, it is a bit on the sweet side and won’t leave you puckering like some lambics.
One of the great things about craft beer is how widespread it is and how even the smallest community is likely to have a brewery. Sometimes two! Such is the case in Decorah, Iowa. For years I’ve been drinking Toppling Goliath’s tremendous brews: Pseudo Sue, a cloudy and delicious Citra-hopped pale ale, put them on the map, and Mornin’ Delight, an imperial stout with espresso and maple syrup, proved they were more than just another hop-centric brewery.
However, it’s a seasonal I call my favorite: the Naughty 90, an oaked ale. It doesn’t get out in cans, so I need to track it down regionally on draft or tap a buddy to pick up a growler of it when he drops his daughter off at Luther College there.
And my beer buddy never returns without a few crowlers from the other Decorah brewer: Pulpit Rock. Winter Break Blend Pour-Over Porter was one of them, a robust porter with a strong dose of coffee. Another was Safting, a hazy IPA with hints of tropical fruits.
Iowa road trip in 2021.
Kevin Revolinski is an avid traveler and the author of 15 books, including “The Yogurt Man Cometh: Tales of an American Teacher in Turkey,” and several outdoor and brewery guidebooks. He is based in Madison, Wis., and his website is TheMadTraveler.com