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Craft Beer Experts Reach Back To Reflect On The Best Brews Of 2021

We may be a month and a half into 2022, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still take a look back at the beer year that was. If you’re anything like us, you likely tried your fair share of West Coast IPAs, fruited sours, barrel-aged porters, milkshake IPAs, pale ales, lagers, and unique, experimental beers in 2021. Hopefully, you found some absolute gems. Maybe some of them have cracked your 2022 rotation and set your year off on the right foot.

Brewers are no different. Even though they spend their days creating interesting and delicious beer recipes and then actually brewing them for their thirsty fans, they take time to sample beers from their fellow brewers and remember the best of the best. Like many of us, they sampled a ton of beers in 2021 and made notes on their favorites. That’s why we asked a handful of well-known craft beer experts, brewers, and brewing professionals to tell us their favorite beers of the year gone by.

Keep reading to see all of their picks. Many of these are annual releases, so if you missed them last year you can look out for the 2022 drops!

Pizza Port Permanent Vacay

Pizza Port Permanent Vacay
Pizza Port

Teddy Gowan, director of brewery operations at Societe Brewing Company in San Diego

ABV: 5%

Average Price: $16 for six-pack

Why This Beer?

Nobody does West Coast IPAs better and this one is just perfect. The subtle tropical hop character is balanced with the malt profile. I drank a few of them.

Bell’s Two Hearted Ale

Bell’s Two Hearted Ale
Bell

Brian Jaszewski, director of product management at Sprecher Brewing Co. in Glendale, Wisconsin

ABV: 7%

Average Price: $8 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans

Why This Beer?

You can’t go wrong with a classic interpretation of the style every time, and this beer has pretty much defined the style for almost 20 years. The Centennial hops make it such a great experience. Draft, cans, or bottles, this one never disappoints.

Faction Stratasbeer

Faction Stratasbeer
Faction

Jeremy Marshall, brewmaster at Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, California

ABV: 6.9%

Average Price: Limited Availability

Why This Beer?

I already can’t remember 2021 because I’m so giddy about 2022, but Faction Brewing in Alameda makes this beer called Stratasbeer that is super delicious. It’s not a hazy, but it manages to pull off those juicy, tropical fruit, and orchard grove characteristics that hazies have. It’s a marvelous yet restrained use of the Strata hop, bursting with hints of fresh strawberries, slight hamster cage, and fresh rain in the desert.

Kraemer and Kin Blonde Ale

Kraemer and Kin Blonde Ale
Kraemer and Kin

Dan Lipke, head brewer at Clown Shoes Beer in Boston

ABV: 5%

Average Price: Limited Availability

Why This Beer?

You don’t see too many blonde ales these days which is too bad because when they are good like this one, they can really hit the spot. Simple yet elegant, the slightly toasty malt balances perfectly with the light hopping. It’s slightly fuller-bodied than a standard blonde ale, making it a bit more satisfying.

The Alchemist Luscious

The Alchemist Luscious
The Alchemist

Rob Day, senior director of marketing at Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers in Framingham, Massachusetts

ABV: 9.2%

Average Price: Limited Availability

Why This Beer?

The Alchemist Luscious is my pick. I hadn’t had this before, and it caught me immediately. The flavors of dark chocolate and cherry that they pull from the malt is purely expert.

Half Acre Burl

Half Acre Burl
Half Acre

Garth E. Beyer, certified Cicerone® and owner and founder of Garth’s Brew Bar in Madison, Wisconsin

ABV: 8.5%

Average Price: $19 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans

Why This Beer?

Burl by Half Acre was a standout beer in 2021 for me. You could taste a magical blend of fruity (mango, peach) notes from both the yeast and hops they used. They balanced the rustic barley sweetness expertly with the dry bitterness of the hops.

This was one of those IPAs I cracked open and could smell even before I poured it in the glass, an evident sign of a heavy dose of dry-hopping.

Liberation Cautiously Optimistic

Liberation Cautiously Optimistic
Liberation

Jamie Boalbey, director of beverage and operations at Pitfire Pizza in Los Angeles

ABV: 5.2%

Average Price: Limited Availability

Why This Beer?

It’s hard to narrow this down to just one, but I really enjoyed Liberation Brewing’s Spelt Saison called Cautiously Optimistic which is also how I felt about 2021 in general. This beer is so fun to drink with rich beautiful notes of cardamom and orange blossom and a very dry finish that makes you keep coming back. I love this beer with all things cheesy.

Melvin Sour Soul Series Volume II

Melvin Sour Soul Series Volume II
Melvin

Jeremy Ragonese, president of Uinta Brewing in Salt Lake City, Utah

ABV: 4%

Average Price: $7 for a 16-ounce can

Why This Beer?

I encountered and enjoyed several beers in 2021 that were both impressive and noteworthy. It’s difficult to pick just one. I found Melvin’s Sour Soul Series Volume II to be an unexpected gem of a beer. It’s not something I would typically pick up from them, a four percent fruited sour. It lived up to its billing of tart and fruity, but not over-the-top.

It’s refreshing and aromatic, with flavors of juicy plum, stone fruit, and just a bit of spice.

Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome

Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome
Samuel Smith

John Swanson, brewing supervisor at New Belgium Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina

ABV: 6%

Average Price: $5 for a 550ml bottle

Why This Beer?

Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome is my choice. I hadn’t picked it up in years and was graciously reminded by a fellow brewer that this year was spot on. He was right. I think it was a mix of nostalgia, holiday cheer, and, of course, the crisp yet full body stacked with toasted malts and English hops.

Von Trapp Radler

Von Trapp Radler
Von Trapp

Mike Kelly, senior brewer at Harpoon Brewery in Boston

ABV: 3.9%

Average Price: $10 for a six-pack

Why This Beer?

One beer I really enjoyed over the summer was Von Trapp’s Radler out of Stowe, Vermont. I first tried this beer after a long hike, and it hit the spot. Incredibly refreshing, light, and packed with real grapefruit flavor without all the sweetness, this beer was a crusher all summer.

Zillicoah Citrine Dream

Zillicoah Citrine Dream
Zillicoah

Brian Bergman, brewing director at Sycamore Brewing in Charlotte, North Carolina

ABV: 6.4%

Average Price: Limited Availability

Why This Beer?

Citrine Dream from Zillicoah is my pick. I really enjoyed the interplay of American hops and tropical esters from the use of various brettanomyces strains in this beer. Tropical, fruity, floral, and very dry, which I prefer, every sip has a new flavor present itself, yet it’s approachable enough to come back for another sip.

Wayfinder Relapse Cold IPA

Wayfinder Relapse Cold IPA
Wayfinder

Adam Beauchamp, COO and co-founder at Creature Comforts Brewing Co. in Athens, Georgia

ABV: 7%

Average Price: $16 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans

Why This Beer?

Wayfinder from Portland, Oregon, has created a brand new beer style in Cold IPA that has the potential to transform the American IPA landscape. Their version is piney and bitter but very, very drinkable. It is an instant classic, in my opinion.

Fair State Double Doinks

Fair State Double Doinks
Fair State

Jon Eager, research and development brewer at Indeed Brewing Company in Minneapolis

ABV: 7.9%

Average Price: Limited Availability

Why This Beer?

Double Doinks by Fair State is my best of 2021. It’s so incredibly Columbus hop heavy it’s almost too much to handle. I burped that hop for hours after a single pint. It amused me.

Barrier Money IPA

Barrier Money IPA
Barrier

Lee Ann Hahne, general manager at FlyteCo Brewing in Denver

ABV: 7.3%

Average Price: $20 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans

Why This Beer?

The best beer I drank in 2021 was the Money IPA from Barrier Brewing, located in Oceanside, New York. It is a taste of home and classically bitter with citrus and a dry finish. It’s hard to beat that kind of flavor.

Zebulon Original IPA

Zebulon Original IPA
Zebulon

Michael Palmer, lead innovation pilot brewer at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, California

ABV: 7.5%

Average Price: Limited Availability

Why This Beer?

One beer that stands out is the Zebulon Original IPA. A refreshing and historically accurate take on the IPA style; brewed to be extremely bitter and stored in neutral oak barrels to mimic the travel from England to India. When aged, the bitterness settles down to really open the funk from the brettanomyces. Dry hops provide some jammy and herbaceous notes.

It’s reminiscent of my favorite beer, Orval.

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