The fourth annual roundup keeps up the trend from the 2019 12-pack, while I’ll still have beers with very high untappd ratings, this post features “Favorite” beers of the 328 unique beers I checked into untappd in 2020. What does that mean? Well, there were beers I consumed in 2020 which I awarded a high 4.75 rating, but I may be including a 4.25/5 beer that I enjoyed more. Put it another way, there were some highly rated (4.5) beers I enjoyed in 2020 that in one beer I could recognize the quality, but one was enough , while some beers I may have rated at a 4.25 I would have multiple times.
As with my previous Annual 12-packs, New means “New to Me” because a few beers on this list have been around for many, many years, but I had the beer for the first time in 2020.
The usual NJ bias shines through on this list as 6 of the beers are from NJ breweries. I’d say 75% of the beer I bought & consumed in 2020 were from NJ breweries, which shouldn’t be a surprise to people who’ve been reading this blog. This list could have easily been comprised of 3 or 4 breweries, but the one rule I’ll stick to from past years is allowing only one beer per brewery to appear. Essentially, what that means is even though I had multiple “new to me” beers from many breweries, that brewery’s beer on this list is the beer I enjoyed the most from that brewery.
Here’s the standard breakdown I’ve been providing:
- 6 from NJ breweries
- 3 from CA breweries
- 4 from “New to me Breweries”
- 4 Lagers
- 2 Pilsners
- 1 Dark Lager
- 1 Baltic Porter
- 1 Belgian Quadrupel
- 2 IPAs
- 1 American
- 1 Imperial / Double
- 2 Stouts
- 1 Imperial / Double
- 1 Imperial / Double Pastry
- 1 Porter
- 1 Sour
- 1 Barleywine
12. Jersey Dreamin’ | Ashton Brewing Company | Pilsner – Czech | 4.25 bottle caps
Ashton Brewing is one of the newest New Jersey breweries, but they had the unfortunate timing to have had their grand opening scheduled when the COVID-19 Pandemic shut down public gatherings. Fortunately, they forged on full-steam ahead with canning their beer, including this supremely impressive Pilsner. While Ashton’s first canned beer was their IPA, the fact that their second was a Pilsner – a style that has zero wiggle room for mistakes that can be hidden by adding more hops or adjuncts – is impressive. Some Pilsners lean towards a breadiness/cracker element from the malt, some have a floral/fruity finish and some strike a balance between the two. Jersey Dreamin strikes that balance really nicely. It isn’t as “crackery” as some pilsners I’ve had – which is by no means a slight – but it has a full flavor whose elements come together really cleanly.
11. The Miner | Czig Meister Brewing Company I Lager – Dark | 4.25 Bottle Caps
This beer surprised me, I’ll admit and is one of the dark lagers I’ll be adding to my regular rotation because Matt Czigler and his crew coaxed such great flavors from the roasted malt in this beer for great complexity and easy drinking at 4.8%. When Czig Meister released the beer in December, I made sure to get a 6-pack. This beer is very reminiscent of a Czech Dark Lager or a German Schwarzbier, and is just plain delicious.
10. Bourbon Barrel-Aged Framinghammer | Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers | Porter – Baltic | 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd
Framinghammer is the Baltic porter brewed by Jack’s Abby. Yes, a Baltic Porter is brewed using a cold/Lager process. It is the beer Jack’s Abby throw in bourbon barrels as their barrel-aged dark beer. This delectable version is the standard, but there many variants (Mole, S’Mores’, Coffee, Vanilla, etc). The bourbon is present, but not overpowering and just one part of the great flavor profile. Notes of vanilla and sweetness balance out the slightly high bitterness level. A wonderful slow-sipper.
9. Helldorado (2017) | Firestone Walker Brewing Company | Barleywine – American | 4.5 bottle caps
Firestone Walker is probably the non-NJ brewery that drew my attention the most this year as I was able to find and enjoy about a half-dozen beers from their amazing barrel aging program, including this 3-year old Barrel Aged Barleywine. Helldorado is one of the best barleywines I’ve ever had. The beer has a strong bourbon aroma and the flavors that emerge include vanilla, chewy hops, toffee, and caramel. Simply an outstanding beer..
8. Chekov’s Gun | Carton Brewing Company | Belgian Quadrupel | 4.50 bottle caps
Carton remains a top NJ brewery for me (I had about a dozen new & unique beers from them in 2020), but this one stood the test of the year and remained my favorite from them. This beer was on draft (and available in a 3-pack of bombers) when I and a few friends made our annual New Year’s Day Pilgrimage, so this was technically the 4th beer I had in 2020. This outstanding Quadrupel is a style I love, a style that isn’t brewed often, but when done well as this beer was brewed with Pomegranate Molasses – and aged in Peach Brandy Barrels – the final product is heavenly.
7. Fuego | Tonewood Brewing Company | IPA – American | 4.5 Bottle Caps
Tonewood is the NJ Brewery who everybody seems to love and they’ve begun to broaden their distribution footprint over the last year or so. I finally had their Flagship IPA and it is one of the top 2 or 3 IPAs I’ve had from a NJ brewery. There’s an absolutely perfect hop blend giving the beer both a citrus and juicy component, but also the hallmark bittering and slightly piney components often associated with West Coast IPAs along with a nice malt bill to balance the hop bitterness. Fuego is a beer that proves just how great the IPA game is in the State of New Jersey.
6. La Roja (Boysenberry & Guava Edition) | Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales | Sour – Flanders Red Ale | 4.5 Bottle Caps
For our 20th Anniversary, my wife got me 20 Beers for 20 years of marriage from Tavour. This beer – Flanders Red – is astyle I thought I didn’t like. Granted I’ve only had two others and they were two vintages of the same beer. Then I had this outstanding beer. Flanders Red Ales are traditional Belgian sour ales, but the masterminds at Jolly Pumpkin added Boysenberries and Guava to the mix for sweetness to balance out the vinegary sourness that is a hallmark of the style. This is one of the most complex beers I’ve had of any style and is a masterpiece of the art of craft brewing and a very strong contender for my favorite sour beer of all time.
5. Cathedral Tree | Fort George Brewing Company | Pilsner – Other | 4.5 bottle caps
Another beer from the 20th Anniversary Box makes the cut, this was probably my favorite of those 20 beers, so I reviewed it. Here’s some what I had to say: “The beer pours a perfect golden-yellow with a fluffy white head into my Pilsner glass. As it turns out, the glass from which I enjoyed the beer was a wedding gift from my coworkers of 20 years ago… The first full taste of the beer was extremely pleasing. Cathedral Tree has the classic German Pilsner elements – bready/crackery malt and a pleasant hop finish. … Cathedral Tree is a superb pilsner and one I’d happily have again and seek out should I ever have the opportunity to visit Oregon.
4. BA Making Whoopie (2020 Buffalo Trace + Maple) | Icarus Brewing Company | Stout – Imperial / Double Pastry | 4.75 bottle caps
Icarus Brewing Company out of Lakewood, NJ was my top brewery of 2020, both in quantity and quality. (Probably not a shock to regular readers of the Tap Takeover) I had more unique beers from them than any brewery, which made narrowing down my favorite new to me beer of 2020 from them very challenging indeed, As it turned out, the last beer of the year I had from any brewery was the best beer I had from Icarus. I bought the beer with the intention of enjoying on New Year’s Eve, but I didn’t expect it to be the best Barrel Aged beer from my favorite brewery. The beer could be a mess of flavors, but the chocolate, malt, vanilla, maple syrup, marshmallows, and barrel character are amalgamated wonderfully. This is a sinful, delectable, unbelievable sweet dessert stout.
3. Morning Mocha (Kane Brewing Company) | Porter – Coffee | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd
Kane is probably the brewery whose beers I came to appreciate the most over the last couple of years and I had a decent amount form them in 2020, so like Icarus, it was difficult to land on my favorite from them. This variant on their coffee porter was one of the earliest beers I enjoyed from Kane in 2020 and it was not topped in 2020. Here’s what I said in my March 2020 Six Pack: “Morning Bell is Kane’s highly acclaimed year-round coffee porter and is outstanding. Once a year, they do a few special releases of Bell variants, Morning Mocha is one of those in 2020. In addition to rich coffee flavors from their local coffee roastery Rook Coffee, this beer was conditioned on Ugandan and Haitian cacao nibs. I thought I died and went to heaven when I drank this beer. There is an absolutely perfect blend of coffee and chocolate in the flavor profile, which complements and doesn’t overtake the base porter.”
2. Pliny the Elder | Russian River Brewing Company | IPA – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle caps
When I visited San Francisco earlier this year before the Pandemic really affected things, I sought out this beer and it did not disappoint. What I said in my February 2020 Six Pack: “The very first Imperial IPA ever made and one of the best beers I’ve ever had. I was in San Francisco for business for a couple of days and I heard about this wonderful dive bar, the Toronado with 40 beers on tap, with Pliny a fixture. Of course I had to go and have the beer, which lived up to the hype. An outstanding beer, never have hops tasted so wonderful. Quite simply, a perfect beer.”
1. Barrel-Aged Narwhal | Sierra Nevada Brewing Company | Stout – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle caps
Last year I thought I had the best barrel-aged stout I’ve ever had, that title lasted a few months until I had a pint of this amazing beer. From my review: “The flavor elements imparted by the Kentucky Bourbon Barrels **perfectly** enhance and complement the flavor elements of the base beer – the hops which can be relatively aggressive on a fresh in-year* bottle, are tamed and smoothed by the beer having been aged in the barrel. The hops are definitely present, but the lingering bitterness as softened. The barrel aging also complements the sweetness from the malt with hints of vanilla, oak, and maybe coconut. … Barrel Aged Narwhal is an outstanding, world-class barrel-aged stout that I’d stand up against any other barrel-aged stout I’ve had or that is available. Given that price point, you will not find a better beer for this price point.”
Honorable Mentions – Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Porter from Boulevard Brewing, Persian Lime Gose (Sour – Fruited Gose) from Two Roads Brewing, Cosm of Darkness (Stout – Imperial/Double) a Timber Ales/Eight State Brewing Collaboration, Quad City (Belgian Quadrupel) from Four City Brewing Company, Gaffel Kölsch (Kölsch) from Privatbrauerei Gaffel Becker, Chocolate Caramel Cookie Sharing Size (Stout – Imperial/Double) from Free Will Brewing, and Victory Classic Easy Drinkin’ Lager (Lager – Helles) from Victory Brewing plus too many from Icarus Brewing and Kane Brewing to list here
Some other notes:
Although the pandemic made visiting breweries a little more challenging for much of 2020, I was able to visit the following breweries for the first time in 2020:
- Bolero Snort Brewery (Carlstadt, NJ)
- Gordon Biersch (New Orleans, LA)
- Sunken Silo Brew Works (Lebanon, NJ)
- Magnify Brewing Company (Fairfield, NJ)
- Cricket Hill Brewing Company (Fairfield, NJ)
- Toms River Brewing Company (Toms River, NJ)
- Untied Brewing Company (New Providence, NJ)
- Four City Brewing Company (Orange, NJ)
- Brix City Brewing Company (Little Ferry, NJ)
- Seven Tribesmen Brewery (Wayne, NJ)
- Gaslight Brewery and Restaurant (South Orange, NJ)
- Ashton Brewing (Middlesex, NJ)
Breweries whose beer I checked in/enjoyed the most, which should be a shock to nobody reading this blog:
- Icarus Brewing (20 unique/new to me beers)
- Bolero Snort Brewery (19 unique/new to me beers)
- Czig Meister Brewery (13 unique/new to me beers)
- Carton Brewing (11 unique/new to me beers)
- Ashton Brewing (10 unique/new to me beers)