Fervent Few

The Fervent Few — A Can We Change Beliefs In

As we wrap up the year, plenty of folks are making listicles about the best beers they had or which breweries really stole the show in 2017. But we wanted something a little more specific, so this week we asked the Fervent Few which beer impressed them so much this year that they were forced to rethink an entire style.

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Brad: “This was the definitely the year I truly discovered Pilsner. While [Threes Brewing’s] Vliet has been around longer than that in NYC, the availability of craft Pilsners in NYC has really changed my outlook on the style. Palatine, of course, is the beer that best represents this transformation for me, but Bushberg, Castle Bushberg, Mary, Watch it Fall Slowly, Crystal Waves, and L1 turned Pilsner into a style that I will drive distances and wait in line for rather than drinking it only when nothing else is available.”

Rick Owens: “The second half of 2017 opened me up to IPA, specifically the recent emergence of the NE IPA. I was always reluctant to drink IPA because it overwhelmed my palate and I could barely drink one pint before having too much. After visiting Vermont this past summer and drinking my fair share of Harlan and Dharma Bum, my previous sentiments have changed.”

Jason Berg: “I was also going to say Pilsner. I suspect it is more of a change I made in myself than with anyone making groundbreaking new advances in the style. Fair State’s Pils is consistently solid (and single malt, single hop). Venture Pils from Bent Paddle in my hometown won a statewide award in Growler Magazine and has been in my fridge a while. I think brewers may be trying to get real, drinkable beers available. Sours, imperials, and any style has a place, but Pilsners can be consistent and great.”

Jim Plachy: “I was very skeptical of Pollyanna’s Fun Size. It just sounded like any other Pastry Stout, but the way they made that thing taste exactly like a liquid Snickers bar is astounding and shows that no matter how gimmicky the style there’s something to be said for executing that thing perfectly.”

Lana Svitankova: “Don't know why, but this year I fell in love with Saisons. Can't say this was one certain eye-opening beer, but I've started to appreciate good, dry, grassy-hay Saison, coming from ‘get this boring thing away’ to ‘shut up and take my money.’ But during this infatuation stage I've found out that there is huge variety of beers people would call Saison. Italian Saisons (the ones I've tasted, at least) are overly grainy and sweet, French tend to be stronger and fuller, etc. So I'll go anytime for Belgian classics like Saison Dupont or Bon Voeux or rare U.S. gems (which are hard to get here in Europe).”

Johnny Swinehart: “Pilsner Urquell in cans. I had never really considered it a decent option, probably because of bad experiences with it in bottles, until I saw it mentioned somewhere on the GBH site. Ever since, I have kept some in the fridge, and it's always easy to find fresh.”

Zack Rothman: “I never thought I was going to drink a good Sour IPA and then Ultrasphere from Hudson Valley Brewery blew my mind. This year was my first time trying their beers and I loved every one. They have nailed this style with a funky fruitiness, a tasty tartness, and a subtle sourness. Really opened my mind and my palate!”

Tyler Bello: “It was mixed ferm for me as well this year. Most notably beers from Fonta Flora and Burial that increased my interest and desire to seek out beer from them and some of their like-minded peers.”

Mike Sardina: “My year has been highlighted by a refocus on balance when it comes to beers, especially hoppy NE IPA offerings. So many breweries are continuously pushing the limits of what the style can be, at least as far as ABVs, hopping rates, and adjuncts are concerned. A succinct and balanced "NE" (for lack of a better term) IPA or Pale Ale is a thing of beauty, and it's rare to find a brewery that can truly pull it off, especially when it comes to body and mouthfeel. I'd say that Notch Brewing and Suarez Family are two examples of breweries that can brew this style exceptionally well. And, of course, Edward from Hill Farmstead is the true OG and perhaps still the best, most consistent example of what these types of beers can be.”

Dave Riddile: “I ended last year very into extreme barrel-aged offerings and complex, overly sour sours. This year I've reverted back to a search for balance and simplicity. Pilsner or a well-balanced IPA have rejoined the rotation in a big way for me because of that. I'd say if I had to pick one, then Pilsner has been the beer that I would normally scoff at, but has now become a go-to. There are just so many good versions of the style being produced today that I find new surprises around every corner.”

Shannon Vinson: “Biere de Gardes! Definitely kinda scoffed at that style and had a good one the other day at Spuyten Duyvil (Cuvée des Jonquilles by Brasserie au Baron) and enjoyed the one we [Creature Comforts] produced this year as well. Looking forward to finding more of those.”

Brad Redick: “I'd say there were three beers that opened me up and/or illuminated a beer thought that I didn't have as strongly before. The first two beers are pretty consistent with the idea of sessionable, balanced beers that a number of people have written about already. Pacific Wonderland from Deschutes calibrated my focus from Pilsner to dry-hopped Lagers on the whole. Now I realize that distinction is small and I still check for Pilsners on the daily, but I've really embraced the idea that a term like ‘dry hop’ has transitioned outside of just being used for IPAs. I'm always looking for dry-hopped Lagers now and encouraging breweries to add them to their rotation any chance I get. The second beer was Golden Opportunity from Peticolas in Dallas. It's a really well done Kolsch that I typically only drink at restaurants because its safe and doesn't get in the way of food. I found myself at a steakhouse this year after having four of them wondering why I don't show the Kolsch more love. It made no sense to me that I wasn't embracing Kolsch as much as I did Pilsner, so I changed that and started grabbing Kolsch on the regular. Helles, too. The third beer that really opened my eyes was Stone Enjoy By, but it opened my eyes in a different way. Like so many of us, my path to obsession was paved with tongue thrashing hop bombs that left my palate in ruins. Once upon a time, it was commonplace for me to start with an Arrogant Bastard, mix in two Palate Wreckers, and finish with a Ruination. It was a hot June night earlier this year and I was half way thru a 12 oz. Enjoy By, trying to find my sea legs, and I realized, right then, I'm not that guy anymore. I've changed. I'm sure there's any number of reasons why, but I kissed the big imperial hop bomb IPAs goodbye with that last Enjoy By.”

Rob Scott: “Like many of our ilk in the UK, I’ve been a dedicated follower of fashion, seeking out hazy, citrusy thirds of DDH IPA, turning my back on the drab pint of English Bitter. My mind was changed on a visit to the North Yorkshire Moors and the rediscovery of that style in an ancient stone pub on a cold summer day. This cask amber beer was subtle and balanced, it was most noticeably fresh and alive, and it was gone before I fully appreciated how good it was. In the last few weeks I’ve had examples from small and non-traditional breweries which, importantly, were served with great care and suggest a renewed interest in this cask classic. The Anspach & Hobday/Fullers ESB is one to mention. It’s true to style, but not quite as grandad would know it, and it definitely puts English Bitter back on the board.”

Michael Boyer: “For whatever reason, NE IPA’s surge gave to me the IPA category as a whole this year. I smuggled so much Alvarado Street and Fieldwork beer home from my honeymoon that I had dirty clothes in my carry-on. I’ve been a silver surfer ever since.”

Chris Koentz: “At the start of 2017 I was pretty hard against the hazy IPA trend. I didn't want to brew one, or really have any interest in drinking them. It felt lazy as a brewer to intentionally brew hazy beer. However, I have come around. There are a few factors that played into my shift on hazy IPA. Number one, listening and learning about how some of the premier brewers of the style do what they do through GBH podcasts and finding any article out there by these guys about why and how they are making this beer. Second, after I had the Fair State/Modern Times collab Spirit Føul, I ‘got it.’ The fruit-forward hop character from massive whirlpool and dry hopping, low bitterness, the high finishing gravity, and the water profile all play into these beers, and that is what makes them different. That being said, there are great examples and others that miss the mark. For me it comes down to the fine balance of finding just enough bitterness to balance the big body but still give a great juicy character.”

Manny Gumina: “This year was about rediscovering how classically great the New Glarus offerings are. I lived in Minnesota for four years prior to this May, and never found it worth it to drive across the border to load up since there are a plethora of fantastic Minnesota offerings to choose from. When I moved back to Wisconsin, I started plowing through everything New Glarus: year-rounds, seasonals, and thumbprint series. Dan Carey at New Glarus consistently brews what I love in beer: crisp, clean, and drinkable.”

Tom: “One beer in particular that really surprised me was Interboro's Stay Gold. The hype around the beer due to the collaboration with Run the Jewels kinda clouded my perception of it.  Was it truly great, or just a good IPA? They brewed more of it this fall, and after the hype kinda dropped off, I was able to enjoy a couple cans, and try it side by side with Focal Banger. I enjoy Stay Gold more and more every time I'm able to get my hands on a can now. I'm glad I let the hype clear out.

KCBC Morid Hour (Black Pilsner) and Allagash's Hibernal Fluxus (Milk Stout with Saison yeast) surprised me as well. They both approached dark beers in a really interesting way, and change my perception of how those styles could be interpreted.”

Carla Jean Lauter: “Shipyard Brewing in Portland, Maine has always vexed me with their disregard for the fact that their beers are loaded with excess diacetyl. They brew English-style ales, sure, but I cannot get over the buttery slickness of most of their lineup, and I've been hoping that they'd fix their process somehow so that I could actually enjoy their beers for once. This bothers me so much that I really have trouble recommending anyone visit there or try their beers when they are visiting Portland. This year, they put out a hazy IPA called Finder, and I cannot find fault with it at all. It is well-made, hasn't got a hint of diacetyl, and is something I actively want to purchase regularly. I did not think I would ever get to the point where I'd say that, but they surprised me—and changed my mind. The other Shipyard beers are still not for me, but Finder is an excellent beer, and I can say that with full conviction.”

Nick Yoder: “My 2017 revelation wasn't a style, but rather Noble hops. It certainly began with those German/Czech beers, but it really came to a head when I cracked open an Evicted from Central State and realized just how much I love that distinct spiciness.”

C. Sean West: “My favorite new style of beer I homebrewed this year was Tropical Stout. It brings a lot of the sweetness and alcohol that you might find in a Pastry Stout without being cloying sweet and still tastes like beer. It’s also a good educational beer because of the history behind the style and since many people new to the style will expect it to be brewed with tropical fruits. I’m hoping more commercial breweries will start making them in 2018.”

Michael Kiser: “Oatmeal Stouts, Milk Stouts, and Porters made a comeback for me this year. The best ones I've had dance on that line between sweet and dry, and always with a luscious texture and a succinct finish. There's something so satisfying about the styles that I even found myself drinking them well before the typical seasonality, starting in August and September, and certainly now. It's a style that can be relevant and immersive any time of year as you tweak the finish. The flabby ‘90s versions of this style, which plagued my memory, have been replaced by the ever-perfecting versions by contemporary brewers. Spiteful makes a fantastic one in Chicago. Our clients, East Brother, make one in the East Bay, and Off Color's Known Gnome in on tap in their new taproom right now.”

As you think about the year in beer, is there a brew that made you come around to an entire style? Let us know by joining the Fervent Few. You can even buy a full year’s membership at once now, without fees! Happy holidays, y’all.

Hosted by Jim Plachy