2012 has been yet another milestone year in the world of American craft beer. There are currently more breweries in operation in the United States than ever before, even surpassing the alcohol boom of the late 1800s.
Outdated beer laws are beginning to change and will benefit both brewers and consumers, and a debate began between the little guys and the big boys about what exactly defines craft beer. Oh yeah - there were also some incredible beers made in the last 12 months.
What defines a beer as "the best"? For me, it goes far beyond just the appearance, smell, and taste. The setting, the time of day or year and the company I'm with all factor into it. Sometimes a mediocre beer can become a thing of beauty purely based on its surroundings.
Since being turned onto the world of craft beer, I rarely order a Guinness, but I swear the one I had in Dublin atop the Guinness brewery is one of the best beers I've had to date. I should also point out that I was enjoying it with my new bride and it happened to be St. Patrick's Day. When I'm drinking a beer or eating a meal, these outside factors matter to me.
The rarity of a beer factors into my perception of it, as well. Often times, much like a rare car, it might not be the collector's fastest or sleekest, but it could very well be the favorite based on its lack of availability. Take the Belgian beer, Westvleteren 12 (pictured), for example. Many beer geeks swear it's the best beer on the planet, but it probably doesn't hurt that it's also considered one of the rarest. The only place this beer is sold legally is the actual brewery, which happens to be a monastery, and the procedure to buy the beer isn't exactly easy.
The brewery is one of only eight authentic Trappist breweries in the world and is the only one that is not distributed outside its respective monastery for retail sales. The Westvleteren monastery, however, is currently in need of repairs and to raise money the beer was distributed and sold in the United States for one time only on 12/12/12. The beer sold out quickly and unless you were in line early at your local beer store and ponied up $85 (for a six pack), you'll have to rely on a trip to Belgium to buy one or spend hundreds of dollars via eBay.
The beer is extremely rare, yes, but it's also fantastic and for a Quadrupel it's extremely dry, which sets it apart from the many others that try to replicate it. It's one of my picks for the top beers of 2012.
Choosing a "best of" list is difficult and regardless of the quality of choices, someone is going to cry foul when they don't see their favorite listed. This list is not based on any formula for determining the best beers or even based on things like tasting notes or reviews. It's just my personal list and the beers that stood out to me in the past year. With that, I give you my top 12 beers of 2012.
- Westvleteren Trappist 12
- 21st Amendment Marooned on Hog Island Stout brewed with oysters in collaboration with Hog Island Oyster Company
- Firestone Walker Union Jack Double dry-hopped IPA made using over four pounds of hops per barrel
- Odell Woodcut No.6 Oak Aged Ale using Mosiac hops
- Sierra Nevada Narwhal Russian Imperial Stout crafted with 6 different malt varieties
- Lagunitas Daytime extremely flavorful IPA, clocking in at a mere 4.5% ABV
- Jester King Boxer's Revenge Organic Wild Ale aged in whiskey and wine barrels
- Alchemist Heady Topper Imperial IPA hop bomb with 120 IBUs
- Cascade Noyaux Wild Ale with raspberries and apricot nuts added, aged in oak barrels
- Ballast Point Victory at Sea Imperial Porter brewed with vanilla and Caffe Calabria coffee
- Wedge Vadim Bora Russian Imperial Stout brewed with raspberries
- Avery Odio Equum Wild Ale aged for 12 months in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels.
Editor's note: Nathan Berrong works at CNN's satellite desk and writes Eatocracy's beer column, "Berrong on Beer."