There are more than 6,000 breweries operating in the US right now, and they’re all churning out new beers at a record clip. Like, literally, there has never been more new beer to choose from than the year of our lord, 2017. Also, Zima came back this year, so…My point is, trying to choose what beer to drink can be difficult all on its own, but trying to choose from a bunch of new beers that you’ve never even heard of? That’s down right paralyzing. It’s enough to make you want to give that clear bottle of Zima a try again, simply because it’s familiar. But fret not. We try new beers at an alarming rate at Paste and we take notes. And at the end of the year, we look through those crowded notebooks and pick our favorite new beers of the year to help give you some sort of a compass as you navigate the crowded waters of the American beer scene. So, put that Zima down and try to find one of these eight best new beers we had in 2017.
Brew Gentlemen is known for its soft, friendly take on the New England IPA, putting out consistently fruity and juicy IPAs one after the other from their home in Braddock, Pennsylvania. The brewery seems to be devoted to the art of perfecting the IPA, constantly tweaking their flagship, General Braddock, to get it as close to perfection as possible. Lou is another example of that constant meddling. They brew the beer year after year for Ales for ALS, and no iteration is ever the same. The 2017 version made waves at our annual blind tasting of double IPAs, earning top spot because of the flawless execution of the New England IPA style. The nose is a bouquet of tropical fruit and, the sip delivers the Brew Gentlemen’s signature creamy mouthfeel, and green, grassy notes as well as the tropical fruit you expect from the style. It topped 175 other double IPAs to earn the top spot this year. But like most truly great beers, this one is fleeting. You can only get it at the brewery on draft, and it’s only brewed occasionally. And considering Brew Gentlemen’s history, Lou is likely to never be the same again.
An Imperial Brett IPA with cherries? Admittedly, I wasn’t actually sure Three Floyds could pull this one off, but they did — and it’s delicious. You get cherry immediately on the nose, almost to a point that you think the beer is going to be a cherry bomb, but it’s not. The cherry juice is in perfect balance with the hops, making for a delicious, slightly-funky beer. It was truly a delight at this year’s Denver Rare during GABF, and one I’d love to get my hands on again. —Emily Price
I’m a bit spoiled by having The Rare Barrel just a few miles from my house, which means I get to try a good number of their releases. One of my favorites this year was Hyper Paradise, which Rare Barrel was pouring at this year’s GABF. It made my list of the best beers at the festival, as well as Jim Vorel’s best of list too. Hyper Paradise is a blend of saison and sour golden ale aged in oak with mango and passionfruit. It’s a fruit bomb in the best way possible and one of those beers you wanted to circle back to on the show floor over and over again. —Emily Price
River North humbly bills Mr. Sandman as “not just another imperial stout,” and they should know; the Denver, Colorado-based brewery has become a bit of a stout machine, putting out quite a few imperial stouts this year. They sent us four of them to sample for the massive imperial stout blind tasting this fall, but Mr. Sandman was the one that climbed the top of the list, which was more than 100 strong. Mr. Sandman beat the rest of the pack because the execution was borderline perfect. Nobody at the tasting had anything negative to say about this beer, which has all kinds of dark fruit notes, as wells as bittersweet chocolate and molasses. And the truly amazing thing about this beer, is that River North accomplishes all of those layers of goodness without using any additives. It all comes from the malt bill. Oh, and there’s a hell of a lot of booze too. River North released three batches of Mr. Sandman in 2017, and the ABV varied a little with each batch, but basically hovered around 13%, give or take. So, this beer is no joke. Earlier this month, River North released a barrel aged version of Mr. Sandman, which was rested in whiskey barrels for 10 months. I can only imagine what a little whiskey would do for this already incredible beer. Both the whiskey and regular versions of Mr. Sandman are the kind of beers that age well in a cellar, but who the hell wants to wait to open beer this good? Not us.
I mean, how do you turn down barrel-aged unicorn tears? You don’t. Besides being packaged in a fun bottle, Fremont’s Barrel-Aged Unicorn Tears is also a pretty fun fruited stout. This collaboration between Fremont and Perennial Artisan Ales is an Oatmeal stout aged in bourbon barrels, with added cherries (and unicorn tears). Those tears must give it something special. You get a lot more malt and chocolate notes with this one than you do cherry, but in a good way. The cherry isn’t overpowering, but it’s present and perfectly in balance with the bourbon and malt to make a truly special beer. —Emily Price
There are a few different ways you can approach a fruit beer, if you’re a brewery like The Veil. You can try for something that the cicerones in the crowd will describe as “complex,” or “nuanced,” or “beautifully composed.” That’s certainly one option. Or you can just fruit the bejeezus out of it and hope for the best, and that will always be an equally valid option. This beer, ostensibly a gose, is a jubilant celebration of the flavor of passionfruit, and that’s all there is to it. It explodes with tropical and stone fruit juiciness—with each sip, you can imagine the liquid running down your chin from the world’s most juice-laden passionfruit or peach. And yet, at the same time, it’s never COMPLETELY overtaken by fruit juice or “sugary” sweetness, which is one of the benefits of using whole, real fruit rather than whatever additive AB InBev would use to create a mass-produced “passionfruit ale.” You also get a little bit of the expected salinity of gose, which helps the fruity punch go down smoothly, but as we said when we blind-tasted this beer among 63 other goses this summer, this is a “wish-fulfillment brew” in the end. It’s all about the purity and celebration of a single featured ingredient. – Jim Vorel
This is a beer I’ve been advocating for through pretty much all of 2017, and I’m not about to stop now. Long Beach’s Beachwood Brewing & BBQ is a world class brewery, and should be recognized as such—one that can produce a bevy of different styles and knock them all out of the park. Their take on hazy NE-IPA isn’t as dense with plant matter as some of the offerings from the likes of Trillium or Other Half—no greenish tinge, or overwhelming vegetal grassiness here, which can be a drawback in the “double dry hop” era. Instead, 28 Haze Later is soft, juicy and infinitely drinkable. As I wrote about it after tasting for the first time: “The holy trinity of Mosaic, Citra and Galaxy lead the way on this wonderfully juicy beer, projecting massive citrus and tropical fruit juice flavors, along with some drying, spicy resin. Like many of the best examples of this style, there’s a not-insignificant residual sweetness and low bitterness, although it may have slightly more balancing bitterness than most. If only everyone trying to replicate NE-IPA could make it this cleanly, and wring this kind of flavor out of their hops.” And that’s the difference between a beer like this one and the countless others that are trying to imitate the style right now—28 Haze Later is much cleaner and crisper than most of them, and in doing so it manages to balance tact and bombast. You want massive hop flavors and juiciness? They’re here—but in a way that feels intentional and expertly crafted, rather than incidental thanks to a boatload of hops being present. You get the sense that every facet of this beer’s profile exists on purpose. – Jim Vorel
With so many craft breweries in the U.S. today (the number is now more than 6,000), it’s amazing how new, world-class producers of sought-after styles can seemingly emerge overnight … and how you can be totally unaware of it happening. Because the industry is now so stuffed to the gills, at least in comparison to how things were 5 or 10 years ago, you can have a brewery producing the kind of products that beer geeks would drive over state lines to buy, and that kind of beer can still fly under the radar. That’s what’s happening right now with Speciation Artisan Ales, a wild and sour-focused brewery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I hadn’t even heard of the guys when stopping by their booth at the Great American Beer Festival, but they came highly recommended, and it was immediately easy to see why. Every beer on that table was a revelation, but the most impressive thing was just how creative these guys could be in offering variations upon a singular theme. That theme is often Incipient, the brewery’s mixed fermentation “sour golden base,” which downplays what a wonderfully expressive beer it is all on its own. But then there’s the big question: What version of Incipient will you choose? The perfumey dry-hopped one? Black currants? The pie-influenced rhubarb/vanilla? Or the one that captured my imagination at GABF, aged in tequila barrels with blood orange, pink guava, limes and salt? It was such a shockingly original concept that it was one of those few moments when even a seasoned beer drinker/writer has few comparisons to draw; a beer that the brewery describes as “a cross between a sour beer, a margarita and a tropical fruit smoothie.” All I know, meanwhile, is that it was a delicious, utterly unique concoction, and that’s just par for the course with what Speciation Artisan Ales is doing right now. This is the kind of brewery that stokes your passion for the industry, because if they can simply come out of nowhere making beer like this, then what other kinds of discoveries are still waiting to be found? – Jim Vorel