The Hop Review's Best of 2016
Twenty-sixteen was some year.
We conducted 35 interviews with industry folks in 11 different states and five different countries. We hit our 100th interview milestone (with Pipeworks Brewing). We introduced new content–including new travel series, Detours, (where we showcased 13 different international breweries); and our new monthly beer review series, The Hop Reviews. We hosted several events, drank a few hundred or so beers, welcomed new breweries and bars to Chicago (and saw a few depart), traveled the globe, and met some incredibly inspiring and amazing people along the way. While 2016 might not have been the year many folks will look back on in fondness, it sure was a big year in beer.
We take a quick look back at some of our 'bests' and other favorite moments and items this year in the world of beer–with a decidedly Chicago focus.
THE 16 BEST BEERS WE DRANK IN 2016
High West-ified Imperial Coffee Stout [Lagunitas], Might Meets Right [Temperance], BBA Gingerbread Imperial Stout [Moody Tongue], Foeder #2: Electric Boogaloo w/ Apricot [Transient], SPON #4 Méthode Gueuze [Jester King], Hunter Vanilla [18th Street], Winnow Stout [Cruz Blanca], Hopsynth [Upland], 3rd Year Beer: Rum Barrel-aged Barleywine [Revolution], O.M.G. Pale Ale [Goose Island], Breakside IPA [Breakside], Citra Biere de Saison [The Kernel], Reply Hazy Try Again [Hop Butcher], Puff DIPA [Six Point], Black Angel Cherry Sour [Wicked Weed] & Glaucus Belgian IPA [Pipeworks].
Most READ INTERVIEW ON THR
When you're the UK's fastest growing and London's hippest brewery, producing innovative collaborations and American-inspired offerings, and son of a rock and roll legend–then you can call yourself 'Logan Plant.' And Plant's Tottenham, London-based Beavertown Brewing is a force to be reckoned with–not just in the UK, but likely soon, across the globe. Watch out.
(CHICAGO) BREWERY OF THE YEAR 2016
As the state's fastest growing brewery, Avondale/Logan Square's affectionately dubbed 'Rev' is no doubt a craft beer juggernaut. And that could not have shown more true than after this year's major October recall of six of their top beers, that totaled roughly 10,000 barrels. The very next day following this news, folks still lined up for their chance to purchase bottles of their commemorative 1,000th batch beer, in their Kenzie Ave. taproom. How they handled the mishap, and how their fans reacted proves their staying power–even through controversy. Plus, their barrel-aging program is expanding impressively (even adding a FoBAB medal to the trophy case this year), their Hero series is clamored for, and they're estimated to hit the 100,000 barrel mark in 2017.
Runner-up: Pipeworks Brewing. Another Chicago brewery that's growing at an alarmingly impressive rate is this outfit on the West Side. Formerly housed in a cramped Bucktown space, they've now got plenty of breathing room in Hermosa–that includes a sizable barrel room that's already winning medals (The Murderous, 2016's FoBAB Gold for Barleywine). Pair that with their new limited release offerings, plus their buzz-worthy pales, and things are looking up heading into '17.
BEST NEW (CHICAGO) BREWERY OF 2016
When we talked to Logan Square's Hopewell back in 2015, their space was massive...and empty, save for a few small piles of rubble. Since that visit, they've certainly made strides and opened somewhat under the radar earlier this year. However, it didn't take long for fans of great beer–and Instagram-worthy taprooms–to figure them out. With their focus on simple, clean beers (their Farm and Family Saison and First Lager are some of Chicago's best in their respective styles), Stephen Bossu's Brooklyn Brewery background, a FoBAB medal in their first year (for their sour, Best Day), and their playful aesthetic have made them an instant favorite in one of the city's trendiest 'hoods.
Runner-up: Dovetail Brewery. When Bill Wesselink and Hagen Dost met at brewing school in Germany, they knew right away that they wanted to open a brewery back in their hometown Chicago. After landing a behemoth of a building on Ravenswood Ave. in Northcenter, they got quickly and quietly to work. Since opening their doors this summer, they've been slinging a variety of traditional 'Continental European' styles, and to much fanfare. Twenty-seventeen will have them one year closer to sharing their pride and joy Lambic-style ales, which are resting in rows of barrels in the brewery's upstairs loft...
BEST SUBURBAN (CHICAGO) BREWERY
Naperville's Solemn Oath Brewery could easily fill the role of 'Best Suburban Brewery' each year. But, with the moves made in '16, they certainly take the cake. Getting refreshing beers like Funsponge and Snaggletooth Bandana into cans, taking presale purchases for their buzzed about coffee ales, capitalizing on in-house designer/illustrator extraordinaire Jourdon Gullet, and acquiring former Penrose Brewery founder Eric Hobbs have all been pieces to the puzzle that have helped set them up nicely for 2017. As the new year comes, we know we're excited to see what's on tap for SOB's fifth year in business...
Runner-up: Mikerphone Brewing. Twenty-fifteen saw Mike Pallen receive one of craft beer's highest honors: RateBeer's Best New Brewer, for the state of Illinois. The accolade came after several years building an impressive resume which included roles at Pipeworks, 18th Street, (now shuttered) BreakRoom, SlapShot, and then finally his own venture, Mikerphone. While the brewery's punny monikers might not rev your engine, their beers certainly will. Dozens of sought after 750 mLs have awarded Pallen a new space in Elk Grove Village, IL, and have set up next year as one to watch for this new brewery.
COMEBACK BREWERY OF THE YEAR
Hop Butcher for the World (Formerly South Loop Brewing Co.)
After existing quietly as 'South Loop Brewing Company' for a few years, the three men behind the operation chose to decisively shake things up. They left their moniker–and their namesake neighborhood–for the North Side and re-entered the market as 'Hop Butcher for the World.' Brewing out of Bowmanville's Aquanaut brewspace, Hop Butcher unleashed an onslaught of juicy pale ales into the city. With this summer's entry of New England IPA, Galaxy Bowl, HBFTW cemented its place in the Chicago scene. Now, you're lucky to find any of their hype-worthy beers on shelves anywhere in town, even hours after they land there.
Runner-up: Pabst Brewing Co./Old Style/Stroh's. As impressive as the craft beer scene is, it's sometimes just as impressive to see what the 'big guys' do (or in some cases attempt to do) to stay relevant. Such was the case for Wisconsin's Pabst Brewing Co. in 2016. Early fall saw them announce the return of Stroh's brewing to Detroit and Old Style to La Crosse, WI. Couple that move with the return to their heritage packaging, and nostalgia is hip again.
(CHICAGO) BREWERY TO WATCH IN 2017
It might seem odd to call out a contract brewer, but we can just about promise you that this one will be one to watch in the new year. West Town's Great Central Brewing is set to be a haven for the city (and region's) contract brewing needs. No longer will a chunk of Chicagoland's contract brewed beer need to head far north or south to meet their demand. Now, they'll just need to head down the road to the new Goose Island/Like Minds/On Tour neighbors on Wood Street. Along with their contracted lineup (we've heard rumblings of plenty of notable names), they'll soon have a taproom where you can taste through said brewers, as well as their own house beers. Watch out...
Runners-up: There are any number of breweries set to do big things in 2017 (Haymarket, Maplewood, Mikerphone, Off Color, On Tour...), but the two that excite us the most just might be Bridgeport's Marz Community Brewing and West Loop/West Michigan's Haymarket Brewery. Both are set to open the doors to new, expanded facilities and increase their packaged footprint. We know it won't be long before folks from around the Midwest are trekking to the new Bridgeport, Chicago and Bridgman, MI taprooms for talked about ales.
5 BEST BREWERIES TO ENTER THE CHICAGO MARKET
Central State Brewing – Indianapolis's Brett ale brewers have been making waves around the Midwest, in their minimalist can designs.
Maui Brewing Co. – Hawaii's fastest growing brewer, no doubt, makes one of the best coconut porters around.
Short's Brewing Co. – The Northern Michigan stalwart finally expands distribution, to share its wealth of beers.
Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. – Decorah, Iowa's cult favorite makes its way to Chicago, sorta–pouring exclusively at The Field Museum for now.
Wiseacre Brewing – Memphis comes to the Windy City, with these Tennessee brewers–and their Gotta Get Up to Get Down milk stout wins folks over.
BEST TRIED & TRUE (CHICAGO) BEER BAR
With one of the city's consistently best draft lists, as well as some impressive beers and collaborations of their own, Lincoln Park's Local Option is a force to be reckoned with. This includes their efforts to bring brewery friends from near and far to their bar's menu (Dark Matter Coffee, 3 Floyds, Jester King, Against the Grain, Brekeriet to name a few) plus manager Alexi Front's internationally renowned Craft Beer meets Metal Fest, Scorched Tundra VI.
Runners-up: The Hopleaf and The Long Room. These two from Andersonville and Northcenter, respectively, are still two of the city's best for respected draft and bottle lists. Plus, their food menus are nothing to scoff at either.
BEST NEW (CHICAGO) BEER BAR
Lakeview/Roscoe Village filled a void when Bitter Pops opened earlier this summer. A surprising beer shop desert along Lincoln Avenue welcomed this modern take on the Chicago 'slashie.' With a photo-worthy cooler selection upon entry met by a cozy tasting room bar in the back, 'BP' has won the neighborhood, and city over. Plus, we'd be remiss not to mention that we were humbled by the response to our THR Chicago Craft Beer Week event, Ultra Fresh Brews, at the space back in May. This might be one of the best places in town to find consistently fresh beer–in package and on tap.
Runner-up: Bangers & Lace - Roscoe Village. The mini-chain of bars opened its third location late summer to much fanfare, and Roscoe Village saw yet another great beer destination hit the map.
BEST (CHICAGO) BEER FESTIVAL
This was our 2015 pick, and there was no reason that we saw to change it. As the kickoff event to Chicago Craft Beer Week, 'BUG' is still the best all around festival in town. A beautiful space in an under-appreciated neighborhood gets the attention it deserves, by the masses, every May...plus beer. And when the weather cooperates, there's no beating this venue. Head here for the city, and state's most impressive lineup all year.
Runner-up: FoBAB. It's odd to think the Festival of Wood & Barrel Aged Beers would be second fiddle to any other beer event in town, but that's no crack at this internationally renowned event. It merely loses points for the obvious: an indoor fest full of mostly-too-boozey-to-drink-more-than-three-ounces-of beers. However, those same knocks are what make this fest what it is, every chilly November. And, if the mentions of its winners in this feature alone are any indicator, FoBAB is still the industry standard for the barrel-aged.
BEST (CHICAGO) COLLABORATION
Another year later, and yet another 'winner' in our books. A milk stout brewed with pistachios...in slickly packaged Dan-Grezca-illustrated green cans, by two of the city's best small brewers. 'Nuff said.
Runner-up: Off Color & Miller High Life's Off Color Eeek! When you're able to collaborate, as a small craft brewery, with one of the nation's biggest macro players, you get bonus points. Leave it to the always off color, Off Color Brewing to make it happen, with this wild ale collaboration.
MOST CREATIVE (CHICAGO) BREWER
Tim Lange, Marz Community Brewing
When you can count sour red ales, pale ales with rooibos tea, berliner weisses with yuzu, dry-hopped goses, smoked stouts, and pho-inspired porters in your repetoire...well, then you've earned the title as 'Most Creative.' This shortlist doesn't even account for the long list of tasty hop-centric IPAs that get churned out of the Bridgeport brewery. Tim Lange has been at the helm of this creative outfit, founded by Ed and Mike Marszewksi (also behind Maria's Packaged Goods & Kimski), and he's set to make even bigger waves in 2017 when their new brewspace opens in the same neighborhood.
Runner-up: Michael Carroll, Band of Bohemia. This Alinea ex-pat and former Half Acre brewer was very much on our radar last year, and he's made no reason to lose our attention. Maitake mushrooms, beets, grilled apples, chicory–any ingredient is fair game under the supervision of Carroll. And after nabbing the restaurant industry's most prestigious honor, a Michelin star in 2016, as the first brewpub to do so, things're looking good in Ravenswood.
BEST (CHICAGO) TAPROOM
The long anticipated taproom from Pilsen's Moody Tongue hit a few delays in their efforts to open this summer. But, as any good thing proves to be, this space was well worth the wait. Enter this South Side brewery bar, and you're likely to enjoy an experience you've never had at any brewery before: a host seats you upon arrival into the modern industrial space, where you have the choice to sit at the ultra-sleek bar or cozy up near the library's fireplace. From there, you remain in awe at the space, while ordering any number of culinary brews.
Runners-up: Hopewell Brewing and Whiner Beer Co. These two taprooms are runners-up by mere miss of the top slot. Logan Square's Hopewell is minimalist, hip and playful on Milwaukee Ave., while Whiner's space is an industrial concrete bunker of a space in Back of the Yard's co-op, The Plant. Both are excellent ways to pass the time any day of the week.
BEER STYLE OF THE YEAR
New England/East Coast IPA
These cloudy, juicy, pale ales have made both friends and foes in the industry. Written off by some folks on the opposite coast as a mere trend–or worse, 'made up' style, the New England IPA simply doesn't shy away from its detractors. Breweries from across the country imitated the East Coast style this year, including several Chicago operations. Love it or hate it, the NE IPA made its mark on 2016. And like any trend goes, it may just fade into memory, come next year. We shall see...
Runner-up: Stout. Every year is a good year for stouts, but with the exploration of the style this year, it was a good time to be a stout drinker. From dry and roasty to barrel-aged to fruity, coffee, and sour, stout was still king in '16.
BEST REBRANDED BREWERY
Hear us out. When you're one of the United States' oldest breweries (140+ years), and one of the most polarizing, you get attention one way or another regardless. And in the craft beer world, that attention is less than flattering. Whether its taking jabs at very craft brewers they buy out, via Super Bowl ads or simply acting hypocritical by playing up the importance of beechwood aging, 'Bud' rarely wins over a craft beer drinker. With that said, such a brewery has a mountain to climb when it comes to rebranding its aesthetic, and its image. But they simply knocked it out of the park with their new identity. And we say that as vocal haters of the liquid inside the can. However, the refined typography, bold packaging and graceful return to its history made Budweiser's new look one that any design nerd can appreciate–macro-beer fan or not.
Runner-up: Boulevard Brewing. Another Missouri brewery gets the nod for best design this year. This time, its a very deserving and tenured craft brewery, in Boulevard. Their brand refresh was much needed, and in the end very impressive. The new system is scaleable, easily identifiable, and really owns the same elements that helped build BLVD's look over the years.
BEER TRENDS WE ENJOYED IN '16
Kettle sours, craft lagers, a return to traditional European beers, the UK's American-inspired beer scene, single-hop IPAs, barrel-age experimentation, coffee beers, more longtime favorite beers making their way into cans, better dive bar beer lists, and New England/East Coast IPAs.
BEER TRENDS THAT WERE OVERDONE IN '16
New England/East Coast IPAs, barrel-aging everything, naming your new brewery "_____ Brewing Co.", kitschy/punny beer names...all around bad beer names, Oktoberfests, breweries attempting sour ales before masting other styles, waiting in line for beer, hype-machine breweries, and shear number of new small breweries making not-so-great beer.
BEER TRENDS TO WATCH IN 2017
A finer focus on malt, more fruit-forward beers, more single-hop pale ales, foraged-for ingredients, more traditional stouts, craft beer taking a bigger slice of the beer pie, brewery openings versus closures, and more breweries getting bought up by the big guys.
BEER CITY TO WATCH IN 2017
With standouts like Seventh Son, Four String, North High and Land-Grant, Ohio's largest/capital city is on the up and up. Factor in the massive (100,000 sf) and first-in-the-US BrewDog brewery set to open in 2017, and Columbus will likely be a city to watch in the world of American craft beer.
Runners-up: Milwaukee. NYC. Southwest MI. There simply are just too many cities to keep an eye on in the new year, but these three (ok, two plus one 'region'), are what excite us the most. Milwaukee is eyeing a return to grace in the world of beer, after many years of stagnant craft growth and most of its attention going to, yea, Miller. And with several brand new small breweries and several more slated to open soon, MKE should be buzzed about once again. New York City is another peculiar scene, especially when you consider its population. But the fact is, space is pricey in the Big Apple, and breweries usually need plenty of it. That means that the folks who are brewing there have worked hard to do so, and deserve all the credit. Lastly, Southwest Michigan has been quietly building out a destination for beer, all its own. We're not talking Grand Rapids, but rather the Red Arrow Highway corridor and its surrounding towns near the lake. When breweries like Haymarket and Transient Artisan Ales leave the big city to open up shop, you best follow their path–especially when its down the road from North Pier, Greenbush, Tapistry, Cultivate, Watermark & Round Barn breweries.
SOME OF OUR FAVORITE VISUALS FROM THIS YEAR AT THR
A solid year for beer. Here's to even better in 2017.