Hophead: My Favorite Beers of 2011

Written by Jesse Hughey for dallasobserver.com

​Here’s what passes for my year-end list, 10 of the beers that really impressed me this year, listed in no particular order other than roughly reverse-chronological. It’s late because I tend to do my heaviest drinking during the holidays. I wanted to be sure to include anything I tried up till midnight on New Year’s Eve; the tardiness is not at all because of a weeklong hangover combined with post-holiday depression rendering me nearly catatonic and completely uninterested in writing about … urp … beer.

Deep Ellum Brewing Co. brewmaster Drew Huerta is putting out some really good beer already, even with the brewery just a few weeks old. Festivus, a sort-of black IPA created in the wake of a brewery equipment failure that nearly rendered a huge batch unusable, was a fine holiday beer, but my favorite beer they make is the biggest: the imperial rye stout Darkest Hour. It’s just as dark as the name implies, with a nice dark-fruit sweetness and bracing spiciness and bitterness keeping the sugars in check. If you like dark beers, order some before it’s gone.

Maybe it was just in contrast to the burnt-rubber nastiness of Tactical Nuclear Penguin, but Mikkeller Barrel Aged Black Hole Cognac Edition was a wonderful deep, dark stout. The price was crippling at $20 a 12.7-ounce bottle at Strangeways (haven’t seen it in stores), but it was so lusciously rich and dark and strong I’d probably splurge on it again.

Deschutes The Abyss 2010, tried that same evening at The Common Table, was awesome, molasses and toffee and dark fruit swirled into an 11-percent ABV chocolate milkshake of a stout.

Saint Arnold Pumpkinator was a pain to find, but worth it, and convinced me after years of trying and hating crap like Pumpkinhead that gourds aren’t such a bad thing to add to beer after all.

Zywiec Original isn’t available in Texas, but I’m hoping that changes. The Polish beer is a canned Euro macro-lager that reminded me that beers don’t have to be incredibly original, flavorful or strong to be great. According to some Polish commenters, it’s nothing compared to other Polish beers. I may just add Poland to my fantasy European trip itinerary.

Baird/Ishii/Stone Japanese Green Tea IPA was one of my favorite new beers and an excellent showcase of the Sorachi Ace hop, not to mention a good cause. With its subtle green tea herbal background and Hophead Rating of 92, it was my favorite Stone Brewing Co. beer of the year.

Like Pumpkinator, Saint Arnold Divine Reserve 11 was worth the effort to find it. I’m glad the double IPA is slated to become a regular release, though I doubt that will keep it from being any more of a scramble to find a sixer.

Ranger Creek La Bestia Belgian Style Strong Ale, a dark, creamy, fruity ale and one of the offerings at the great Strong Ale Festival, was probably my favorite beer at that event.

Deschutes sent a sample of its seasonal pale ale, Red Chair NWPA (Northwest Pale Ale), which was a lovely example of the style, with big Froot Loop-smelling hops on the nose that delivered a candy-fruity balance of malt and hop with a crisp, bitter but not too bitter finish.

Weihenstephaner Korbinian Dunkles Starkbier may just be my new favorite German beer, an intensely rich dark beer with dark-fruit and toffee malt sweetness and a well-hidden 7.4 percent ABV.

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