Joe Sixpack's beer highlights of 2013

Posted: December 27, 2013

MY FAVORITE beer of 2013? You're going to have to wait a week till I make that announcement. In the meantime, there were lots of other notable newcomers throughout the year.

BEST CANNED BEER: Grisette.

Named after the drab factory-class women of 17th-century France, this lemony wheat beer from Sly Fox might be considered "saison light." Thirst-quenching with a bit of peppery yeast, it's the perfect can to pop on the beach or at a barbecue.  

Runners-up:St. Feuillien Saison and Manayunk Dreamin'.

BEST NAME: Sweet Baby Jesus.

It's easy to see how a chocolate peanut-butter porter could go terribly wrong, but on draft or in bottles, this one from Maryland's DuClaw Brewing is praiseworthy (if not a tiny bit blasphemous).  

Runners-up:Braaaiins! (Spring House Brewing), That's What She Said (Dock Street).

BEST BEER WITH THE WORST NAME: DirtWolf.

This strong, mango-like double IPA is the best new beer from Victory since Summer Love, in 2010. But DirtWolf? Sounds more like a vacuum cleaner.

BEST EVIDENCE THAT A CORPORATE TAKEOVER IS NOT THE END OF THE WORLD: Sofie Paradisi.

Whatever you think of Anheuser-Busch's acquisition of Goose Island, you can't deny that the Chicago brewery is still putting out exceptional beer.

Its Bourbon County series is a wallop upside the head, but for pure artistry, this grapefruit-flavored version of its highly regarded Sofie saison is hard to beat. As crisp and complex as a white Burgundy.

BEST EVIDENCE THAT MEGA-BREWERS STILL DON'T HAVE A CLUE: Beck's Sapphire.

Tasteless, watered-down, faux Euro-swill.  

Runner-up: The upcoming limited-edition rerelease of the original Miller Lite can.

BEST EVIDENCE THAT CRAFT BREWERS DON'T HAVE A CLUE, EITHER: Straubator Doppelbock.

The Brewers Association declared that, because Pennsylvania's tiny Straub Brewery uses adjunct ingredients, including corn, it isn't "traditional" enough to qualify as a true craft brewery. Which means this solid, full-flavored lager is . . . what? Not real beer?

Note to the Colorado-based B.A.: The 141-year-old Straub Brewery was making beer before your state was admitted to the Union.

BEST LAGER: Pilsner IPA.

A hybrid from the new Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery, in Lafayette Hill, with the light, refreshing body of a pilsner and the fresh, hoppy aroma of an India pale ale.

BEST LABEL: Manneken Penn.

OK, I'm decidedly impartial, because it was designed as Philly Beer Week's annual Belgian collaboration while I still led that organization. But Brasserie De La Senne's artwork of Brussels' famed Manneken Pis statue whizzing off the top of City Hall wasn't just a symbol of Philly's love affair with all things Belgium. It was T-shirt worthy. The light-bodied dubbel was perfect in hot, hot, hot June.

BEST BEER YOU NEVER TASTED: Splinter Brown.

A sour mash and oak barrel aging gave this sour brown ale a complex flavor I'd compare to Rodenbach. Unfortunately, because a bit of over-carbonation turned bottles into cork cannons, the limited release could be tasted only under adult supervision at Troegs' own brewpub, in Hershey.

BEST BEER DOWN THE SHORE: Cape May Pale Ale.

The Garden State's southernmost brewery seems ready for great things, stepping up both production and quality. Its single-hop pale ale might actually be hoppier than its IPA, with a long-lingering finish that is both dry and refreshing.

BEST PUMPKIN BEER: Warlock.

Imagine the flavor of Southern Tier's highly regarded Pumking in a rich stout. Lots of vanilla with dark-roasted malt.

BEST NEW BEER IN THE PHILLY MARKET: Jubelale.

Deschutes Brewing is a longtime favorite from the Pacific Northwest that came east with a big bang. While its core brands ( Black Butte, Mirror Pond, Inversion) are all well-made, this malty, full-bodied winter warmer is top-rung. It's a Christmas beer for people who don't like spice.


"Joe Sixpack" is written by Don Russell. For more on the beer scene, sign up for his weekly email update at joesixpack.net. Email: joesixpack@phillynews.com.

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