You’ve probably heard by now that there were a lot of great and memorable beers released in 2021, a year that equally sucked and was awesome. The pandemic sucks, COVID sucks, but the Bills are good and the sheer amount of noteworthy beers being created right here in our own backyard on a daily and weekly basis is uncanny. Like, it really is.
And while 2022 is shaping up to be even bigger, from upcoming beer festivals or breweries set to fire up their mash tuns and open their doors, you can’t move forward without first looking back and paying homage to the past. Alright, calling 2021 the past is kind of cheap, but it’s still the truth.
I polled 14 members of the Western New York craft scene, representing 15 breweries, cideries and meaderies, about their favorite beverages from this past year, and here is what they came up with.
This one is lengthy, so make sure you have a few adult beverages within arms-reach as you read along. Cheers.
Dan Syracuse, Owner, Pizza Plant: “Pressure Drop Blackalicious Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout (‘easy to put this one against any of the big hitters; rich, complex, and easily requires repeat drinking), Birrificio Italiano Klanbarrique GT (‘no its not an Italian sports car, but as refined; a grape sour ale, mild grape nose, sparkling tart body with a soft sweetness balancing the obvious puckering), Community Beer Works Prince Larry Kolsch (‘can’t have faults in this style, they make it work; touch of grain, a crisp, clean, and light quaffer), Other Half DDH Double Riwaka Chroma (‘so many tropical flavors packed in this; it drinks like a juice, really amazing’). A few mentions: Fat Heads Benjamin Danklin IPA, Ever Grain Living in Outer Space DIPA, Heady Topper, Flying Bison Blackbird Stout (cask), Ellipsis Cowabunga, Thin Man Trial By Wombat w/Citra hops (cask).”
Karl Kolbe, Head Brewer, Pressure Drop Brewing: “I was totally in love with Rare Barrel’s latest version of Shadows of Their Eyes, Pillow Talk from Eli Fish and Commiseration from Five and 20. But the one that took the cake for me was Thin Man’s 5th Anniversary IPA. I’m an IPA lover through and through and this beer stood out from all the others this year.”
Nick Torgalski, Head Brewer, Resurgence Brewing: “We (Resurgence) had some new and different sours – On the Tea, Big Boy, Pina Colada Blackberry Twist, the additions to our Pie Sour Series (Peach, Blueberry, Key Lime and Cherry Berry). Local favorite style – epic Oktoberfests across the board, we were spoiled this autumn with so many different versions and high quality beers.”
Drew Zach, Director of Brewery Operations, Resurgence Brewing: “There were so many great beers locally from 2022. We are truly lucky to have a wide variety of beers, and a wide variety within every style of beer. Getting back to some beers with some great malt characteristics were really what I enjoyed most. From some of our malt forward beers (Resurgence) – it was our Belgian Dubbel – Dubbel Talk, Ice Boom Bock and Oktoberfest. Our Legend of the Cone is still one of my favorite IPAs. Big Ditch’s Beer That Tastes Like Beer series has been a nice addition to the scene. I also really enjoyed their Kringle Juice IPA. Pressure Drop’s DDH Super Sticky, Gene McCarthy’s/OFW – their Hefeweizen is always spot on.”
Eddie Graves, Head Brewer, Clarksburg Cider: Favorite Cider – Bombshell Tutti Frutti, Favorite Roc Beer – K2 Banana Nut Cream Ale, Favorite Buffalo Beer – Britesmith Brewing Pinkies Out and Notable Mentions – West Shore Banana Brunch Imperial Hefe.”
Matt Gordon, Head Brewer, 12 Gates Brewing: “My fav beers of 2021 are pretty recent and my own creations, so not that exciting, but they are delicious. 12 Gates Blueberry Danish sour was an amazing beer. The flavor mix of blueberry, vanilla frosting and light crust went together perfectly and we all really enjoyed it. Another more recent beer is Putting on the Foil hazy DIPA. The name comes from one of my favorite movies, Slapshot and the can art is superb.”
Jason Dunshie, Head Brewer, Pearl Street family of breweries: “A wild year for the brewing scene and for me in my career as well. I took over as head brewer of three properties and brought on two awesome brewers (Ben Oship and Brian Vaughn) to help me come up with a diversified portfolio of beers for our locations. What has stood out for us has definitely been Bethune Brown Ale at Lafayette. Heavy coffee notes from English brown malt goes down smooth and is pretty much our go to when we stop in.
Locally – Paisley Pockets from Big Ditch was an awesome surprise in an IPL! Non-Local – Stratatouille IPA from Pizza Port Ocean Beach in San Diego. Made with wet hop Strata!
So many great choices everywhere! Bring it on 2022!”
Joe Marshall, Co-Owner, Head Brewer of Lilly Belle Meads and TIL Brewing: “I always feel very lucky living in Buffalo with all the great beer, cider and mead available, especially as being part of the craft beer and beverage industry in that I get to try a lot of these fantastic beverages and share them with the good people that make them. There were so many great ones and it’s always a blast to see what’s coming next down the canning lines.
For me, this was the year I really embraced sour beers and learned to really appreciate the whole scope of what they can be. On a canning day early on in 2021, I walked in to Eli Fish and got handed a Carrot
Cake Sour and as I gave their brewer Adam the oddest of looks, he just said “This is what you need right now.” After one sip that can didn’t stand a chance, so good! I also really liked West Shore’s Black
Cranberry Sour and 12 Gate’s Blueberry Danish.
I work with some breweries more, so I get to try more of some than others, but I loved Hofbräuhaus Regular Lager, Old First Ward Brewing Streaker West Coast IPA, Woodcock Bros Cocktoberfest, West Shore/Eli Fish Imperial Bavarian Cream Donut Stout, Britesmith Wet Hop Ale, Eli Fish Strange Days and the last batch of Rusty Nickel True Pils Fan might be one of the best examples I’ve had of the style around here.
There’s so many more but those are the ones that stuck out the most. Only one way to be sure though, gotta get out there and have many more pints.”
Noah O’Keefe, Lead Cellarman, 42 North Brewing : “Treehouse Old Man (best ESB I have managed to find. Light toasty caramel malt and classic earthy English hop character), Calmécac by Hercules Brewery (A 14% Imperial Mexican Stout aged in Mescal barrels with lots of smoky toasty chocolate, mescal, and charred barrel character), Rogue 2019 Santa’s Private Reserve (American strong ale made with candy cap mushrooms; oddly the perfect Christmas drink by the fire), Rohrbach Instruments of Destruction (a black wheat wine made with hazelnut and orange blossom honey), Country Boy Brewing Shotgun Wedding (smooth easy drinking brown ale with vanilla from Tennessee), Firestone Walker Napa Parabola (Parabola aged in Napa valley French oak wine barrels).”
John Paul Meteer, Head Brewer, Brickyard Brewing Company: “This is an easy one for me. It’s Okay To Not Be Okay, our collaboration with Pressure Drop and Thin Man, is my favorite beer of the year. Not only because preventing youth suicide and raising mental health awareness is important, the beer was actually great, and I learned a lot from the process. Also on my list of favorites: Big Ditch’s 100% NY, Pressure Drop’s Sticky Trees, and Dogfish Head’s Utopias-Barrel-Aged World Wide Stout.”
Paul Marko, Buffalo Beer Geeks: “Local – Eli Fish Pillow Talk (gin barrel aged wheat beer) and Steamy Grains Vaughn (barrel aged barley wine with coffee), Thin Man Spelunkenheimer Willet Bourbon Barrel Aged Adambier, 42 North Lost Barrel Aged Farmhouse Ale, New York Beer Project Brewers Reserve Barrel Aged Sour, Old First Ward Cremated Remains Rauchbier (2nd batch), Big Ditch Double Barrel 2021 (Black Button/Vanilla Bean Barrel Aged Stout), Thin Man Creep in the Cellar Kellerbier, Community Beer Works Strawberry Gold Foeder-Aged Strawberry Wild Ale, Pressure Drop Space Coyote DIPA, Thin Man Awesome Jenkins (Batch 2) Blanton’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
Non-Local: Tilquin Gueuze 10th Anniversary Blend, Suarez Postscript Farmhouse Saison, Fair Isle Leila Saison (newish brewery in WA state run by former Jester King brewer), Bellwoods Farmageddon 2021 with Norfolk Montmorency cherries, Brasserie De La Senne Ouden Vat Flanders Red, Fonta Flora Oak Stand Schwarzbier, De Ranke XX Bitter 2021 version Belgian IPA and do many more!”
Russell Haentges, Brewer, Windy Brew: “Other Half Brewing Hot Dogs Are Tacos, First Line Brewing Berry Goodboy, Windy Brew Floatin’ On, Southern Storm Sour IPA, Camille’s Peach Crumble, Mortalis As Above So Below, Zuul, Eli Fish Norm, Steamy Grains Vaughn, Weldwerks Juicy Bits, Root Beer Float Stout, Frequentum Just Fruit, Corporate Ladder Severance Package, Crooked Stave Gift of Time Illusion, 14er Key Lime Cream Ale.”
Patrick Alexanderson, Co-Owner/Head Brewer, One-Eyed Cat Brewing: “This is a difficult contribution to write under “normal” circumstances, but the past year-and-a-half has blurred together and things are very fluid in my memory. As for local beer, the big standouts for me have been Pressure Drop’s DDH Super Sticky and Dank Sinatra. Karl does magical things with hops. CBW’s Singularity series: Amarillo was fantastic. Thankfully Resurgence re-released Curly Loaf, because that beer is very yummy. White Bronco kills it all day long.
Non-local highlights for me this year were fresh bottles of Edith, Arthur and Strata Self Reliance from Hill Farmstead; all tremendous. Nightmare Brewing released Mizuhiratsuke a TIPA, and Sororocide and dense Imperial Stout. This brewery can do no wrong in my eyes. Foam’s Desolation Angels and Jester King’s Grisette round out some domestic high points for me. Internationally, I have had some great beers from Costa Rica (Treintaycinco, Lake Arenal Brewing), Belgium (Achouffe, De Ranke), and France (Goutte d’Or).
Non-beer highlights have all been meads for me. Lily Belle’s Bobby and BBA Bobby are always a go-to. Dansk Mjød’s Viking Blod is an extraordinary 19% ABV mead made with hibiscus. Find it if you can, it’s delectable.
As for our own stuff, it was a year of fantastic lagers for us. 2021 brought us Fika: a Smoked Bohemian Pilsner, Felicity: a Schwarzbier and an incredible Dopplebock. Our Centennial wet-hopped cream ale, Zien, was very delicious as well, and we had the opportunity to open a bottle of 2019 Maenad’s Kiss (our Smoked English Barleywine aged in bourbon barrels), which aged wonderfully and rekindled the fire and excitement to mass produce it in 2021.”
Dominic Nicotera, Spotted Octopus Brewing: “This was hard for me since we brewery crawl all the time. So many good beers here in WNY. Prince Larry and King Larry – CBW, Yabba Dabba…Duuude and Kickin’ Bass Session IPA – First Line, Smokeshack Maple Bacon Porter- Twin Elder Brewery, Hibiscus IPA – CBW, Blind Squirrel Brown Ale – Britesmith Brewing, Sunday Sauce and Pineapple Cream Ale – Buffalo Brewing Company, Strummer – Pressure Drop Brewing.”
Alex Wendley, Assistant Brewer, Steelbound Brewery: “One of my favorite beers to drink is Gunners Daughter Milk Stout by Mast Landing Brewing Co. in Maine. This is a phenomenal milk stout with hints of peanut butter, chocolate and coffee. I feel that this is a staple milk stout in the Northeast.
A great IPA is Ziggy Stardust Double NEIPA from Aurora Brewing Co. over on Cayuga Lake. Back in September 2021, I took a trip across the Finger Lakes and hit a total of 10 breweries and tried a lot of good beers, but the one that stands out to me the most was Ziggy Stardust. It is a Double NEIPA fruited with oranges, vanilla and milk sugar, and it tasted like I was drinking a creamsicle. Outstanding flavor on this beer.
Lastly, one of my favorite IPAs is Vapor Ringz Imperial IPA from Other Half Brewing Co. I think Other Half does an amazing job with all of their IPAs and I firmly believe they produce some of the best IPAs in the state. Any IPA they make using heavy oats and lactose always come out tasting like IPA candy.”
Brian Campbell is co-founder and Brand Manager of the Buffalo Beer League, and writes the weekly Buffalo Beer Buzz column. If you have beer news that should be included in the Beer Buzz, Brian can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter (@buffbeerleague), Instagram (@buffalobeerleague), and Facebook (@thebuffalobeerleague).