Listen, I’m not going to beat around the bush. 2020 sucked, we all know that. Everyone went through shit, everyone dealt with shit, myself included. I dealt with more downs than ups, but I persevered, and beer was a large part of that. I’ll admit that, at times, I perhaps leaned too heavily on it. Nevertheless, I, we, made it through. And here we are.
Regardless of how rough a year 2020 truly was, it was a fantastic year for beer, and arguably the best year ever for local beer. So, as part of the cathartic process of putting 2020 in the rear view, we reached out to our friends in the industry to find out more about all of the beers that helped them survive the last number of months. This year I polled personnel from Steelbound, Five & 20, Thin Man, 12 Gates, Ellicottville Brewing, Pressure Drop, Flying Bison, Buffalo Beer Geeks, 42 North Brewing, Community Beer Works, and Windy Brew. I polled a hell of a lot more, but many preferred not to respond for a variety of reasons, the pandemic chiefly among them.
So, settle in, pour yourself a fitting libation and prepare to find out your favorite brewers’ favorite beer of 2020.
Erik Roesser, Steelbound Brewery & Distillery: “This year was a little weird to say the least. The pandemic really put a damper on getting out to places I wanted to go this year. Favorites are mostly just the staples that are normally in my fridge with a gift when I actually did get to see other humans. Sloop’s Juice Bomb, Big Ditch’s Hayburner, and Pressure Drop’s Sticky Trees got a lot of love this year from me. Lemon Grass Cream Ale from Community Beer Works was my favorite of theirs this year in a year that they put out a bunch of great stuff. Finally got my hands on some White Bronco from Brickyard Brewing Company, which I enjoyed, and [I am] happy to see them back and running. I did get to Trillium before the world went to hell and loved Meddle, their double IPA.”
Karl Kolbe, Head Brewer, Pressure Drop Brewing: “Favorite beers of 2020…Although the year sucked, the beer was fucking phenomenal. So many releases from so many breweries just had my mind spinning all year long. My personal favorite from our brewery was probably Deep Search. I love the addition of Vic Secret hops, which gave the beer a whole extra layer of flavor. From other local breweries, I was absolutely astounded by the Barrel Aged Towpath that was released this year from Big Ditch. That was absolutely fucking phenomenal. Also, let’s not forget the Das Schützenfest from Thin Man Brewery, that imperial barrel aged marzen was amazing. And, from a non-local, Map of the Sun by Rare Barrel is still one of my all-time favorites. Cheers.”
Matt Gordon, Head Brewer, 12 Gates Brewing: “Another year, another favorite beers list. I need to start timing my releases geared towards this article as my favorites always seem to be my most recent tastings. And my most recent favorite goes to Pressure Drop’s Deep Search IPA. That thing was damn tasty. As for my other favorites throughout the year, CBW’s Canadian Breakfast and Choco Taco Whale, First Line Brewing Boom Toasted, Corporate Ladder (FL) Strawberry Tootsie Roll Sour, and SingleCut Softly Spoken Magic Spells. For my hometown offerings, I thought the Emoji Series went well and enjoyed how each one was very unique to itself. My personal fav has to be the Bills-themed Playoff Beard New England Double IPA. Smooth, creamy, flavorful, but most of all it tastes like Bills playoff wins. Go Bills and congrats to Buffalo breweries for another great year during these difficult times and thank you for all the support from the local drinking community. You guys have really stepped up to keep all of us going. Cheers!”
Rudy Watkins, Head Brewer, Thin Man Brewery: “We all needed a little extra comfort in 2020. I listened to a lot of music from my past, I cooked a lot of food I hadn’t in years & I drank a bunch of old school beers. My last trip before COVID clampdown 1.0 was to Portland, ME where I visited Novare Res. Such an amazing vibe with a deep, rich beer list. Standouts there were De Dolle Oerbier Reserva & Schlenkerla Helles. Those beers kind of set the standard for the rest of the year – lots of Belgian ales (stronger things from De Dolle & Struise, delicate saisons from Dupont and Blaugies, Allagash Tripel) and clean lagers (Schlenkerla’s portfolio, Rathaus, that brilliant Bitburger/Sierra Nevada collab, whatever Suarez I could get my hands on) in my fridge. Sours, as always, were close to my heart. 3 Fonteinen’s 2017 Vintage blend was absolutely killer – reminiscent of the best 3 Fonteinen beers from back in the day – Blauw, Armand & Tommy, Millennium Gueuze, etc. And Sticky Trees. Lots of Sticky Trees.”
Paul Marko, Resident Beer Geek, Download Design: “[My] top 20 in no particular order, and man are their so many more! Suarez (my year to really enjoy their beers, they all were 4.5 or above so this brewery POPS as my 2020 non-local NYS favorite), “Stands to Reason” Rauchbier, “Homespun” American Pale Ale, “Backroads” Farmhouse Ale, “Palantine Pils” German Pilsner, “Whistlin'” Cask-aged Farmhouse, Thin Man “Petite Amour” blend of barrel aged American wild ales, “Spelunkenheimer” Adambier, “Das Schützenfest” Marzen, “Awesome Jenkins – Basil Haden Barrel Aged” Imperial Stout, 42 North “Verboden” Flanders Oud Bruin (barrel aged), “Lost” Barrel aged Mixed-culture Farmhouse, Pressure Drop “Sour Diesel” fruited sour, Old First Ward “Cremated Remains” Rauchbier, New York Beer Project “Beer Geek” Pale Ale, Pantomime Mixtures “Intro Into – Blend 1” blended barrel aged Farmhouse, Other Half “5th Anniversary Imperial IPA” stupidly big IPA, Shelton Brands “Careful With That Peach, Eugene” fruited Lambic by Beachwood Brewery (extra points as best named beer of 2020), “Once Upon a Time in Belheim” Fruited Lambic from 8 Wired, “The Garden Paths Led to Flowered” Farmhouse by Garden Path Fermentation, and “ItaloBanger” Imperial Stout by Pohjala.”
Ethan Cox, President, Community Beer Works: “Favorite Beer: CBW – Well, almost certainly it was Beer On Purpose, the Italian Pilsner that Vandra made over at Hydraulic Hearth. Perfectly dry, delectable nose, crackery malt, crisp finish – it just nailed all the points of style. Honorable mention to this year’s batch of Dude Incredible Import/Export Stout, Right Here Right Now, and our version of Black Is Beautiful Imperial Stout.
Favorite Beer: Buffalo – I sincerely enjoyed Big Ditch’s collab with Ommegang, Helles Superior, and as well, Resurgence’s Circle the Wagons Pilsner. I also crushed a bunch of Hamburg’s Blackberry Gose, and was quite excited for the return of Flying Bison’s HERC Barleywine.
Favorite Beer: NYS – I was very fortunate to have a modicum of Big Alice’s big winner this year – GABF Gold, as well as NYS BA Competition Gold & Best Of Show, The Many Lives Of Our Lives, a fruited, mixed-fermentation and barrel-aged sour that really was quite impressive with layers of flavor. As well, I continue to be enthralled with Suarez’ beers; pretty much any of them, but this year I was able to enjoy both his new Altbier as well as old favorites like the sumac-infused Backroads, a delicate but perfect wild fermentation.
Favorite Beer: The World – didn’t get out much in 2020, but something amazing did happen in early 2020 that seems like a lifetime ago: Thee Barelywine Festival & Invitational. And that day, not only did I have the good fortune to enjoy some Hair Of The Dog Doggie Claws, and some well-aged Back Burner (Southern Tier), but also undoubtedly the last bottle of Pretty Things I’ll ever have the good fortune to consume: a bottle of Our Finest Regards that Brendon somehow managed to bring. Simply amazing, all three of those beers. Cheers & Slainte!”
Tim Herzog, Owner, Flying Bison Brewing: “In this bizarre year, I found myself trying a lot of new beers and rediscovering some old favorites. In no particular order: Liefman’s Goudenband was on super sale at local stores. I took advantage of their generosity…severely. Big Ditch Low Bridge is a nice “after a walk beer,” as is OFW Against the Grain Hefeweizen, when it’s available. I have had a few Resurgence IPA varietals that put a smile on my face. Flying Bison has been brewing more “New England” influenced IPAs. I have a greater appreciation for the bright, tropical fruit flavors in the hop varieties used, but I have not lost any appreciation for the British or West Coast IPA while making friends with the newbies. I must confess I still am lost on the “it doesn’t taste anything like beer” style beers. I like beer flavored beer. I guess I gotta get out more. I said that last year, but it didn’t happen…for some reason.”
Chris Groves, Brand Manager, CBW: Local – CBW’s Beer On Purpose Italian-style Pilsner. Non-local – Urban Family Brewing (Seattle, WA) Black Is Beautiful Imperial Stout with Onda Origins Coffee.
Mike West, Social Media Manager, CBW: “I was sick and not drinking for a third of 2020, and drank mostly CBW and other locals the rest of the time. Our brew and packaging team really crushed 2020! CBW’s Conflict of Sounds DIPA, Good Neighbor IPA, Canadian Breakfast Whale, Choco Taco Whale, Rad Frank, Abundance of Caution Kölsch, and Swivet (a 2017 bottle that I enjoyed on Inauguration Day). Big Ditch Mudlarked with Peanut Butter was extremely tasty. Belt Line Summer League Kölsch. Pressure Drop Sticky Icky IPA.”
Brendon Van Allen, Director of Sales, CBW: “Spruce Hornsby by CBW was really damn good! Great Lakes Oktoberfest was probably the only beer I paid for at the store other than CBW. It’s goddamn fantastic. I love it.”
Dave Giczkowski, Area Sales Manager, CBW: “Local – Fat Rips (CBW). Non-local – Alpha Klaus from Three Floyds. Really one of the few 6 packs of something I bought that was not a make your own 6 pack.”
Russell Haentges, Windy Brew: “Other Half Ghost of the Machine collab, Resurgence Over the Hop Strawberry IPA with Graham Cracker and Arnold Palmer Sour, Big Ditch Space Donkey and Cannon Call, Buffalo Brewing Company Oat Cream IPA with Galaxy, First Line Beasts in the East IPA and Alpha Bravo Citrus IPA, Windy Brew Hurricane, Tropical Storm Sour IPA, and Windmill Mafia, Mortalis Peach Crumble Sour IPA, Atlas, Erebus Stout, and NYX, Froth Pillow Top and Cheesecake Liquid Lollipop, Eli Fish Brewing Nobody Likes Josh IPA, Pressure Drop Sticky Trees, Farm Brewery Ohhh Fudge collaboration, Rising Storm It Was Written Sour IPA, West Shore Brewing Imperial Bavarian Cream Donut Stout.”
Josh Smith, Brewer, Ellicottville Brewing: “Wild Little Thing – Sierra Nevada, and Fat Rips – CBW x Pressure Drop.”
Emily Wadsworth, Brewer, EBC: “Big Ditch Berry Vision, Vonn Trap Bohemian Pilsner, and Sierra Nevada Barrel Aged Narwhal.”
Reed, Production Manager, EBC: “Hamburg Brewing Louie, Four Mile Allegheny IPA, Britesmith Will’s Pills, Collision Bend Sixth City Altbier, Lavery California Common, Big Ditch Excavator, Fat Rips – CBW x Pressure Drop, Railroad Brewing Hazy Crazy, 42 North The Duke.”
Paul Alessi, Head Brewer, Five & 20: “Simply put, the best beers I had this year were from WNY breweries! My 2020 beer memories include curbside pickups, crowler drops on loading docks, virtual tastings, and the occasional socially distant pint inside or outside, when it was allowed. There isn’t really one brand that stands out to me, but rather the perseverance of our brewing community as a whole!”
Noah O’Keefe, Lead Cellerman, 42 North Brewing: “Windlass of Erasmus by Nightmare Brewing Company (I recommend trying any beer you see by Nightmare), Cremated Remains by Old First Ward Brewing (If you’re new to the style or have had other smoked beers, I highly recommend going over and grabbing at least a pint), Sometimes You’re a Nut by Lough Gill (Basically, a 10% almond joy pastry stout with a powerful nose of coconut and milk chocolate followed by an incredibly smooth bodied stout with tasting notes of rich nutty chocolate and vanilla), Old Man by Tree House Brewing (Light caramel malts combined with a classic earthy English hop profile make for an easy drinking any time brew), Calmécac by Hercules Brewery (A 14% Imperial Mexican Stout aged in Mezcal barrels? Yes I’ll take your entire stock please), Candy Harts by New Trail Brewing Company (Tasted exactly like a strawberry milkshake with subtle notes of peach and raspberry this was exactly was I needed to de-stress in April 2020), Origin of Darkness by Collective Arts and Mikerphone (As viscous and thick as maple syrup itself, with the bourbon barrel more in the aroma than the flavor. I had to double check the can).”
Thank you to everyone who took part in this article. It really is one of my favorite articles to write each year. And if you made it this far, thank you for reading.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter (@buffbeerleague), Instagram (@buffalobeerleague), and Facebook (@thebuffalobeerleague).