If ever a year demanded a long, desperate New Year’s keg stand, it’s this one. Hell, beer and beer-making were some of the only bright spots in 2017, and despite two Big Beer buyouts and some legislative distribution horseshit, the Lone Star State shone its brightest yet. Naming just five beers of the year is something of a scientific wild-ass guess in a market flush with greats, but after consulting bar-napkin scribblings, hazy hangtime recollections, and my longsuffering Untappd account, I’ve tallied up a demi-dozen brews I recommend shot-gunning on December 31.
SA really had a banner year in the beer realm, but I’ve got to hand the palm to Künstler Brewing for blessing us with Edelweiss, a Czech-style pilsner that marries the trad (European Noble hops) with the rad (dry-hopping). The resultant pint is light-bodied and bursting forth with fruit juiciness and just a titch of bubblegum pop, reflecting SA’s Teutonic heritage and gourmet innovation in a single glass.
Up in my own neck of the woods, Cibolo Creek’s Streetside has proved to be my favorite Kendall County ale. It kicks at 8.2 percent ABV and 86 IBUs of Amarillo, Simcoe, Summit, and Mosaic hops, which it balances with just enough malt to keep from tipping over into barleywine territory. It’s fresh, it’s assertive, and you can sip it from a plastic cup while walking down Main Street.
This year saw its share of whalez. Do you like whalez? Well, call me Ishmael and let’s talk whalez (or at least orcaz): Chardonnay barrel-aged Yellow Rose. Lone Pint’s SMaSH IPA is a beauty unto itself, but in Blake Niederhofer’s hands, the florality of its whole-cone Mosaic balanced out the buttery spread of the barrel, even as he held the oak in check to brace up (rather than overpower) the entire profile.
It was a banner year for luring Michigan craft to Texas, and while I put my share of Bell’s under my belt, it’s the Jolly Pumpkin/Jester King collabo Olas Espaciales I’ve gotta boost. TABC absurdity kept JK’s name off the label, but this effervescent saison bears all the hallmarks of the farmhouse legends. It pours delicate, almost dainty, its tidy funk and mild cherry-lime tart a wellspring of refinement among so many basically-a-balsamic-vinegar “sours.”
If we’re going on sheer volume and enduring affection to rate the top contender, this year’s beloved is, once again, Real Ale’s Full Moon Rye IPA. What can I say? I’m a sucker for the way that rye spice warms up beneath a Simcoe-Citra hop bouquet. You can drink them short, you can drink them long, you can drink them for an hour’s worth of minimum wage and some loose couch cushion change. And you can only get it in Texas.