Best five craft beers of the year

By Don Kavanagh

Liberty Brewing's Yakima Monster beer.
Liberty Brewing's Yakima Monster beer.

I can't believe that it's Christmas again.

Really, I have no idea where the last 12 months have gone and, tempting as it would be to blame that on the drink, I think I'll have to start facing up to the fact that age is creeping up on me.

Still, it being Christmas and therefore a time for both reflection and manic consumerism, I thought I'd reflect on some of the better drinks I've had this year, in case you feel the need to pick up a last-minute gift or simply treat yourself this year.

First off, I've drunk a lot of beer this year and when I say a lot, I mean a lot. I've had warm beers from the Arctic Circle, cold ones from southeast Asia, austere, hop-driven ogres from the US and rich, malty ales from Belgium and I can tell you it's been incredibly good fun. In fact there is only one beer I remember actually not liking at all this year and even then I think it was because the beer was so old by the time I got it.

I'm not usually a lover of competitively ranking beer, since I am all too aware that everyone's taste is different and one man's perfect IPA is another man's nightmare, but I'll share the five craft beers I've enjoyed drinking most this year.

The first one that springs to mind is Liberty Brewing's Yakima Monster, a well-named beer, since it has definite monster tendencies. It's blindingly good beer, with a near-perfect balance of sweet malt flavour and biting, pine-resin hop notes and it hangs together beautifully.

The next one I would heartily recommend is Deep Creek's Pontoon in a Monsoon IPA, a briskly refreshing beer with lemony hop notes and a lovely honeyed malt foundation. It's one of the most eminently drinkable and sessionable IPAs I've come across so far.

I've really been enjoying smoky beers this year too and - if you can lay your hands on them - Iron Horse's Holy smoke from Australia and the beer with the longest name in New Zealand, Kereru's For Great Justice Wood-Fired Toasted Coconut Porter. The Iron Horse is glorious; strong, burnt-barley notes with toasty wood and good hop crispness, it's a beer I could drink all day long, while the Kereru is simply delightful, with a tonne of flavour, although it would probably be a little too much for me after three.

And last, but not least, the lovely, loyal and ever-reliable Emerson's Bookbinder. I know it's now a Lion product, but it's still the same lovely beer it has always been, a Kiwi twist on a classic English bitter and, at 3.7 per cent alcohol, it's easily the most sessionable beer around.

Now as for the genuinely mainstream beers, it's a been a big year too.

However, the main problem I've had with them is that so few of them were really memorable, apart from the Dublin-brewed Guinness being poured at Spitting Feathers in Wyndham St in the city.

Next week, I'll look at a few memorable wines and spirits I've had this year and hopefully you'll be able to get your hands on them too.

It is Christmas, after all.

- Herald on Sunday

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