A half-dozen taps on top.
This year we've seen brewery openings and expansions, new faces behind the brew kettles and top-notch Wisconsin-made beers. Not all are available in bottles, but if they were, it would make for a memorable six-pack.
Belgian Prairie from the Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co.-Hilldale
This Belgian tripel, fermented with Wollersheim Winery's Prairie Fumé for over a month, finishes strong at 10% ABV. Its sweetness offers something for both beer drinkers and wine enthusiasts. It went on tap in mid-December at the Great Dane-Hilldale.
Bleeding Heart from Wisconsin Brewing Co.
Brewmaster Kirby Nelson pushed the limits of the farmhouse ale style when he created Bleeding Heart, an amber-colored saison that finished at 6.1% ABV. Its rich, malty, yeasty flavor couldn't be passed up -- at least by me.
Among brewmaster Scott Manning's 2014 best was this Belgian dubbel. A year's aging in French red wine barrels made of oak produced a brew with malty raisin and plum characteristics. Its sweetness was smooth and inviting.
Carnal Knowledge in the Wood from Tyranena Brewing Co.
This big malty double stout is aged in rye whiskey barrels that lend warm sweetness from the whiskey and oak. This is one of brewmaster Rob Larson's best barrel-aged beers.
Fantasy Factory, an assertive India Pale Ale, was the first Karben4 beer to be bottled. Citrus hints of tangerine, orange and pineapple, coupled with a malty backbone and a nice lingering dryness to the finish, make this one of the best Wisconsin IPAs I've tasted recently.
A Grand Cru is supposed to be a brewery's very best, and this beer lived up to its name. The brewery's made it since 2012, but this year offered it in single 16-ounce bottles for the first time. Full-bodied, with lots of dark-fruit sweetness, this beer stood out above all other Wisconsin beers as my favorite of the year.