Robin Shepard photos
I always look forward to picking my favorite Wisconsin beers of the year. It’s one of the most challenging things to write. Trying to pick just 10 from so many great beers reminds me (and I hope reminds fellow local beer enthusiasts) just how fortunate we are here in our many excellent craft breweries.
My favorites from 2016
Wiskator Doppelbock in J. Henry Barrels from Wisconsin Brewing Company
This big bourbon barrel-aged doppelbock was made using barrels from the J. Henry and Sons Distillery of Dane, Wisconsin. WBC released two versions of this doppelbock in bomber bottles, one from J. Henry barrels and a second one aged in Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels. The Heaven Hill barrel-aged varietal was stronger, somewhat overpowering in residual bourbon flavor. However, the J. Henry batch was so smooth in bourbon accents, which blended well with the caramel maltiness of the doppelbock. This was a very limited release; however, you may still be able to pick up a bomber at the brewery.
Potosi brewmaster Steve McCoy tweaked the hop bill in making his imperial IPA (IIPA) Hop Smith with a blend of Millennium, New Port, Zythos and Mosaic hops. At 83 IBUs, its potpourri of hoppiness was my go-to hop-forward beer of the year.
This beer conjures thoughts of a Mounds candy bar in a glass. A coconut porter, it captured a lot of attention from big beer lovers, especially fans of sweet beers. It’s rich in chocolate malt and roasted coffee tones, with the added sweetness of coconut extract.
Hallertau Blanc hops lend a white-wine feel to this IPA. Hush Money wasn’t exactly a secret because it ended up being one of the year’s most sought-after limited releases. All 200 cases of it were pre-sold even before it was packaged. Look for Hush Money to return in August.
This is a Marzen (Oktoberfest) that’s so easy to drink you might forget how many you had. WBC brewmaster Kirby Nelson revamped his Golden Amber lager and gave it a new identity, Badger Club.
O’so is known for its sour beers and this one explains why. Refresher Course had been offered a few times as a draught-only beer, but this past summer, brewery owner Marc Buttera decided it was time to release it in 750 mL bottles.
A traditional Bavarian hefeweizen, this was a refreshing seasonal with smooth yeastiness and hints of lemon and banana.
This ramped-up version of Spotted Cow was given the “Grand Cru” distinction by brewmaster Dan Carey as a sign of his brewery’s best. Made with Wisconsin-grown barley from Buffalo County, it’s a complex brew with the warmth of an imperial saison.
Second-favorite of the year
Kindled Spirits showed just how good a smoked beer can be. Don’t think ashes or burnt bacon. A little smoke can be a welcome accent in a beer, here to a light golden (helles) ale with ultimately a balanced flavor.
Best beer of 2016
It’s obvious Page Buchanan is a great brewer. This bourbon barrel-aged Belgian dubbel was flavorful, with hints of dark fruits masterfully blended with the warmth of woody oak, vanilla and bourbon from the barrel. DupleXX really shows Buchanan at his best, and was my favorite of 2016.