What a year 2014 was for beer in Central Ohio. Three completely new breweries, Zaftig, Land Grant, and Temperance Row, opened up shop. Zauber and North High Brewing significantly expanded their capacity by purchasing new brewing systems. Cans of Four String and Seventh Son beers started showing up on the shelves. Sideswipe opened their brewery to visitors on Thursday evenings. Elevator celebrated their 15th anniversary. Barley’s and Smokehouse became independently owned entities. Columbus Brewing Company won gold medals at the World Beer Cup (Uncle Rusty) and the Great American Beer Festival (Creeper). Hoof Hearted’s Musk of the Minotaur won the inaugural King of Ohio IPA contest.
If all of that isn’t enough to put you in a celebratory mood I’ve compiled a list of my favorite local beers of 2014. With a couple of exceptions I’ve decided to focus on beers that first appeared in 2014 or late 2013. You don’t need another list telling you about Bodhi or Humulus Nimbus that are widely known to be great beers. Many of the beers on the list are seasonal beers, and a couple are likely to be one time releases. While you might find it frustrating that you can’t go out and sample all of these beers next week, just maybe it will encourage the brewers to re-release these beers. Even though I do my best to try as many local beers as possible there’s no doubt that I missed some good ones. I strongly encourage others to comment on their own top beers of the past year. Without further delay here is the list of my ten favorite central Ohio beers of 2014, listed in alphabetical order.
Bourbon Meyer Buckeye Stout (Barley’s)
Like those Reeses commercials Barley’s was able to combine rich chocolate malts with peanut butter goodness to create something akin to but so much better than a buckeye (the dessert not the poisonous nut). Unlike Reeses they aged the concoction in bourbon barrels to create a decadent, high abv treat that was the talk of the North Market Beer Festival this year. Hopefully last night’s Sugar Bowl victory for Ohio State is enough to inspire a fresh batch of this instant classic.
Buchenrauch Smoked Lager (Wolf’s Ridge)
Lagers are a rare breed in Central Ohio, and rauchbiers are an unusual style anywhere outside of Bamberg. Buchenrauch has just enough smoky character to trigger thoughts of savory smoked meats without going overboard, backed up by a slightly sweet, bready malt base. I picked up a growler of this beer and served it with a baked ham at our Christmas party for an incredible beer-food pairing.
Conductor Imperial Rye (Actual)
One of the few year round beers to make my list, Conductor blew me away the first time I tried it. The expressive west coast hops bring floral and fruity flavors that are in the same league as some of the best hoppy beers on the market, but Conductor gets a leg up on the competition when it comes to the malt canvas on which the hops do their thing. The finish hits you with a wave of spicy notes from the rye malts that are as assertive as any Rye IPA out there. As of the writing of this post you have your choice of the standard version of Conductor or Barrel Aged Conductor.
Coop Looter Saison (Sideswipe)
Sideswipe opened in late 2013 but most people (including myself) didn’t have their first experience with a Sideswipe beer until 2014. They may be a small operation but when it comes to quality they punch above their weight. My favorite is their saison Coop Looter, which has a fruity nose, a crisp mouthfeel, and a dry, spicy finish that leaves you with lingering notes of black pepper. As a sidenote it beat out beers from all over the state to win Ohio Beercast’s 2014 Fantasy Ohio Beer League.
Creeper (Columbus Brewing Company)
Creeper is not a new beer, but how could I leave off a local beer that beat out 134 competitors to win a gold medal in the Imperial IPA category at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival. The first Columbus brewed beer to win a gold at the country’s largest beer festival. Creeper has all of the fruity, floral hop goodness of CBC’s legendary Bodhi (itself a bronze medal winner in the American IPA category at the GABF) but packs a little bigger punch (10% abv) and more assertive bitterness.
Galloway Tale (Seventh Son)
Seventh Son put out a number of new beers this year that I considered for this list, including Mr Owl (imperial brown ale), Wilderman (biere de garde), and Urban Cowboy (Belgian-style stout). In the end my vote goes to Galloway Tale, an easy drinking stout (6% abv) made with heather flowers. This beer has a ton of things going on, dark chocolate, floral notes, tobacco, and raisin on the nose, a hint of grape at the finish, all wrapped up in a stout that is light bodied enough to drink during the hot summer months. It’s unlike any other beer I’ve come across. Unfortunately, Colin Vent head brewer at Seventh Son told me it is a pain in the ass to work with heather, so we may not get another chance at this one. I hope I’m wrong about that.
Paw Paw Hefewiezen (Jackie O’s)
There is so much good beer coming out of Jackie O’s that it is hard to choose just one, but my vote goes for the small batch Paw Paw Hefeweizen. Before I came to Ohio I’d never heard of a Paw Paw let alone tasted one. This year I got a chance to taste a paw paw for the first time and I found out that they taste something like a cross between a banana and a mango. In November I went a Jackie O’s beer tasting at Studio 35 where no less than two paw paw beers were on the tasting list. While Paw Paw Wheat is the beer they bottled, its cousin, Paw Paw Hefeweizen, is the one that really gets your attention. The combination of the paw paws and the hefeweizen yeasts makes for the most banana forward beer (in a delicious way) your likely to find anywhere.
Saison Supér (Rockmill)
Back in June I held a blind taste test that included twelve different saisons ranging from local favorites to entries from Ommegang, The Bruery, Sierra Nevada, Prairie Artisian Ales, Goose Island and a couple from Belgium. The runner up (and top local beer) in that contest was Rockmill’s Saison Super, a bulked up version of their standard Saison made for winter. It combines fruity esters, toasty malts, noble hops, and a boatload of peppery phenolics to create one of the best saisons out there.
South of Eleven (Hoof Hearted)
No brewery impressed me more this past year than Hoof Hearted. Their flagship IPA Musk of the Minotaur was voted the most popular IPA in central Ohio on this blog, and went on to defeat 14 of the top IPAs in Ohio in a blind taste test to be crowned the King of Ohio IPAs. Brewmaster Trevor Williams has a deft touch with the hops which makes it difficult to pick my favorite Hoof Hearted beer, but I’m going to have to go with their imperial IPA South of Eleven. For a beer that clocks in at 10.9% abv it is shockingly easy to drink. Combine that with over the top fruity hops and a surprisingly low level of bitterness and South of Eleven may be the best Imperial IPA I drank all year (sorry Pliny, Heady, Bodhi and El Lupelo Libre).
Too Cans IPA aged on Spanish Cedar (Zaftig)
Everything about Zaftig is big, except the brewery itself. Their Too Cans IPA, which weighs in at 10.5% abv and has enough hops and malts to stray dangerously close to barleywine territory, is no exception. Back in September they released five different versions of Too Cans, each one aged over a different wood. While they were all delicious the one aged over Spanish cedar was the most interesting. With the aromatic nose of a cedar chest and piney hop flavors on the palate, drinking this big beer is like taking a walk in the woods. (Click here to see my review of the other wood aged variants of Too Cans)
Well that’s my list, what’s yours?