With the holiday season winding down, again we reflect on the best beers of the North Texas market during 2014. The region continued its screaming pace of growth as new breweries opened and established breweries expanded, commanding more of the craft beer consumer’s attention and dollars than ever.
You should now be familiar with the rules of this most difficult list in DFW: Only beers that first made their commercial appearance in bars or on shelves of North Texas retail during the past calendar year are eligible. These may not be the best available overall (and I’m certain to have missed many) but it is a good snapshot of what I found to be the most outstanding and distinctive glasses worth noting. If you have additions to or criticisms of this list, let’s hear them.
As you might note, two things set this list apart from prior years. This is the first time local North Texas brewers have claimed half of the top ten spaces, and multiple beers from the same breweries fought for the same limited slots and could easily be swapped without affecting the rankings. Our local brewers are getting better, and the craft breweries that are improving are doing so across their product lines. You should be drinking all of these.
10. (tie) Franconia Triple Dunkel. With the first tie in the history of this list, these two beers are both equally deserving of recognition and neither could be omitted in favor of the other. Über-traditionalist Franconia plays with the German dunkel style to make a thrice-as-bold beer with deep malt and dark fruit flavors and a warming alcoholic kick.
10. (tie) Rabbit Hole Hole Lang Syne. Rabbit Hole has conquered the rare task of brewing an American Belgian-style beer that can stand up to an import. Mildly influenced with a fresh berry addition, the Hole Lang Syne is an excellent Belgian stand-in for champagne on NYE.
9. Zio Carlo Chimiracle. Since head brewer Austin Jones recently left the brewpub, this winter seasonal is one of the first brews by original owner and founder, Carlo Galotto. It is dark and heavily holiday spiced, and fresh off the tap it is everything Anchor Christmas wishes it could be.
8. Martin House Cellarman’s Reserve IPA (Amarillo). Many breweries have tried the single-hop series but, overall, most emerge as curious lab experiments rather than beers you actually want to drink. Martin House has succeeded in making one of the best single-hop styles I’ve ever tasted with a great balance and depth of flavor.
7. Clown Shoes The Good, The Bad and the Unidragon. Brewed specifically for the Texas market, this potent imperial stout packs an alcoholic punch but is a lamb to drink. It’s mesquite-smoked malt tempers the traditional deep roasts and coffee flavors typical of the style for a clean, sharp, very drinkable balance.
6. Prairie Brimstone Bomb! Prairie Artisan Ales landed in Texas last year like the proverbial bomb, with many of their beers list-worthy. This particular Bomb! is a fantastic imperial stout among several variations that features cacao nibs and chipotle peppers and aged in Texas whiskey barrels for an almost addictive high-gravity beverage.
5. Malai Kitchen Thai-P-A. Although their primary focus is as a restaurant and their brewing.efforts are minor, the marriage of hops and Thai basil puts this Asian restaurant/brewpub on the map. Try their bia hoi also for a taste of Vietnamese brewing.
4. Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale by Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling. This line of Kentucky bourbon barrel-aged beers haven’t received the attention they truly merit. With many of their products aged in house-made bourbon barrels, each beer shares a subtle and complimentary flavor blend that make the entire line desirable to the fan of barrel aging.
3. Prairie Funky Gold Mosaic. American sour beers have become so common as to be boring, few having the depth of flavor necessary to compete with European versions. However, this Prairie version that includes a heavy dry-hop dose of the distinctive Mosaic hops provides a truly unique contrast and flavor combination that sets it apart.
2. Oskar Blues Tequila Barrel-Aged Gubna. It’s no secret I’m a fan of tequila, so it should be no surprise I’m a fan of tequila barrel-aged beers. I’m pleased to see the trend increasing, and Oskar Blues’ treatment of their strong IPA is one of the best uses of a tequila barrel with respect to beer that I’ve encountered.
1. Lakewood French Quarter Temptress. Previously released as after-brew blends in individual firkins, several specialty Temptress treatments have been reconceived and brewed as proper, full batches (many to be released in 2015). This entrancing brew with chicory and Noble Coyote coffee is among the best beers Lakewood has ever made.
Peach Barrel Wheat Ale by Alltech Lexington Brewing, Shannon Irish Red, Odell 180 Shilling, BJ’s Goliath Imperial Red, Lakewood Bourbon Barrel-Aged Temptress, Epic Big Bad Baptist, Sierra Nevada There and Back.
Happy New Year!