Any “best of” list is destined to court controversy. Fans of craft beer are passionate folks with unique palates — so let’s all agree that we’ll never agree on the best craft beer releases of 2018.
As I began making my list, I reached out to some beer-world friends to make sure I hadn’t overlooked anything. The responses I got back were eye-opening. Everyone I contacted spent the year almost exclusively drinking local releases, and I think that says a lot about the current state of craft beer. If you live near an urban center, there’s a high likelihood you could spend months drinking beer exclusively produced in your neighborhood, even if that beer has limited or no distribution. And rural beer fans aren’t entirely excluded. I never thought I’d see the day when Albany, Georgia was home to a solid microbrewery (welcome, Pretoria Fields!).
So, I’ve come to terms with the fact that my craft beer favorites of 2018 are going to skew local, and I ask your understanding in advance. Plan a road trip to the Southeastern U.S. and let’s get to drinking.
Two Tides Brewing
As promised, I’m going local right out of the gate. Two Tides opened in 2018 inside an old house in Savannah, Georgia’s hip Starland District. The first time I tasted Hydrus, I was blown away. This dry-hopped double India pale ale is sweet, bursting with citrus hops, and incredibly refreshing. There were a lot of new IPAs that came out in 2018 and this was my favorite of the bunch. It just so happened to be brewed in my backyard.
New Realm Brewing
If you told me a year ago that a pilsner would make my best of the year list, I’d have laughed in your face. But here we are. Former Stone brewmaster Mitch Steele has made Atlanta’s New Realm a force to be reckoned with, and he’s doing it without gimmicks. Euphonia is a pitch-perfect style representation, with a fluffy head, floral aroma, and a taste that’s packed with sweet, cracker-like malts and a bright lemon aftertaste.
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery
Hardywood Park’s Gingerbread Stout (GBS) variants keep coming and I keep snatching them up. Christmas Pancakes is the latest iteration and sees the base GBS refermented on maple syrup. The ginger and caramel are still here, along with a huge dose of additional candy sweetness. But despite that influence, the beer still manages to be balanced. It’s the rare flavor bomb that doesn’t overwhelm.
Beyond the Clouds
Monday Night Brewing
Monday Night’s Garage Series continued to impress in 2018. One of the breakouts of that set was Beyond the Clouds, a wild IPA with Brettanomyces. The Brett funk isn’t overpowering, instead acting as a complement to the pops of pineapple, melon, and peach. The full carbonation is the perfect catalyst for activating the surprising range of flavors and makes the beer an easy drinking delight.
Bearded Iris Brewing
Snickerdoodle is described by the brewery as a blonde English-style barleywine made with snickerdoodle cookies, lactose, cinnamon, and vanilla. It sounds insane but it is also amazing. Is it really a barleywine? Maybe when eyeing the full ingredients list. But in practice, it’s a sweet strong ale that has just the right combination of baking spice and alcohol bite.