Hard to believe that it is already time to award another Beer of Tomorrow Beer of the Year honor, and with so many new brews being released in 2015 it was a challenge to winnow down the pool of IPAs, sour ales, and inventive hybrid styles. Wherein previous years the award has gone to new beers that we’ve fallen hard for and consumed as often as possible (Firestone Walker’s Pivo Pils in 2014 and Monkish Brewing’s Selah in 2015), this year we were so taken by Highland Park Brewery’s Raised Eyebrows fruited wild ale that it gets the nod even though we’ve only enjoyed the brew on a handful of occasions.
HPB Raised Eyebrows
The beer is a low alcohol (4%ish) tart ale that I’ll call a “table sour” that’s been fruited with passion fruit and guava (some from the neighborhood trees that surround the brewery) and fermented with HPB’s mixed house culture in both stainless steel and wine barrels. I first sipped Raised Eyebrows at an LA Beer Week event called “Measure Your Head” — a symposium on mixed fermentation beers featuring the brewers from Craftsman Brewing, Monkish, and Highland Park Brewery. It was a warm June evening, and the space where the talks were held was a small room next to Barbara’s at the Brewery, and it was hot in there. The hazy glass of Raised Eyebrows proffered during the event was a welcome restorative, and intensely refreshing beer instantly perked me up when I was feeling a bit wilted.
Raised Eyebrows is firmly tart without being puckering, and the fruit aromas are intensely tropical and earthy. There’s an underlying funk, but it’s well balanced with the acidity and punchy fruit flavors. It’s this balance, all managed without much alcohol, that makes the brew so effortlessly drinkable and interesting, and this is a wild ale that is as sessionable as any Berliner Weisse or Gose. I managed a few more glasses at the Hermosillo bar in the months that followed, but it was always a beer that left me wanting more and that stuck in my brain after just that first glass.
Raised Eyebrows was met with excellent reactions from the community, and it currently holds 93 points on Beer Advocate and over 4 stars on Untappd. A batch of 1400 bottles of the tart and fruity ale was released in December, and even with a pricetag of $15+fees for each bottle, the run went fast. Expect to see more Raised Eyebrows brewed in 2016, and don’t miss out on this expression of HPB’s creativity and skill at crafting uncommon beers.
Best new lager: Sierra Nevada Brewing – Oktoberfest 2015
I’m going outside of Los Angeles for the first honorable mention, and Sierra Nevada’s new take on their classic O’fest brew very nearly beat out Raised Eyebrows as the Beer of the Year. The veteran craft brewers turned to an old world brewery for help with the new formulation, and Brauhaus Riegele in Bavaria provided the expertise only a centuries-old brewery could. The resulting collaborative lager was bold and malty with a distinct crispness in the finish and a bristling noble hop character. It’s almost a shame that Sierra Nevada will move on from the partnership with Brauhaus Riegele in 2016 to partner with a different German brewery (and each year they plan to rotate through other traditional German breweries), but I’m sure that next version of Oktoberfest will be just as refined, balanced and striking as this year’s.
Also, a quick nod to Grandpa Tractor from Orange County’s Barley Forge Brewing — this well executed Dortmunder Export Lager is a brilliant example of a style that doesn’t see nearly enough attention from American craft brewers.
Best new wild ale: Firestone Walker Barrelworks – ZinSkin
This blend of Zinfandel pomace from Thacher Vineyards and long-aged sour opal from the Buellton-based Barrelworks marque is nearly indescribable. Tart and funky with a firm structure of tannins and oak, ZinSkin defies definition. Calling it a “wild ale” is too dismissive. Calling it a “wine/beer hybrid” misses the point. ZinSkin is the embodiment of serendipitous relationships and expertly minded fermentation and maturation. It’s a beverage that has the power to cross the aisle between wine drinks and beer drinkers and find devoted fans in both camps. It’s just too damn bad that it is so hard to score a glass of it. I’m hoarding my last 4 bottles like Thráin hoarded his dwarven gold.
Best new hoppy beer: TBD
There were many wonderful new hop-bombs deployed in 2015, and we’re still on the fence about which to spotlight here (Though the newest Hop Concept release, Huell Melon and Blanc, is a front runner). What were your favorite new hop-forward brews?