Here it is. The article that’s a year in the making. We’re rounding up the best craft beers of 2020.
Every year, we take stock of the hundreds of beers we’ve had the privilege of trying and attempt to whittle that down to a list of twenty. As a result, these beers are not only well-crafted, but also memorable. With nearly all of these beers, I can place exactly where I was when I tried them. And, what response they elicited. In most cases, I was blown away.
I also feel the need to reiterate that this is a list of beers we’ve tried. Try as we might, we can’t sample every single beer brewed in the year 2020. So, if you feel like we’ve missed a particularly compelling release, we encourage you to reach out (@hopculturemag) and let us know which beers or breweries we should be trying in the new year.
Below, we’ve listed our top choices for the best beers of 2020. They’re presented in no particular order except for Yeast of Eden’s Oodelallie, which we’re naming the best beer of 2020.
The Best Craft Beers of 2020
Yeast of Eden — Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA
Saison — When I started narrowing down my list of beers for this article, I noticed that one brewery kept popping up: Yeast of Eden. The sour, funky side project from Alvarado Street produces a variety of beers fermented with wild, native, and natural yeasts. Some of the country’s best sour breweries take lessons from the world of natural wine–using the language, techniques, and philosophy of the industry and applying that to their beer. Few do that better than Yeast of Eden.
And, my single favorite beer of 2020 from the Carmel-by-the-Sea brewery is Oodelallie, a delightfully packaged, delicious oak-aged, mixed-fermentation saison re-fermented on olallieberries. It was fun, vibrant, and jammy. It wasn’t a mind-blowing beer; The flavor wasn’t experimental or ground-breaking. This beer was simply the one I’d be most excited to share with someone else. And if that isn’t a good metric for the best craft beer of this chaotic year, I don’t know what is.
Homage Brewing — Pomona, CA
Saison — As mentioned above, 2020 saw some of the best breweries take notes from the natural wine industry to craft beautiful beers. Like Yeast of Eden, Homage has been doing this to great effect. In fact, I wrote an entire article about it.
I won’t re-hash everything I love about Homage’s process, but I will say that this beer was effectively Homage’s thesis. It sums up everything founders Matt and Lauren find exciting about both wine and beer. Beer has the power to tell profound stories through simple ingredients. That’s what happened here.
Now, for the beer itself. The Colour Orange is a blend of red wine barrel-aged saisons brewed with aged hops and re-fermented on Sauvignon Blanc grape must. A fitting name, this beer’s color looks like artificial OJ or a bottle of Gatorade. The Colour Orange smells like pure farmland funk and the tastes like joy. You find a fruit medley beckoning you in. So you take another sip. And then another. And another.
The Eighth State Brewing Co. — Greenville, SC
Imperial Stout — While the previous two beers were all about playful subtlety, Abiogenesis is brash power in a bottle. It’s a pile driver of decadence with flavor that opens up the mosh pit on your tastebuds. I mean it’s 16.6% after all.
Abiogenesis is nearly still with the lack of carbonation and foam. It’s not thick or syrupy, just a smooth ride–like driving over a freshly paved road. Brewed with Tahitian vanilla beans and bananas, the flavor is comfy and cozy–like your favorite banana split sundae. It should come as no surprise that The Eighth State earned itself a spot on our list of the best breweries of 2020. The Greenville brewery continues to crank out some of the best, most highly sought after beers in the country.
The Drowned Lands Brewery — Warwick, NY
Foeder-Aged Saison — The Drowned Lands Brewery was among our favorite newly-opened breweries of 2020. The farmhouse brewery in Hudson Valley, NY has brewed a wide variety of beers. From new school sour IPAs to traditional offerings like 3% ABV table beers, The Drowned Lands has something for everything.
While we enjoyed everything we tried from them, our favorite offerings were from the brewery’s foeder program. Slow River, a mixed-culture foeder-aged saison, topped that list. After fermenting on Drowned Lands’ house saison yeast blend and aging in American oak foeders for several months, the beer became incredibly complex, offering notes of farm funk, berries, zesty lemon peel, and freshly-cut grass.
Seventh Son Brewing Co. — Columbus, OH
Arab Imperial Coffee Stout — One of the dangers of these types of articles is recency bias. We remember better the beers we tried in the last couple months, so we might rank those higher. With that in mind, it should say quite a bit that a beer we drank back in February ended up on this list.
Qahwah is an Arabic coffee-inspired stout infused with Mission Coffee beans, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, and ginger. Seventh Son nailed it with this cold-weather stout, a beautiful representation of genuine Arabic coffee. If you’ve had a chance to try true qahwah with cardamom, this will bring you right back.
Halfway Crooks Beer — Atlanta, GA
German-style Pilsner — I’m going to give you a little peek behind the Hop Culture curtain. Typically, when we try a new beer, we’re either sent a small sample or we find a way to buy the beer locally or through a delivery service. Usually, it’s no more than a four-pack of a single beer. With Radix, I worked my way through an entire case of this beer.
And if the volume doesn’t win you over, I also think it’s a stellar, impeccably crafted beer. On paper, it’s simple: It’s a German-style pilsner brewed with Hallertau Blanc hops. A little zesty, bready, and refreshing, Radix drinks much like when you open a bag of Chex Mix or start an engrossing new Netflix show–you can’t stop ’till it’s done. Radix is the Chex Mix of beer. There, I’ve said it.
So Last Season – Montmorency
Primitive Beer — Longmont, CO
Spontaneously-Fermented Cherry Ale — Our founder Kenny Gould called this his favorite craft beer of 2020. And, for good reason.
Despite being a relatively recent project, Primitive Beer is producing some of the best spontaneously-fermented beer in the U.S. They’ve fully embraced the lambic tradition of brewing and, in many ways, are stewards of that storied style of beer.
That reverence shows itself in each Primitive beer including So Last Season — Montmorency, a vibrant cherry ale with prickly, dancing acidity and a touch of cherry pie sweetness. It’s lovingly crafted in the kriek tradition offering both deep complexity and light drinkability.
Peanut Butter PM Dawn
Trillium Brewing Co. — Boston, MA
Coffee Stout — Is there a better combination than chocolate and peanut butter? Probably not. Trillium doubled down on that decadent flavor combo. Peanut Butter PM Dawn combines heavenly coffee, chocolate, and peanut butter into a beer treat. It’s like a liquid caffeinated Reese’s cup.
PM Dawn is a Trillium staple and this variant easily became one of our favorites. While this beer isn’t as luxurious or rich as some of the other stouts listed here, it balanced solid refreshment with deep flavor. Like a well-made cold brew coffee. As such, we think it’s one of the best craft beers of 2020.
Triple Berry Pie Piggy
Tripping Animals Brewing Co. — Doral, FL
Fruited Berliner Weisse — Tripping Animals smashed onto the scene in 2020. As Hop Culture’s de-facto social media manager, I spent plenty of time on Instagram. And, Tripping Animals were among the hottest breweries of the year. Plus, they back up that hype with terrifically fun and flavorful beer.
Triple Berry Pie Piggy is a ginormous fruited sour with blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, cinnamon, vanilla, and lactose. It’s essentially a dessert in a can. Take a look at that vibrant color and you’ll know what to expect. Sweet, smooth jammy berry tastes washes over you in waves. It’s among the best versions of this style we tried this year, so it’s fittingly one of the best craft beers of 2020.
Yesfolk Tonics — Troy, NY
Kombucha — We’re deviating a little here, but in the spirit of featuring fermented beverages, we wanted to give a shoutout to the best kombucha we had in 2020. By now, you should know that Yesfolk is one of the best kombucha breweries in the country. The family team in Troy, NY has won us over countless times with their thoughtful, lively offerings. So much so, that we’ve invited them to a couple of our Juicy Brews festivals!
Actually we first tried Luminous Skies, a single-origin jasmine green tea infused with ashwagandha, bacopa, and galangal, at Juicy Brews Valentine’s Day. And, even at a jam-packed beer festival, this kombucha stood out as one of the best liquids available.
Yokefellow — Johnson City, TX
Unfiltered Lager — I discovered a re-vitalized love for “simple” beers in 2020. While many of the beers on this list are big and bombastic, I wanted to make room for the simple beers. The beers that I reach for knowing I’ll be comforted.
And, Yokefellow brews simple beers. There’s something sublime about the Texas brewery’s simplicity. It’s spacious and inviting. Like a Bill Callahan song, this beer gives you complexity beyond its modest exterior. Malick is an unfiltered lager with under-modified grain delivering, as Yokefellow explains, “delicate and unobtrusive” flavors. In fact, it’s the type of beer Callahan might have been handed when he said “Beer. Thank you.”
Raspberry Blackberry Cheesecake J.R.E.A.M.
Burley Oak Brewing Co. — Berlin, MD
Fruited Sour — If there’s an antithesis to a Yokefellow beer, to a “simple” beer, it’s this one. But, we love it all the same.
Burley Oak has absolutely cornered the market on fruited sours with their J.R.E.A.M. series. Each release is so brutally on point and literal in its recreation of the fruit, pastry, etc. it’s mimicking.
This edition of the J.R.E.A.M. series is a liquified raspberry blackberry cheesecake. It delivered ridiculously robust tart fruit flavors and a chewy, creamy mouthfeel. That might not be the most appetizing description but I assure you: Raspberry Blackberry Cheesecake J.R.E.A.M. is the best adult fruit juice available. And as such, deserves a spot on the best craft beers of 2020.
Little Blind — Brooklyn, NY
Hazy IPA — At a quick glance you might notice a glaring absence of hoppy beers in this year’s list of the best craft beers of 2020. It’s not that we dislike IPAs, but I’ve found that even the best ones fade quickly from my memory. There’s a hazy IPA-shaped hole in my brain.
But, Poly Sun stands out as one of the best of the year. Little Blind is a small, artful nomadic brewery in Brooklyn. With a label that reminds us of groovy records, Poly Sun delivers big juicy citrus, stone fruit, coconut, and pineapple notes. Then, it finishes with a welcome crispness. The whole ride is soft and smooth, though, owing to the use of Heidelberg malt.
It’s that smooth, gentle, cushioned ride that stuck with me. While some breweries rely on lactose or heavy vanilla additions to gain that creamy sensation, Little Blind achieved it with pure brewing skill and Heidelberg malt.
Amalgam Brewing + Westbound & Down — Denver, CO + Idaho Springs, CO
Imperial Stout — Amalgam might not be one of the most productive breweries in Colorado (their releases are relatively few and far between), but every beer we try is exquisite.
Meta Coconut was a collaboration between Amalgam and another Colorado powerhouse: Westbound & Down. It’s a beer that was released with the contemporary drinker in mind. All of the necessary details are there. Heaven Hill barrel-aging. A playful adjunct. And a boozy 14.3% ABV. But, it’s made to excellent effect. Meta Coconut tastes decadent with layers of bourbon-soaked coconut, velvety vanilla, and nutty chocolate.
Superstition Meadery — Prescott, AZ
Raspberry Mead — We’re breaking the rules again to include a mead in our list of the best beers of 2020. But, if you managed to get your hands on this $100 Superstition raspberry mead, you’d understand why.
A raspberry mead aged in port barrels, Endovelicus is deep and mature. The color is robust and murky but the fruit flavors are bright and fresh. There are plenty of sweet flavors, but there’s also some savory structure anchoring it down. This is a stunning mead.
Beachwood Blendery — Long Beach, CA
Gueuze-inspired Ale — Beachwood Blendery has quietly been making some of the most exciting American interpretations of Belgian lambic. Like Primitive, they do so with a sense of reverence and palpable excitement. Funk Yeah was one of our favorite beers last year. And, Illuminaire is that beer’s spiritual successor.
A blend of spontaneously fermented oak-aged golden sours rested on peaches, Illuminaire has a dry, tart flavor that hits the palate on the first sip. But, the acidity and funk fade while beautiful peach juice notes take the lead. If Primitive and Beachwood are leading the sour beer revolution, we’re in good hands.
Fiesta Antes de Morir
North Park Beer Co. — San Diego, CA
Bourbon Barrel Aged Mexican Chocolate Cake Stout — In 2020, we learned that North Park Beer Co. is making some of the best pastry stouts in the country. You can look down in disdain at the sweet, dessert-like style of stouts, but you can’t deny that, in 2020, these beers didn’t go anywhere. We can say with certainty that North Park should be your first stop on the pastry stout journey.
Fiesta Antes de Morir was stunningly good. Rich and decadent, like truly sipping on beer-ified cake, this decadent stout is extreme and over-the-top, but in such a gratifying way. Kind of like polishing off a whole cake by yourself (We may have done that once or twice in 2020). Plus, few breweries manage to balance spice flavors appropriately, and North Park used habanero peppers to great effect in this beer. The flavor balance and delightful decadence make this one of the best craft beers of 2020.
Double Grazing Clouds
Mountains Walking Brewery — Bozeman, MT
Double Hazy IPA — Mountains Walking was another revelation from the cursed year that is 2020. The Bozeman, Montana-based brewery produced some of the best versions of “hype beer.” We’re talking fruited sours, pastry stouts, and hazy IPAs. If there’s an art to these styles of beer, Mountains Walking is Rembrandt.
Double Grazing Clouds in particular nailed that gentle, pillowy mouthfeel that we talked about earlier with Little Blind. Combined with an explosive citrus juice punch, this beer was a knockout. Keep an eye on Mountains Walking in the new year, we’re expecting big things.
Horus Aged Ales + Three Chiefs Brewing Co. — Oceanside, CA + Los Angeles, CA
Pastry Stout — Technically, this beer was released last year. But, we didn’t have a chance to try it until 2020. And it was too good not to earn a mention as one of the best beers we drank in 2020.
We’ve said it before but Horus Aged Ales is a master in flavor. Coconut Crown, a collaboration with Three Chiefs, featured just about every coconut product–Coconut candy, coconut syrup, coconut water, desiccated coconut, shredded coconut, and toasted coconut. Was all of it necessary? I couldn’t tell you. What I can say is that this beer delivered exceptionally well on the promise of huge coconut flavors. And, I was instantly in love.
Schilling Beer Co. + Threes Brewing — Littleton, NH + Brooklyn, NY
Festbier — We’re rounding out our list of the best beers of 2020 with a “simple” beer. Merriment is a collaboration between two of the best lager breweries on the East Coast. As such, Schilling has mostly flown under the radar. But, we wanted to shine a light on a collaboration that may not have earned much hype.
Merriment is a pale lager brewed with Mandarina Bavaria hops, resulting in some nice orange peel and light citrus flavors. It’s soft in its approach but weighty with lovely bread loaf notes. It was ideal for the Oktoberfest season, but if you’ve still got a can hanging around, crack it open and cheers to the end of a crazy year. Prost!
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