Well, the clock has finally struck midnight on 2023; the sparkly crystal ball dropped; the last dregs of champagne have gone stale in those silly glass flutes; the 3,000 pounds of confetti have been swept up (mostly) from the streets of Times Square in New York City; the smoke has cleared from the fireworks grand finale. And on New Year’s Day and beyond, we’re left contemplating: Why did we add so many New Year’s resolutions to the list? Oh, because we wrote it while a little tipsy reminiscing about some of the best beers we drank last year.
Yes, weirdly, we love this somewhat fictitious and certainly capricious time of year when cliches follow us around like a dog chasing its tail (see what we did there?), and people try to make as many memories as they can (or remember as many memories as they can) in the sixty seconds between 11:59 PM on December 31, 2023, and 12:00 AM on January 1, 2024.
For us at Hop Culture, we spent those invisible ticks of the analog clocks no one uses anymore reliving the stories that meant the most to us last year.
These are stories that challenged us, like Stephanie Grant’s words on sisterhood and survival for those with breast cancer in the brewhouse.
Or Ryan Pachmayer’s profile of Mexico City’s self-proclaimed beer witch.
The clicks may not have made these the “most popular stories of 2023.” But hey, we all lived through high school and “most popular” is…a little overrated.
If only we were speed readers and could reread all these incredible stories, we would. But instead, while everyone fell asleep in the house, we crept out to sit by the dying embers of the fireplace, quietly enjoying ourselves.
Our Favorite Hop Culture Articles of 2023
15. Breast Cancer in the Brewhouse: Stories of Sisterhood and Survival
In Stephanie Grant’s immutable words, she poignantly shares a story of women who found each other, coming together under one common bond: a breast cancer diagnosis in the brewhouse.
14. Cerveceria Itañeñe’s Lucía Carrillo Is Mexico City’s Self-Proclaimed Beer Witch
When freelancer Ryan Pachemayer told me he wanted to go to Mexico City to profile one of the city’s most exciting new brewers, someone he told me was a bada** killing it in her little corner of the city, I said hell yes!
One of my favorite parts of running Hop Culture is finding and telling the story of people like Lucía Carrillo, head brewer and founder of Cerveceria Itañeñe.
Often mistaken for the salesperson or the marketer, Carillo has embraced the personality of the witch, one who has the power to grow stronger and change people’s minds.
Beer is her medium. Winning a medal in the first homebrew competition she entered for a Belgian dark strong ale, Carrillo might have been destined to brew.
Today, you can find her innovative, creative beers at some of Mexico City’s most well-known restaurants.
13. What Is Kölsch Service? And Why You Need to Try It Right Now
Towards the end of 2022, I started to see two words pop up on our Instagram feed again and again: kölsch service.
“What is kölsch service?” I wrote in my notes. “I must find out why so many American breweries are doing this thing I know nothing about.” Turns out this thing I knew nothing about actually has some deep German roots, ones that have branched across the ocean and taken root at breweries coast to coast.
Oh, and this thing I knew nothing about twelve months ago…pretty amazing. Basically, it involves getting as much fresh kölsch as you want for as long as you want.
While I got to participate in a kölsch service right here in San Francisco, I’m one hundred percent putting on my bucket list: going to kölsch service in its birthplace, Cologne, Germany, in 2024.
12. Thar She Blows!: Breweries That Come Down to That One White Whale
What’s the deal with Heady Topper nowadays, anyway? Do people still spend an entire day waiting up to four hours in line for Russian River’s Pliny the Younger? (Yes, I was there this year and can attest to this.) Do people still go gaga for one of the highest-rated American imperial stouts in the country—Perennial’s Abraxas?
We absolutely worshiped these breweries in the early 2000s and 2010s, many because of one specific beer, aka a “white whale,” but where are they today?
That’s freelancer Andy Crump’s question, checking in with The Alchemist Co-Founder and Brewer Jon Kimmich, Russian River Co-Founder Natalie Cilurzo, and Perennial Co-Founder and Brewer Phil Wymore.
What Kimmich, Cilurzo, and Wymore shared might just surprise you.
11. Three New Black-Owned Breweries Diversifying the Texas Beer Scene
Can you guess which state has the largest Black population in the U.S.? You might not immediately think of Texas, but with 3,936,669 Black people, 14% of its total population, the Lone Star State ranks number one, according to recent statistics from the World Population Review. Despite that staggering fact, Texas has only a handful of Black-owned breweries, many located outside major cities like Austin, Dallas, and Houston.
This isn’t a new story in America—name a major beer city or state, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a substantial number of Black-owned breweries in the area.
But for the first time this year, while the tides may not have totally changed, they are shifting. The National Black Brewers Association exploded into craft beer with a bang at the Craft Brewers Conference in May. Leaders like Crowns & Hops, the dopest, dankest disruptors of craft beer, continue to break boundaries.
Documentarian Aaron Hosé launched One Pint at a Time, a documentary chronicling Black and Brown brewery owners.
And one of our freelancers, Ruvani de Silva, expertly reported on not one, not two, but three new Black-owned breweries opening across Texas in 2023.
10. Samuel Adams Boston Lager Remastered: Making the Best Beer in America a Little Better
Jim Koch told me earlier this year that he’s probably tried 50,000 Boston Lagers over the last four decades, from the time he first tested his great-grandfather’s recipe for a Vienna lager in his kitchen to now helming one of the biggest and most iconic breweries in the country.
So, in 2023, what does a literal Thomas Edison of craft beer do to his revolutionary beer?
He makes it just a little brighter and better.
Sam Adams released Boston Lager Remastered last year, likening the fresh version to how the music industry remasters recordings.
“It’s the same reason why you can take a recording of Abbey Road from 1969 and remaster it in 2019,” said Boston Beer Co. Assistant Manager of New Product Development Rich Ferrell. “It’s the same recording, but you can hear the bass better; the drums are louder; the guitars sound nicer; everything is in more harmony and balance.”
That’s Boston Lager Remastered, making the best beer in America just a little better.
And for a beer writer, getting to talk shop with Koch for an hour about his revolutionary beer, well, that made my year just a little better and a little brighter.
9. A Liquid Legend: The Story of How Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Stays Timeless After Four Decades
Well, shiver me timbers, are you telling me that in the same year, I talked to both Koch about his most influential beer and Sierra Nevada Co-Founder Ken Grossman about his most iconic beer—Sierra Nevada Pale Ale?
I love learning the stories behind the beers that changed America because they are as intertwined with our industry today as they were four decades ago.
You think you know, but you have no idea.
Did you know that Pale Ale wasn’t the first beer Grossman brewed at Sierra Nevada?
Or that Pale Ale survived thanks to Deadheads?
You only learn these golden nuggets when you talk to those who lived it—unforgettable conversations over these liquid legends.
8. What Is Italian Grape Ale?
Ryan Pachemayer always brings us some of the freshest, most thoughtful takes around the industry. For instance, the magic of marrying beer and grape. We don’t think anything is impossible in beer anymore, but Italy has consistently surprised us over the past couple of years.
First with the Italian pilsner and now with the Italian grape ale.
Pachemayer tracked down brewers in Italy to get the lowdown on this low-hanging fruit.
7. Necromancer Brewing: Breathing New Life Into Craft Beer
When we released our Queer Beer Box back in July, showcasing some of the top-Queer-led and Queer-owned breweries in the country, I pledged to write about as many breweries in the box as I could.
I wanted to share the incredible stories of the Queer folx who have often had to work twice as hard for half the recognition in our industry.
But Necromancer? One of my favorites that pulls at the heartstrings because Head Brewer Lauren Hughes and Lead Brewer Nina Santiago are making incredible f**king beer while also making the brewery one of the safest and most inclusive places around.
I also love this story…
6. Taking the Path Less Traveled: ‘Foraging’ Ahead With Bow & Arrow Brewing Co.
A couple of years ago, Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. co-founders and life partners Shyla Sheppard and Missy Begay searched for the elusive Neomexicanus hop to add to one of their beers. A wild hop that grows in New Mexico, Neomexicanus can be challenging to find. “We generally had an idea of where it grew, so we were just going to go out, and if it chose to present itself, great, but it might not,” says Sheppard. “We were just going to enjoy being out here in nature and appreciating it for what it is.”
A mantra they’ve followed while establishing the first Queer-, Native-, women-owned brewery in the country.
The journey hasn’t always been easy, but Sheppard and Begay’s perseverance never wavered.
Oh, and those Neomexicanus hops? They found them, but not where they expected.
5. The Proper Czech Pours: The Best Foam You’ll Ever Drink
Foam, foam on the range, where the beer and the warm ales play. For many of us Americans, our first experience with foam comes from the tepid, lukewarm fuzz in our red solo cups that leaves a limp crust on our upper lips. Of course, in college, we couldn’t care less as we mostly consumed that foam and the beer underneath at an accelerated rate.
But even as fledging craft beer drinkers, we were taught that foam has little place on the top of our beer.
While a fierce foe in American drinking culture, fluff on top of beer reigns supreme in the Czech Republic.
In fact, five different pours exist, accentuating the level of foam, ranging from none to all. Yes, a whole half liter of all foam should be chugged!
Czech pours are a serious business, more of an art form than habitual motion.
I sat down with folks from Budvar, one of the two most popular Czech pilsner producers; LUKR, makers of the ever-present side-pull tap that creates this dense, wet, flavorful foam; and American brewers across the country respecting the tradition of Czech pouring to find out.
4. Get Me a Slice of Some Hamms
“In the land of sky-blue waters,” one beer reigns supreme. The beverage of choice in the Bread and Butter State, the North Star State, the Gopher State, and, might I say, my home state—Minnesota—Hamm’s has a hold over Midwesterners more than mosquitos, lakes, and tater tot dishes combined.
That fact this retro blue, white, and gold-plated can of beer became “like a secret handshake” or a cult without the Kool-Aid may boggle the mind.
Which is why freelancer Andy Crump dawned his best Mad Men suit, worked on his high fives, and hammed it up with local Minnesota brewers to try and get in on the know.
3. Brand New Vine Street Brings Beer to Historic Jazz District
When most breweries launch with core beers, you’ll find the lineup stacked with crowd-pleasing favorites—IPA, hazy, maybe a pale ale, and a pilsner or stout. Rarely have I seen a brewery open the show with a flagship dark lager. But that’s precisely what Vine Street did with Jazzman when they flung open their doors at the end of June in the historic 18th and Vine Jazz District of Kansas City.
It’s perhaps a little poetic that Jazzman unfolds in layers, erupting elegantly with roast, cola, and toffee with a whisper of crisp dark chocolate bravely humming underneath. When Vine Street Co-founders Kemet Coleman, Elliott Ivory, and Woodie Bonds started Missouri’s first Black-owned brewery, they always knew they’d be marching to the beat of their own drum (hence, the dark lager).
Right before they opened, I interviewed Coleman, a musician, rapper, music producer, and performer, and Ivory, a former Fortune 100 company engineer whose homebrewing skills caught the eye of Bonds, a somewhat local legend for starting a hip-hop beer festival.
Together, all three are laying down one dope track after another, reclaiming and revitalizing craft beer in the cradle of Jazz. While Jazzman bebopped my taste buds, I’m already eagerly awaiting what’s next on the set list for this hot (and cool) new brewery. Just on the cusp of crescendoing, Vine Street already has me calling for an encore.
2. Fox Tale Fermentation: Down the Rabbit Hole of Fermentation
“What Is Your Favorite Brewery of the Year?” When we posted that question on Instagram in late 2022, we had no idea what to expect. We just wanted to hear more from all of you about the breweries you loved that year. We certainly didn’t think one name—Fox Tale Fermentation Project—would pop up again…and again…and again.
“Hmm, never heard of them,” I thought to myself. So I did what all good journalists do nowadays.
I Googled them.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered Fox Tale Fermentation had set up shop in San Jose, a mere forty-five-minute drive from me. So I reached out to co-founders Wendy Neff and Felipe Bravo and started planning a trip down to the South Bay.
Which is why my wife and I found ourselves tucked into a tiny storefront on San Jose’s main strip the day before Christmas Eve, sipping on beers like a golden ale with macadamia nuts conditioned on toasted coconut and pandan leaves. Or a saison with candy cap mushrooms that smelled like maple syrup 🤷♀️ (trust us, it’s so cool).
And wolfing down dishes like sweet potatoes caressed with heat from the oven and habanero peppers. Or a kimchi bowl brimming with black garlic, white kimchi, heirloom black rice, mixed salad greens, rainbow carrots, watermelon, and purple daikon radish.
“This is the most colorful table I’ve ever seen,” my wife gleefully remarked before shoveling in a forkful of fermented cabbage.
As always, my wife was right.
But it wasn’t just the beers and food that exploded across a fantastical spectrum.
Spend time talking with Neff and Bravo; they enrobe you in a rainbow of richly-hued passion. Their frenetic energy and imagination permeate everything from the air to the food to the beer.
Walk inside Fox Tale’s tiny shotgun-style shop, and you’ll be magically transported down a rabbit hole.
One you’ll want to get lost in and probably never leave.
1. What Do 17.77 Tallboys of Pilsner Urquell, Six American Brewers, and One Bus Have in Common?
I’m just going to let the title here speak for itself. I chatted with all six of those American brewers to learn why they drank lukewarm Pilsner Urquell on a bus at 8 a.m., why they needed to start a ridiculously long email thread debating whether a Czech pale lager should be thirty-two or thirty-three IBUs, and why they just might f**k with diacetyl.