Three Matt’s Barrel-Aged Reserve Blend (AKA M3 Barrel Magic)
Fremont Brewing Co.
Here we have something very special: a one-time-only, uber-limited blend created for a beer dinner held at the Seattle location of renowned beer bar Toronado in January. To make it, the three Matts—Toronado owner Matt Bonney, Fremont founder/owner Matt Lincecum and Fremont head brewer Matt Lincoln—fused four Fremont beers: Rusty Nail (a bourbon-aged imperial stout), B-Bomb (a bourbon-aged winter ale), Bing Cherry Stout (a yet-to-be-released stout made with cherries, obvs) and Brew 2000 (a barleywine aged in Westland Peated whiskey barrels, also coming soon). You might think that beers as characterful as these would bump elbows when brought so close together, but you’d be mistaken; these Matt fellas constructed the blend perfectly. The aroma offers plenty to pick apart a dense, cinnamon bark-colored head: tangy-sweet luxardo cherries, plums, nougat, graham cracker crumbles, shaved coconut, dark chocolate and just a hint steak char and soy sauce below. The front of the sip is loaded with caramel, toffee and whispers of marshmallow fluff, while smooth, heavy-toast oak emerges midpalate, accented by sweet brown sugar and whiskey. A sweet, fruity finish has sticky cherries and chocolate truffles glomming onto every inch of the tongue before a puff of smoked pork hits at the exhale. It even comes with bonus flavors, as chocolate, toast and hints of espresso rise up between sips. The medium body is cotton-soft, the 13.7% ABV is incredibly well-hidden by all the flavor, and the barrels are perfectly integrated, an accent to the complex malt and fruit bill. The Matts may just have wanted to make something special for the folks at the beer dinner; What they ended up creating was our current front-runner for Beer of the Year.
Saint Archer Brewing Co.
Yes, Saint Archer’s owned (at least in part) by a bunch of skateboarders and surfers, and yes, it was purchased by brewing giant MillerCoors in September 2015. But quality beer is quality beer, and this kiwi-hopped India pale lager is among the best we’ve tasted of the style. Sweet Maui onions speckled with passion fruit and grass blades rest atop a supportive saltine base in the dank, pungent nose, and the beer tastes exactly like it smells: tropical fruit rind alongside just-mown grass. Bitterness is low and smooth; Garden Herb Triscuits and dried oregano linger after the snappy lager finish. Cans are only available until March, so grab a few before those damn skater kids buy them all up.
Noble Ale Works
If Noble’s 24K Juice was the debut album, Double Platinum is the chart-topping veteran effort. Mosaic, Galaxy and El Dorado hops drop oils that make the beer murky and opaque as a lemon milkshake (if it ain’t hazy, you crazy!) and give it an aroma of mown grass, tangelo and underripe peach atop a squishy wheat base. The peaches become juicier on the tongue but shift into sparkling orange soda midpalate; soft vanilla and pulpy bitterness at the finish give the lasting impression of an Orange Julius.
Aardwolf Brewing Co.
Sour ales fermented in barrels with cherries are a dime a dozen; ones that incorporate roasted malt to weave flavors of coffee and cocoa among the fruit are not. Cherry Lovely does just that, utilizing both the dark malts and skillful blending of batches aged in brandy and bourbon barrels for a nose balancing dark fruits—cherries, raisins, musty grape, plum—with vanilla, black licorice and wet tobacco sprinkled with cocoa powder. Sips of the creamy, purple-black brew reveal prunes macerated in amaretto, while swallows gleam with restrained balsamic tartness kept in check by cocoa and soft toast. The beer seems almost like an Irish stout between lifts of the glass: dry, roasty and slightly acidic. Finally, a reason for someone other than fans of whichever team is beating the Jaguars that week to go to Jacksonville.
Marylan DDH with Mosaic & Galaxy
File this double-dry-hopped version of RaR’s popular blonde ale under “beers we could drink the living bejeezus out of.” Piles of aroma hops build a bouquet of pink starburst, mango skin, and tangerine zest, with traces of cedar peeking out of the wheat bread base. The front of the flavor has the same fruit and grass blend—plus a hint of sugar cookie dough—while soft citrus peel bitterness is all that remains after the swift finish. It’s fairly quiet overall, but crisp and clean as a sailor’s dress whites.