Berrong on Beer - Best beers of 2012
December 28th, 2012
10:15 AM ET
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Nathan Berrong works at CNN's satellite desk and writes Eatocracy's beer column, "Berrong on Beer." He Tweets at @nathanberrong and logs beers at Untappd.

2012 has been yet another milestone year in the world of American craft beer. There are currently more breweries in operation in the United States than ever before, even surpassing the alcohol boom of the late 1800s. Outdated beer laws are beginning to change and will benefit both brewers and consumers, and a debate began between the little guys and the big boys about what exactly defines craft beer. Oh yeah - there were also some incredible beers made in the last 12 months.

What defines a beer as "the best"? For me, it goes far beyond just the appearance, smell, and taste. The setting, the time of day or year and the company I'm with all factor into it. Sometimes a mediocre beer can become a thing of beauty purely based on its surroundings.

Since being turned onto the world of craft beer, I rarely order a Guinness, but I swear the one I had in Dublin atop the Guinness brewery is one of the best beers I've had to date. I should also point out that I was enjoying it with my new bride and it happened to be St. Patrick's Day. When I'm drinking a beer or eating a meal, these outside factors matter to me.

The rarity of a beer factors into my perception of it, as well. Often times, much like a rare car, it might not be the collector's fastest or sleekest, but it could very well be the favorite based on its lack of availability. Take the Belgian beer, Westvleteren 12 (pictured), for example. Many beer geeks swear it's the best beer on the planet, but it probably doesn't hurt that it's also considered one of the rarest. The only place this beer is sold legally is the actual brewery, which happens to be a monastery, and the procedure to buy the beer isn’t exactly easy.

The brewery is one of only eight authentic Trappist breweries in the world and is the only one that is not distributed outside its respective monastery for retail sales. The Westvleteren monastery, however, is currently in need of repairs and to raise money the beer was distributed and sold in the United States for one time only on 12/12/12. The beer sold out quickly and unless you were in line early at your local beer store and ponied up $85 (for a six pack), you'll have to rely on a trip to Belgium to buy one or spend hundreds of dollars via eBay.

The beer is extremely rare, yes, but it's also fantastic and for a Quadrupel it's extremely dry, which sets it apart from the many others that try to replicate it. It's one of my picks for the top beers of 2012.

Choosing a "best of" list is difficult and regardless of the quality of choices, someone is going to cry foul when they don't see their favorite listed. This list is not based on any formula for determining the best beers or even based on things like tasting notes or reviews. It’s just my personal list and the beers that stood out to me in the past year. With that, I give you my top 12 beers of 2012.

– Westvleteren Trappist 12

– 21st Amendment Marooned on Hog Island Stout brewed with oysters in collaboration with Hog Island Oyster Company

– Firestone Walker Union Jack Double dry-hopped IPA made using over four pounds of hops per barrel

– Odell Woodcut No.6 Oak Aged Ale using Mosiac hops

– Sierra Nevada Narwhal Russian Imperial Stout crafted with 6 different malt varieties

– Lagunitas Daytime extremely flavorful IPA, clocking in at a mere 4.5% ABV

– Jester King Boxer’s Revenge Organic Wild Ale aged in whiskey and wine barrels

– Alchemist Heady Topper Imperial IPA hop bomb with 120 IBUs

– Cascade Noyaux Wild Ale with raspberries and apricot nuts added, aged in oak barrels

– Ballast Point Victory at Sea Imperial Porter brewed with vanilla and Caffe Calabria coffee

– Wedge Vadim Bora Russian Imperial Stout brewed with raspberries

– Avery Odio Equum Wild Ale aged for 12 months in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels.

And now it's your turn. What were your favorite beers of 2012? Let me know in the comments and cheers to good health, peace, and a bunch of great beer in 2013!

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soundoff (203 Responses)
  1. Private personal training Long Island

    I've tried Union Jack's and Avery Odio Equum Wild Ale all great stuff! I also believe that this list is missing some really great beers.

    January 21, 2014 at 8:07 pm |
  2. dave

    My five favorite are:La Fin Du Monde,La Fin Du Monde, Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale,Schneider Wiesse Tap 6 Aventinus,Victory Prima Pils. Seriously folks I am glad to be part of the craft beer revolution.Anything from Founders and Great Lakes is great.Great Lakes just started to distribute in New Jersey.LFDM is a dangerous addiction and far to easy to

    May 6, 2013 at 3:01 am |
  3. Harken

    1. Sierra Neveada Pale Ale
    2. Guinness
    3. Anchor Steam
    4. O'Dell – 90 Schilling
    5. Great Divide – Denver Pale Ale
    6. Flying Dog – Old Scratch (liquid freakin' gold)
    7. Full Sail Amber
    8. Sweetwater – 420 Extra Pale Ale
    9. Samuel Smith – Oatmeal Stout
    10. Arrogant Bastard

    January 9, 2013 at 3:49 am |
  4. Indigentone

    Well, for the "purists" in the crowd, I'll offer my thoughts. Is a beer better because you want to drink a 12 pack (sessionable) or can be satisfied with just one. I choose the latter. A lot of hops or malt won't overpower the "beer taste" because they are what make the beer taste. A belgian quad may not be sessionable, but there is nothing in it that is a "trick flavor" unless you consider the addition of sugar and yeast a trick. So rather than damning others for not liking what you like, tip your hat to them and enjoy what you will. I have no issue with folks drinking a PBR, Sam Adams, Sam Smith or anything else. I will say that I am a lover of most things barrel aged so there are so trick flavors that drift out of the pores of the wood. Find me a Lost Abbey Angels Share or an Port Older Viscosity and I couldn't be happier. There are so so many others though with or without a barrel. Oh, and for those who loved their Guinness in Dublin, make it down to the southwest of Ireland and find Beamish on tap. IMO, far superior. Try it at An Teach Beag in Clonakilty and compare it with Guinness and Murphy's side by side.

    January 4, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
  5. bigtedblog

    I'm not a fan of IPAs. Beer shouldn't taste like dirt or smell like my grandmother's perfume. Every IPA I've tried tastes muddy. Having said that, I prefer Chimay Blue and New Glarus Brewery's Spotted Cow. And I'm excited about the increased import of Belgian beers.

    January 2, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
  6. Bender

    Ah, Read all the comments and took notes. Now all I have to do is to try all of these... lol
    I didn't see any from Dark Horse in Marshall Mi. Plead the fifth and Scotty Karate are great. Michigan has some very good micro brewers: Dark Horse, Founders, and several others.

    January 1, 2013 at 10:43 am |
  7. Jeann

    It is so cute to see Americans discuss beer, as though you actually know what you are talking about..."Great taste...No, Less Filling"...your tastes are so unsophisticated, you are like little children with your chicken nuggets,,,

    January 1, 2013 at 3:42 am |
    • Cantstandyou

      Kindly identify your country of origin so we can disgrace it for all its shortcomings.

      January 1, 2013 at 9:54 am |
      • Cantstandyou

        Based on the post time, probably some jackoff from the UK or elsewhere in the socialist nightmare aka the EU.

        January 2, 2013 at 1:02 am |
    • Ty W

      Apparently you've never been to the Paciffic Northwest, home of the best IPAs in the world.

      1. Sockeye Brewing Co. Boise ID Dagger Falls IPA
      2. Nikasi Eugene, OR Total Domination IPA
      3. 10 Barrel Brewing Bend, OR Apocalypse IPA
      4. Laughing Dog Brewing Sandpoint, ID Rocketdog IPA
      5. Rogue Brewing Newport, OR Brutal Bitter IPA

      January 1, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • bogfro

      Actually I believe the USA has the most breweries of any country nowadays, and keeps adding to that number every year.

      January 1, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • James

      Apparently, you've been in a cave for the past 20 years.

      January 3, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  8. John

    Smuttynose IPA – always my favorite

    January 1, 2013 at 1:14 am |
  9. dirtysouthironmen

    My Favorite Beer – A Free One

    Second Favorite Beer – A Cold One

    Third Favorite Beer – Shared while enjoying time with Family and Friends.

    If it is really good I get all three in one!

    January 1, 2013 at 12:41 am |
  10. Mark

    Well you won't find this outside of Wisconsin, and I'm not going to claim it's the best beer in the world, but one of my favorites is a beer called "Vanishing Vanilla Stout" by Stone Cellar Brewery. I really enjoy a good dark beer, especially stouts, and I've had several so-called Vanilla stouts in my day, but none like this. The Vanilla comes through so clear and flavorful giving the beer almost a creamy taste and texture, but not so much that it completely masks or overshadows the caramel and chocolate notes of the stout itself. If you live anywhere near the Fox Cities in Wisconsin, you need to try this beer, one of the best stouts I've ever had

    December 31, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  11. breeeewy

    can't believe nobody's mentioned Downtown Brown and Eightball Stout from Eureka,CA Lost Coast Brewery

    December 31, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  12. Dan Mo

    In a 10 place tie for first (The Pacific Northwest has the best breweries in the world. Accept it, don't deny.)

    Fremont Brewing Company – Universale Pale Ale
    Snoqualmie Falls Brewing Company – Powerhouse IPA
    Hale's Ales – Supergoose IPA
    Hilliard's Beer – Pils
    Icicle Brewing Company – Kolsch
    American Brewing Company – Power Play IPA
    Schooner Exact Brewing Company – 3 Grid IPA
    Chuckanut Brewing Company – Kolsch
    Emerald City Beer – Dottie's Lager
    Pike's Brewing Company – Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale
    Twelve Bar Brews – Pentatonic Pale Ale

    If you live in Washington or on your way up, check out the WABL website for the listing of the best Washington has to offer!

    December 31, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Dan Mo

      OK, I posted 11... What can I say, I love my states' beer.

      December 31, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • raptor57

      i will have to agree with you. i live in ohio, my daughter in seatle and she sends me some of the most amazing beers
      iron horse brewery " irish death" is one of my favorites.

      January 1, 2013 at 9:04 am |
  13. Oscar

    Santo – Saint Arnold

    December 31, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  14. thevelvetrut

    Here's my list of 10 faves:

    Stone's Imperial Russian Stout w/ Vanilla Beans [Escondido, CA]
    Russian River's Pliny the Elder DIPA [Santa Rosa, CA]
    Devil's Backbone 8-Point IPA [Nellysford, VA]
    Rogue Mocha Porter [Newport, OR]
    Dogfish Head Bitches Brew American Double/Imperial Stout [Milton, DE]
    21st Amendment Brew Free or Die [San Francisco, CA]
    Bell's Double Cream Stout [Kalamazoo, MI]
    Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout [Petaluma, CA]
    Terrapin Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout [Athens, GA]
    Hardywood Park Bourbon DIPA [Richmond, VA]

    December 31, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Alan

      I was lucky enough to find some of Richmond, VA's finest for the holidays: Hardywood Bourbon Barrel Gingerbread Stout. It's almost impossible to find here upon it's late NOV release. Most stores don't bother putting it on the shelves and keep it behind the register. Most stores also have a one bottle per person policy. We had to go to 4 different stores to get some!

      January 1, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  15. Conrad Shull

    My favorite beer is the 10th one.

    December 31, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  16. JOregon

    Today when I sit down to watch a bowl game I'm going to have a Ninkasi. All are good.
    I have 2 different ones cooling. Not sure if I'll have the seasonal, "Sleigh'r" (Dark Double Alt Ale) or a year 'round regular "Total Domination IPA".
    Such wonderful choices.

    December 31, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  17. Andy

    Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel
    St Bernardus ABT 12
    Rochefort Trappists 10
    Founder's Breakfast Stout
    Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier
    Abita Purple Haze
    and if i'm at the bar, I love a Dark Snakebite (Cider poured through Guiness)

    December 31, 2012 at 3:27 pm |

    gimme a thirdy pack of BUCSH LIGHT over any of this hippie juiec andaqy

    December 31, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  19. The Pledge to Save America

    Hipsters are discussing drinks as the economy falls apart and the United States falls into ruin and death.

    Perhaps it's God's Will that we suffer, it's becoming apparent that we deserve our fiery fate.

    December 31, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Bob A. Booey

      Mad because your favorites, Hamm's Ice and Olde English 800, didn't make the list?

      December 31, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • Webbs

      Just shut up, god-boy.

      December 31, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • JOregon

      The economy is getting better.
      Now if we could just get the GOP to agree that the Tax cuts were a big mistake and go back to at least sightly increasing the taxes on the very rich it might just get better.
      Of course the problem is pride. If they agree to raise taxes on anyone they are admitting their tax cut policy was a mistake.

      December 31, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  20. Mmmmmmmbeer

    World Wide Stout from Dogfish Head above 15% ABV
    120 Min. IPA from Dogfish Head
    Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
    Foothills Sexual Chocolate
    Big Boss Black Porter
    Mephistopolies from Avery
    The Beast from Avery

    December 31, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  21. mntnFndrX509

    The Alchemist Heady Topper (DIPA)
    Maine Beer Co Lunch (DIPA)
    Founders Backwoods B@st@rd (Barrel aged scotch ale)
    Heretic Evil Cousin (DIPA)
    Pretty Things Jack D'or (Saison)
    Firestone Walker Union Jack (IPA)
    Pretty Things Meadowlark (IPA)

    I'm an IPA guy, so sue me... :-)

    December 31, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  22. Gene D

    Coors Banquet. How is it this wonderful beer only has 1.5% of the US beer market?

    December 31, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  23. Richard

    Wookey Jack from Firestone Walker
    Dark Horse Plead the 5th

    December 31, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  24. JT

    Kinda hard to place some of these beers – maybe a bit obscure but a good collection none-the-less.

    On the more mass-produced craft beer side (oxymoron?) I've been most impressed with New Belgium's Tart Lychee and Sam Adam's Cinderbock. Sour beers are some of my favorites to try and the tart lychee was so good I kept on drinking it for 2 weeks straight. LIkewise I've stocked my pantry with some bottles of cinderbock for when I want something heavy and tastey.

    Not sure if they're exclusive to 2012, new to me, or if they'll continue to make them in 2013 but they're two that most anyone should be able.

    December 31, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • JT

      ... "able to find". Got cut off there for some reason.

      December 31, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  25. Englist Twitt

    Alaskan Amber at Mother Plucker's wing bar.

    December 31, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  26. Jason

    The best beer by far is the one that you make yourself!
    Touch of Paradise – Pineapple Wheat
    Bad Relationship – Honey Double IPA
    Back in Black – Barrel Aged Vanilla Bourbon Imperial Russian Stout
    Blood of the Valkyre – Cherry Melomel Mead

    December 31, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • pete

      I could not agree more. I've got a Kegerator full of beer. In 2012, here's some of what I brewed.
      An IPA, dry hopped with Citra Hops, A porter with hints of chocolate, a Schwarzbier, A Czezh Pilsner, too many to name. Of the commercial beers, I've been to Ballast Point in San Diego, great beer. Stone is not just good beer, but a great destination to go to as well (try the food there). So much beer, so little time.

      December 31, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  27. Ian

    Sweet delicious Natural Light, nectar of the gods.

    December 31, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  28. rustdog

    Stone IPA
    Deviant Dale's IPA
    Boulevard Wheat

    December 31, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  29. Seth

    Check out Beer Drinkers United on Facebook for their favorites. It's a die hard international craft beer group for beer snobs.

    December 31, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Seth

      FYI...They also do beer trades!

      December 31, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  30. Amy

    Peticolas Great Scot!
    Revolver Blood & Honey
    DEBC Wealth & Taste

    December 31, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  31. Zymurologist

    How about St Bernardus? They made Westvleteran for decades until the abbey was forced to brew it themselves to preserve their Trappist status, and when they did revert back they started using the easier to obtain Westmalle yeast rather than the yeast that was previously used to make Westvleteren – which St Bernardus still uses to make Abt 12 – so will the real Westvleteren stand up! Side by side St Bernardus is only slightly different and some would argue better than Westvleteren – it is certainly more obtainable and cheaper. So for those that have never tried Westy don't beat yourselves up, have a St Bernardus and be content in knowing you are probably tasting something more historically acurrate and subjectively better than your freind that paid over $100 for that six pack off ebay.

    December 31, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  32. Ryan

    Viewing beer lists at work. Have to put in mine:

    Red Oak – Amber & Hummingbird
    Bison – Honey Basil
    Souther Tier – 2x IPA
    Weeping Radish
    Palwel Kwak
    Hops Slam
    Victory – Golden Monkey
    Bells – Oberon
    Itachio Nest

    Whew – thirsty now! Enjoy.

    December 31, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  33. The Reverend Baby Doctor Bedpan

    Scaldis Noel is always a year end favorite.

    December 31, 2012 at 9:59 am |
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