SFoodie's Brian Yaeger ― a recent refugee to Beervana, aka Portland, Ore. ― put brown bags to good use in 2010, sheathing dozens of beers in a variety of styles in preparation for the monthly blind tastings he organized starting in February. Which beers did Yaeger's panels ― drawn from the Bay Area's crowded arena of brewers, publicans, buyers, bloggers, and plain old beer geeks ― deem to be the best in their styles? Just in time for New Year's runs to
City Beer Store BevMo, we've rounded up a year of spectacular blind-tasting reveals.
Pilsner Urquell (Plzen, Czech Republic)
Panelist Rich Higgins of Social Kitchen and Brewery gave the ubiquitous Urquell high marks for flavors he ID'd as "black pepper and grass."
Dieu Du Ciel Péché Mortel (Montreal)
This entry from our friends in the Great White North rocked the kind of intensity that made panelists reference chocolate, molasses, and cream.
Russian River Pliny the Elder (Santa Rosa)
Nationally regarded as the gold standard IPA (okay, Imperial IPA), Pliny out-hopped and out-hustled the contenders. As one taster gushed, the "nose is a symphony of tropical fruit."
Guinness Draught (Dublin, Ireland)
One panelist praised it for its resemblance to chocolate milk, another for the creamy head.
Paulaner Oktoberfest (Munich)
Like most Oktoberfests the panel considered, the Paulaner had medium body, toasty malt, and workhorse carbonation, in addition to what one taster called "pleasant breadyness."
Shipyard Smashed Pumpkins (Portland, Maine)
Smooth as whipped cream and grainy as a graham cracker, this one revealed notes of cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. "Pumpkin pie in a bottle," observed one panelist.
Deschutes Twilight Summer Ale (Bend, Ore.)
This ESB-like bitter ale was the near-unanimous winner in an otherwise shallow field. One taster enjoyed its "beautiful aroma" of fruit and hops, its spicy afterbite, and its ability to slay thirst.
Bud Light Lime (St. Louis, Mo.)
Surprise! Out of eight samples, Bud Light Lime was the across-the-board winner from a panel that included four avowed beer geeks. Just make sure it's cold. Otherwise, the telltale sour-corn taste of the Anheuser-Busch process creeps in.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (Chico, Calif.)
The panel loved Sierra Nevada's balance and trumped-up Cascade hops with kisses of citrus and pine, yielding a pale ale that managed to kick British butt.
Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier (Freising, Germany)
A beer rapidly approaching its millennial anniversary, Weihenstephaner reigned supreme, thanks in part to what one panelist described as its "strong banana and bready flavor."
Winter celebration beers
Shmaltz Jewbelation 14 (San Francisco, via Saratoga Springs, N.Y.)
The year's best holiday brew commemorated both Hannukah and Jewbelation's 14th anniversary ― the number of grains (malted barleys plus flaked quinoa and spelt), hops, and alcohol somehow added up to 14. Panelists found velvet and chocolate in the mix.