Even those who lived under a rock for the past year know 2020 was horrendous. Fortunately for Georgians, the beer proved quite the opposite.
When the pandemic struck the U.S. in March, craft breweries continued to push out new and tasty concoctions. Even through the uncertainty and depletion of staff, they kept unleashing their creativity to not only stay afloat, but to bring happiness to beer acolytes like me.
Everyone has struggled to find moments of normalcy during the pandemic. And for me, those moments involved drinking a new scrumptious beer made in Georgia each week.
Unlike last year, choosing my top 10 beers of 2020 has been challenging. As I’m sure you’re aware, there’s an inordinate amount of fantastic beer in our Peach State. Picking only 10 hurts, but this is a tradition I must uphold.
Before I dive into my top 10 beers of 2020, I’d like to give a shoutout to all of Georgia’s breweries who stepped up for their communities and beer neighbors during the pandemic.
Several large breweries offered up their canning lines to smaller ones who would usually rely on taproom sales. Some breweries raised money to provide COVID-19 relief to furloughed staff and others in need. And many others in Georgia — including Second Self Beer, Cherry Street Brewing, Monday Night Brewing and 26 other Peach State breweries — made beer that supports equality with the Black is Beautiful initiative.
It’s safe to say, I couldn’t be prouder of Georgia’s breweries. Now, drumroll please, here are my top 10 picks for 2020.
No. 10: Rocky Road Ice Cream Stout
Brewery: Wild Leap Brewing Co.
Alcohol by volume: 10.5%
Bottom line: A solid stout that embraces classic rocky road flavors
This beautiful bold beer comes in at 10.5% alcohol by volume, which doubles the moderate 5% you typically see in stouts. It offers just enough booziness to remind you that you are indeed an adult and aren’t just drinking ice cream. The stout is sweet, yet it strikes a balance between chocolatey richness and bitterness. I couldn’t detect any signs of marshmallows in the stout, but I noticed a hint of vanilla, a whole lot of dark chocolate and a lingering flavor of almonds. This is the sort of beer I’d prefer drinking as a dessert and not pairing with food. It’s thick, creamy and sticks in your gut like a bowl of ice cream.
No. 9: Members Only Hazy IPA
Brewery: Outrun Brewing Co.
Alcohol by volume: 6.2%
Style: Hazy IPA
Bottom line: A smooth-as-silk IPA
If you’ve been unwelcomely bitten by feisty, hoppy IPAs, Outrun Brewing Co.’s hazy Members Only IPA will prove as gentle as a golden retriever puppy. That’s not to say that it can’t win a medal at an American Kennel Club show. Outrun’s Members Only is a fantastic gateway IPA. If you’re still standing on your hop-hater hill, I encourage you to climb down and give the style a fair shot. Josh Miller, who co-owns Outrun with Ryan Silva, said the two wanted to make an IPA without the characteristic citrusy notes you’d typically find in the style. They opted for German varietal hops including Huell Melon and Mandarina Bavaria. They also incorporated a bit of El Dorado hops, which add bright tropical flavors.
No. 8: Pure Source IPA
Brewery: Left Nut Brewing Co.
Alcohol by volume: 5.5%
Bottom line: Easy drinking beer with a hint of scuppernong and bitterness
Left Nut Brewing Co.’s Pure Source IPA is the sort of beer I could see myself drinking while paddling in a canoe or sitting by a lake. Although a lot of hops were packed into the recipe, the beer doesn't come across as a West Coast-style IPA that typically boasts bitter notes of pine and citrus. It also doesn’t quite fit into the New England-style category because it doesn’t punch you with sweetness and haziness. This is what I like to call a no coast IPA.
The hops offer a fruity flavor reminiscent of scuppernongs, or as some Georgians like to say, “white muscadines.” The beer contains a hint of bitterness, but it doesn’t bite. It’s easy drinking without boring your taste buds.
No. 7: O.G.L.(One Giant Leap)
Brewery: Cherry Street Brewing
Alcohol by volume: 10%
Style: Triple IPA
Bottom line: The smoothest 10% beer I’ve ever tried
When I dove into Cherry Street Brewing’s O.G.L., I expected a wave of bitterness. However, that never came. Instead, I experienced a rush of lovely clementine notes. Heed my warning, this beer is insidiously powerful. It’s easy drinking, so the alcohol content doesn’t make its grand appearance until after you finish a pint. I recommend eating a bit of food before you consume it, unless you have the blood of a Viking. This is the sort of beer I’d recommend to my friends who turn their noses up at IPAs. It’s bold without being bitter and maintains a malty backbone that’s not overly sweet.
No. 6: Jucifer
Brewery: Beacon Brewing Co.
Alcohol by volume: 6.66%
Style: Sour IPA
Bottom line: A demon worth summoning
Liv Lawnick, brewmaster at Beacon Brewing Co., brewed the unholy sour, Jucifer, backward. She started with the beer’s name, desired alcohol by volume and an idea of the flavor she wanted to impart. The birth of Jucifer resulted in a tart, citrusy and slightly hoppy beer that came out with a beastly 6.66% ABV. When Lawnick came up with the flavor profile, she aimed to create an IPA concoction in line with what an actual citrus fruit tastes like, not just a hoppy beer with citrus notes. It’s safe to say she summoned a wicked, scrumptious beer.
No. 5: Circularity
Brewery: Orpheus Brewing
Alcohol by volume: 4.2%
Style: Strawberry Berliner Weisse
Bottom line: You will never find a more strawberry-forward beer
Drinking Orpheus Brewing’s Circularity transported me back to stumbling through Washington Farms as a child, grabbing handfuls of plump strawberries and trying not to eat them before riding home. I have never tasted such a strawberry-forward beer. The strong fruity note smothered my taste buds and left me pleasantly surprised by the freshness. Jason Pellett, brewmaster of Orpheus Brewing, said he packed 2,000 pounds of strawberry puree into the whole batch of beer to birth a beautiful brew that invokes a springtime fervor.
No. 4 Roaring Twenties Radler
Brewery: Tucker Brewing Co.
Alcohol by volume: 4%
Bottom line: A ridiculously refreshing balance of lemonade and beer
Tucker Brewing Co.'s Roaring Twenties Radler offers a refreshing tango between lemonade and helles lager. Operating a commercial-sized juicer like the one Chick-fil-A uses to make its famous lemonade, the brewery’s team juiced enough lemons to fill around 200 gallons. Around 75% of the drink contains the light beer, and the rest is lemonade. There’s craftsmanship in every delightful acidic sip. Even before I spoke with the brewmaster, I could tell that Tucker Brewing didn’t cut corners with this one. It’s not too sweet and offers a thirst-quenching element to the beer that you don’t often find in other lawn mower-crusher brews.
No. 3: Don’t Stand So Close to Me
Brewery: Wild Heaven Beer
Alcohol by volume: 5.5%
Style: Vienna-style lager
Bottom line: Listen to the beer and stay at home, folks.
During the spring, Wild Heaven pivoted its focus overnight from draft beer to mostly can releases. As one of his first pandemic-inspired brews, Eric Johnson, Wild Heaven’s brewmaster, canned a Vienna-style lager originally aimed for taproom sales and named it, Don’t Stand So Close to Me. I didn’t need to try the beer to know I was in for something amazing. Johnson couldn’t make a poor European-style beer if he tried. Don’t Stand So Close to me is crisp, refreshing and slightly floral beer with an out-of-the-oven sourdough bread aftertaste. Honestly, it’s beautiful, and makes me look forward to sharing good beer with others again.
No. 2: Lay Low
Brewery: Monday Night Brewing
Alcohol by volume: 3.2%
Style: Low calorie IPA
Bottom line: Utter sorcery
Whenever I’m craving a flavorful beer, but not wanting the calories, I grab Lay Low. Over the past year, this 90-calorie drink has become the go-to brew in my household. Peter Kiley, Monday Night’s brewmaster, said the birth of this beer stemmed from frustration with light beer produced around the country. You know the sort of beer I’m talking about — Bud Light, Miller Light, Michelob Ultra. Instead of continuing to complain about the lack of tasty low calorie beer in the world, Kiley decided to do something about it. To impart bold flavors, Kiley said he aggressively dry-hopped the beer. The flavors are equally as bold as the citrus aroma. Lay Low hit my tastebuds with a little bitterness and vibrant notes of scuppernong, pineapple and oranges. To say that I’m impressed would be an understatement.
No. 1: Advice from a Caterpillar
Brewery: Beacon Brewing Co.
Alcohol by volume: 7.8%
Style: Umami ale
Bottom line: Curiously scrumptious
I had a tough time choosing my No. 1 Georgia beer of 2020, but I feel confident about this one. Beacon Brewing Co.’s Advice from a Caterpillar is brewed with chanterelle mushrooms, yet it’s malty, easy-drinking and smells similar to an Oktoberfest Märzen-style beer. To my surprise, the mushrooms imparted a lovely apricot flavor and an umami mouthfeel. For those unfamiliar with umami, I like to describe it as the savory flavor you get from broth, tomatoes, asparagus, cooked meats and mushrooms. Advice from a Caterpillar is a prime example of how far craft beer can stretch its creative roots. Craft beer doesn’t have to be confined to a set style or rigid guidelines, it can be whatever the heck it wants.