In many ways, 2015 was a year marked by controversy in the craft-beer world. As deep-pocketed investors around the industry and many trailblazers sold their hard-won market share to the likes of AB InBev and MillerCoors, fans were left to consider what craft really means to them. Should you shrug your shoulders if your favorite brewery sells to a conglomerate, or should you dig your heels in to defend independent brands?

These are confusing times, for sure, but thankfully there’s a helluva lot of great beer to fuel the soul-searching. Trends like the session IPA hit fever pitch, and it seemed like everyone from your local nanobrewery to Sam Adams had a low-ABV hop bomb in its lineup. But some new styles also started to gain attention—from resurrected classics like Germany’s tart and refreshing gose, to new-school hybrids like the so-called “sour IPA.”

So what do you need to catch up on before the next wave of new releases floods into taps? As is our tradition, we asked our inner circle of beer nerds—including writers, publicans, and bar professionals—to make sense of the year in suds and pick the standouts.

Here is our panel:

From corn-packed grisettes to limited-imperial stouts that are actually worth the hype, these are the new beers that made their mark in 2015.


Bottle Logic Brewing Fundamental Observation

From: Anaheim, CA
ABV: 14.3%
Website: bottlelogic.com

Aaron Goldfarb says: “My #1 beer of 2015 didn’t revolutionize American brewing, it didn’t change how we think about beer, and it’s not even something that hasn’t ever been attempted before—it was just damn good. An imperial stout blended with Madagascar vanilla beans then aged in bourbon barrels sounds self-evidently good, but Fundamental Observation took this idea to another level. The flavors meld into liquidized s’mores, creating a luxurious dessert of a beer I won’t soon forget—and, unfortunately, might not get to ever try again, as it has quickly hit “whale” status.”


Avery Brewing Raja IPA

From: Boulder, CO
ABV: 8%
Website: averybrewing.com

Julian Kurland says: “I immediately thought of AVBC Briney Melon Gose and Anchorage’s Mosaic Saison, but if I’m going to choose my best new beer of 2015, I want to select one that I can drink everyday after a long shift. Raja is Avery’s new offering into a market (and portfolio) that is already filled with IPAs. What makes this different is a blend of Southern Hemisphere hops that feature a nose redolent of tropical fruits and citrus. It immediately makes your mouth start to water. The mouthfeel is light yet bursting with flavor, and it’s incredibly impressive that the 8% ABV is hidden amongst big notes of pineapple and mango, with just a hint of grass in the finish. The carbonation is bright and big, keeping the bitterness level at bay. I’ll have another.”


Sierra Nevada Otra Vez Gose

From: Chico, CA
ABV: 4.5%
Website: sierranevada.com

Joshua M. Bernstein says: “This year, Sierra Nevada took the tart gose on a deliciously unexpected flavor path, spiking the lightly acidic, low-alcohol ale with prickly pear cactus and a squeeze of grapefruit—ancient Germany remixed with California agriculture. Otra Vez is an A-grade thirst-quencher.”


Two Roads x Evil Twin Two Evil Geyser Gose

 

new sh!t ���� @eviltwinbrewing x @tworoadsbrewing #twoevil #geysergose // #craftbeer

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From: Stratford, CT
ABV: 5.5%
Website: tworoadsbrewing.com

Cat Wolinski says: “Two Evil is my pick for 2015’s best beer release because it accomplishes the rare feat of being both unusual and incredibly accessible at the same time. As a 21st-century American take on an ancient style—the gose originated in Goslar, Germany in the 16th century—it stays true to its roots as a slightly sour, salty wheat ale while simultaneously bringing modern twists on the formula, like outrageous ingredients (Icelandic moss, sea kelp) foraged on a trip to Iceland. It may sound crazy, but it’s super tasty—the salt is just enough to be savory and interesting, the sourness is thought-provoking but not overpowering, and the overall experience is just really refreshing. It’s tough to pick a favorite beer in a year of so many great ones, but with all the brett bombs, intense imperial stouts, and big IPAs out there right now, Two Evil is the beer I keep coming back to to stock in my beer fridge.”


Upper Pass x Foley Brothers Collusion

foley_collusion

From: Vermont
ABV: 7.8%
Website: Foley Brothers/Facebook

Dave Brodrick says: “My favorite beer of 2015 was a recent collaboration between one of my new favorite breweries—Upper Pass, in Tunbridge, VT and Foley Brothers of Brandon, VT. The beer is Collusion, a 7.8% American Stout with a touch of lactose for sweetness, and some rye that shows up as a nice, spicy bite in the finish. The beer has a discernible hop profile that helps accentuate the roasted character of the malt. Thanks to the ABV, this stout is smooth and drinkable.

Collusion was brewed at Foley Brothers, who also happen to make a lot of Double IPAs I love, including Fair Maiden and Pieces of Eight. Upper Pass, which began brewing commercially this fall, is the creation of Chris Perry, Andy Puchalik, and Ivan Tomek, who brew in the wool barn of an old sheep farm. Their first beer was Three Amigos, a juicy IPA that paid homage to the collaborative nature of their partnership. Collusion raises the bar even higher, and will be a tough act to follow. A few bottles are still available in the Foley Brothers tasting room.”


Fonta Flora Bloody Butcher

flora_butcher

From: Morganton, NC
ABV: 4.2%
Website: fontaflora.com

Justin Kennedy says: “If you want know the future of craft beer, look no further than Western North Carolina. Fonta Flora, a tiny mountain brewery in Morganton, has been on my radar for about a year and a half now and continually inspires me with its single-minded dedication to using local ingredients to produce some of the country’s best terroir-driven ales. Truth be told, I could have picked any one of head brewer Todd Boera’s beers as my 2015 favorite—his GABF gold medal winning Beets, Rhymes, & Life, maybe, or his pawpaw fruit-infused Appalachian Custard. I loved them all. But Bloody Butcher was particularly awesome because he used not only locally grown and malted barley, wheat, and rye, but also heirloom Bloody Butcher corn, toasted sorghum seeds, and sorghum-cane juice. The result is dry and refreshing with a little prickliness from the rye and a lot of tart, lemony flavors from the house yeast. One of the best examples of the increasingly hip grisette style.”


Captain Lawrence Rosso e Marrone 2015

 

We're open until 6pm today. Also, this is now available in #CT #captainlawrence #rossoemarrone #gotitatcoastal #branford

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From: Elmsford, NY
ABV: N/A
Website: captainlawrencebrewing.com

Bill Brooks says: “This year I was able to see the release of one of my favorite beers in a while, Captain Lawrence’s Rosso e Maronne. Captain Lawrence is known for their delicious, bold IPAs as well as their solid lineup of Belgian inspired ales. Yet every once in a while the brewery sneaks out a sour beer that blows my mind. This year’s release of Rosso e Marone—a blended sour that first came out in 2009—is complex yet smooth, with the malt and vinous flavors complementing each other nicely. It is amazingly fresh and lively, and I am looking forward to storing several bottles to watch how they change and develop over the next several years.”


Creature Comforts See The Stars

From: Athens, GA
ABV: 10.9%
Website: creaturecomfortsbeer.com

Ale Sharpton says: “When an imperial stout can be mentioned in the same sentence as Founders’ famous Canadian Breakfast Stout, it has to be a banger. Creature Comfort’s See the Stars—a Russian imperial stout aged in maple syrup bourbon barrels—is borderline extraterrestrial in flavor, with a one-time release that had brew lovers nationwide flocking to Athens trying to score a 750ml bottle. The design was dope too. Gangster all around.”