But I do think some beers are great, and under most circumstances I'd take them over others. Problem is, "some beers I like" is a weak opening gambit for any article, so I'm happy to play the top ten game for the sake of the new year spirit. Each one of the beers listed (in no particular order) below is at least 46% more delicious than a can of Carling, and up to 3 times more lovely than a Molson Canadian Cold Shots.
#1 Driftwood - Belle Royale
If I start talking about how much I loved this I won't stop. Read old review.
#2 Jolly Pumpkin - Oro de Calabaza
This was one of the first wilder ales I ever tried, and I have yet to top it. I took a bottle on recommendation from someone at Vancouver's Brewery Creek beer store. It was one of those staff recommendations where the guy held out the bottle, knowing he was doing the right thing in steering a loyal customer toward a great beer experience, but at the same time hating me for taking it out of his store because he loved it so damn much it HURTS. The most mysterious, disorienting beer I've ever tried.
#3 Oakham - Citra
Had this on tap at the Malt Shovel in England. A single-hopped golden ale brewed to session strength (low 4s I think), served out of a cask. Juicy lychees and marijuana hops, syrupy but not sweet, impeccable bitterness waters the mouth for endless sips. Just the most adorable all-dayer you will ever come across (pictured on the right, next to the also divine Hoggley's Solstice Stout).
#4 Pretty Things - Baby Tree
The world's second best "fruit" beer, possibly, from the always-outstanding Pretty Things gypsy brewery. I loved the rum-and-raisin character of this quad, which is brewed with dried California plums in the kettle. Quads are darkly fruity in any case, but the fruit treatment is far from superficial, and brings a chocolate-shiraz note to an otherwise perfectly made traditional quad.
#5 Brooklyn Brewery - Lager
Surprise factor played a part in this one. Novice to "vienna-style" lagers, I believed for a moment that this hop-heavy lager was an incorrectly labelled pale ale. Brooklyn have done a really good job with this beer, which delivers all the pucker and ether of a middleweight IPA, but with a clinically clean finish.
#6 Moon Under Water - Blue Moon Bitter (first batch)
#7 Dominus Vobiscum - Hibernus
The sister beer to this one — the lovely "Belgian IPA" Lupulus — almost sneaked into this spot, but the Hibernus just tips it for me. Quebec's Charlevoix microbrasserie are generating a formidable reputation for big-but-classy beers, trading on the increasingly crowded genre of European traditional recipes given a North American twist. The Hibernus is a 10% Belgian strong ale with real character. The beer has a very velvety texture, and a really fat slug of dark fruits, mild mulled-wine spices, and a touch of absinthe. A beer for a special night.
#8 Pelican Brewpub - India Pelican Ale
The best of a very good bunch of IPAs that I generally obsess over. I already reviewed this one as part of my in-no-way-numerically-oriented "Top Ten IPAs of the Year" article.
#9 Brewdog - Sink the Bismark
I wouldn't say I wanted to hate this, but I expected it to be a throwaway experience, akin to a visit to a Victorian beer freak show, manned by a leering Scottish vagabond in a ringmaster's top hat, if only there were such a thing. How could a 41% abv IPA even resemble a "beer", let alone merit serious appreciation? I was very surprised. The Brewdog beer is the essence of IPA, and a remarkable liquer in its own right. If it were more affordable, I'd go as far as to say it should be in any well-stocked liquor cabinet. Raunchy with hops and syrup and searing heat, the Bismark is a fine drink.
#10 Brasserie Dieu du Ciel - Peche Mortel
I tried this gargantuan coffee-infused imperial stout in December 2009, but the aftertaste lingered well into the spring of 2010 so it warrants a place here. This is my favourite "dessert" beer. It is decadent, sweet, and mouth-invading. Many beers that go all out for impact, as 'Mortel (or "Mortal Sin") surely does, end up hopelessly muddled or just plain offensive. This one is manna.
So there you have it. I'm likely to give a different list if you asked me tomorrow, but I can say with 99% certainty that these are all outstanding beers and well worth your time. Happy New Year.