The 9 Best New Beers of 2016

What were the best new beers of 2016? We decided to ask around.

The craft-beer boom continued to shakalaka in 2016, with the number of breweries in the U.S. crossing the 5,000 mark—5,005, to be precise—at the end of November, a new record high. Now, it would be blatant bulldoody to proclaim that I’ve tasted beers from all, most, or even one-fifth of these breweries. But if I was to heave bulldoody in such a deceitful way, I would also speak on the many great new beers released in 2016 that I tasted, each poured from the magical aperture just beneath the bull’s aletail.

It’s no secret to me: This hypothetical list would feature the hottest beer styles of the moment; the limited-edition, canned IPAs cloudier than Apple’s i and exuding more juice than Omar Epps; the gorgeously complex wild ales; the well-executed pilsners and other flavorful low-alcohol lagers; the refreshingly tart German-inspired sours; and the barrel-aged everythings!

But me, I’m no charlatan, conniver, cozener; I am not a crook! No, I’m just … tired. So I’ve assembled a sprightly (and sincere!) crew of local industry experts to pick their standout beer releases from 2016.

As we hurl toward, or because of, the end of 2016, a long year that snatched away David Bowie, forcing us to scatter the stardust of The Man Who Fell to Earth across Suffragette City, and presented Donald J. Trump as the next president of the United States, forcing us to scatter from the hate-spewing starfarts of The Unpolish-able Turd Who Rose to Cheeto Jesus, there is only one question to ask ourselves pertaining to the last twelve months: Should we even 2017? I’m … tired.

Kidding! The only question is, what was the best new beer of 2016?

Tropic Punch Ale, Dugges Ale and Stillwater Artisanal Ales
ABV: 4.5%

Picking the best beer of the year is like picking your favorite child; you love them all equally but, secretly, you know you love one more than the others! In saying that, I picked the beer that gave me goosebumps like I remember more beers doing “back in the day” and that’s this collaboration between Swedish craft brewer Dugges and local gypsy Stillwater. Tropic Punch is a sour beer that is so reminiscent of Froot Loops cereal it could have been named Toucan Sam. But don’t get me wrong: I mean this in the best way possible, with such amazing flavors of peaches, mangos, and passionfruit, and with a perfect twist of puckery lactobacillus to remind you this isn’t dessert. We didn’t have a bigger response from our staff than when we tapped this. — Amanda Danielsen, co-owner of Hoptron Brewtique

One, Sand City Brewing
ABV: 8.0%

I’m an IPA lover. It’s the first style I look for on every menu, and having the best available of it on our menu is certainly something we pride ourselves on here at Craft. In terms of craft beer, it’s an amazing time to be on Long Island right now because, in the words of the great George Costanza, worlds are colliding. Our local breweries are starting to kick out some of best hoppy beer in the entire country, and one of my favorite places spearheading the way is Sand City in Northport.

In celebration of its one-year anniversary this past October, Sand City released a beer aptly known as One, a double IPA that currently sits atop my ever-growing list of godlike nectar. We opened a can of One at the shop the day it was released and immediately fell in love. We probably looked  a little crazy, a handful of us passing around the can to huff the hop aromas. But with only one can of One, we had to make sure we made the experience count.

One poured ultra hazy with a deep golden color in the classic New England-style IPA way, with huge and dank flavor bursts of tropical fruits like pineapple and orange. And even with the enormous amount of hops that were clearly used to brew it, this beer was super well-balanced and scary drinkable at 8 percent. Unfortunately for all of us, One is now the Holy Grail of Long Island IPAs, having disappeared not long after the anniversary. My best recommendation?  Check out the awesome group of guys over at Sand City for their other fantastic hoppy beers. — Chris Roche, co-owner of Craft at C’est Cheese

Fear City Barley Wine, Bridge and Tunnel Brewery
ABV: 12.0%

Standing in at an intimidating 12 percent alcohol and soaking all those yummy bourbon flavors from a five-month stint in an oak barrel, Fear City was sold exclusively at Bridge and Tunnel’s taproom in Ridgewood, Queens. I had the pleasure of tasting this beer at different stages and it was awesome to see it develop, though at every stage it was a standout. I recall first that it had a very strong sweet malt character, a strong woody note, plum-like fruity esters and alcohol warmth. Later tastings, citrus notes started to take over, almost like an apricot. Tasting this beer was dangerous, it was well balanced so you went back for more ’till it knocked you on your butt. Well done to the guys at Bridge and Tunnel, I can’t wait to see where the beer goes if it’s still around. And if it is, please save some for me. — Peter Tripp, owner of Homebrew & Handgrenades

Little Umbrellas, Four Quarters Brewing
ABV: 3.7%

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A photo posted by Danielle Terzini (@danyell317) on

About a year ago my good friend and Lost Nation head brewer James Griffith asked me to help a local brewery owner in the small town of Winooski, Vermont. Minutes later Brian Eckert of Four Quarters called me to tell me that a bunch of breweries, including a big name from Long Island, had to back out of his first-ever beer festival last minute. Feeling bad I started making calls only days out to local favorites like Barrier, LIC Beer Project, Grimm, and Threes. Sure enough they all immediately gave me the green light to bring up barrels and help.When I got to Four Quarters and met Brian for the first time it was like we had known each other for years. I always say that brewers and chefs have the same kind of passion and love for what they do and I especially felt that with Brian. As much as he thanked me for all the help I reminded him I was just the delivery boy and proud to bring some of my local beer to Vermont to share the love.
Four Quarters is super small and focuses on sour and experimental beers made from local ingredients. I’m a huge fan of sour beers and also piña coladas when I’m not drinking beer and Little Umbrellas combines the best of both worlds. Simple and delicious this is conditioned with toasted coconut and pineapple to make you want to play that piña colada song while you drink it. I was lucky to get the first and only keg sent to New York earlier this year and I look forward to getting it again. All future batches will be rum-barrel aged Brian says so better believe the song will be playing at BBD’s. — Ralph Perrazzo, chef and owner of BBD’s

Balor IPA, Long Ireland Beer Co.
ABV: 6.6%

My favorite new beer of 2016 isn’t actually a new beer. But it was the first time it’s been available in cans, and the first time it’s been available in retail outside of the brewery, and I own a retail store! That beer is Balor IPA from my longtime friends Greg Martin and Dan Burke at Long Ireland. Balor has a great tropical-fruit flavor from the hopping exclusively with Citra hops, and a mild grapefruit-like bitterness that makes it super easy to drink and great with pretty much any meal. Whenever we have cans at the store and customers are looking for a great IPA that isn’t too bitter, I recommend it!! — David Schultzer, owner of Bellport Cold Beer & Soda

Amaizing IPL, Greenport Harbor Brewing
ABV: 6.0%

My beer choices are eclectic and unpredictable to say the least, and understanding them probably requires a masters degree in nuclear propulsion with a minor in Sanskrit. Which is why you’re better off not worrying about it and just sitting and drinking with me. That being said, while many beers get consumed, few really stand out. And one that did in 2016 was Greenport Harbor’s Amaizing, an India pale lager made with 10 percent flaked maize. While some may turn their nose up at corn in their beer, it offers a silky smooth mouth feel here that goes great with the brilliant tropical-fruit flavors— pineapple, white grape, kiwi—delivered by the domestic, Australian and New Zealand hops varieties used. At the very end of each sip a nuance of flavor in a dank, piney bitterness is delivered that keeps you wanting to revisit its splendor over and over again. — Scott Pflug, director of sales and marketing at Starfish Junction Productions

Fantastical Extra Pale Ale, Barrier Brewing
ABV: 6.8%

Barrier loves to brew hoppy pale ales and IPAs, and honestly they are some of the best of these all-the-rage styles out there right now. But one of Barrier’s new beers in 2016, Fantastical Extra Pale Ale, reminds me more of a classic British style, the ESB, standing for extra special or strong bitter. ESBs are pale ales but very malt forward, balancing the hop bitterness with lots of rich malty flavor and producing a nice amber color. Fantastical hits every mark with a delicious bready texture from the malt, hints of orange peel in the aroma and a faint taste of citrus and pine, similar to a festive winter warmer. At this ABV, it’s not a session bitter and instead would pair well with spicy food including a favorite of the British, curry. — Bernie Kilkelly, editor and publisher of LIBeerGuide.com

Petrus Sour Quad, Brouwerij De Brabandere
ABV: 10.5%

During the ongoing dumpster fire that was 2016, the brightest flame for me was certainly my trip to Belgium and being able to try Petrus Sour Quad. This limited-edition offering is 30 percent Petrus Aged Pale blended with quadruple. The dark, complex, boozy, and malty profiles of the quad blends with the sour pure foeder beer perfectly to create an experience that was rich and challenging the whole way through. Sour notes on the nose, dancing with malt sweetness on the palate, and finishing with a heady, boozy experience to wash away our collective 2016 sorrows. Never have I tasted something so complex, instantly satisfying, and possibly engineered specifically for me. Hopefully 2017 is a little less dark and sour. — Terence Daly, beer director at Brewology

Oops! I Hopped My Pants, Sand City Brewing
ABV: 6.5%

Rarely does a new beer arrive that has our customers wagging their tongues for it on a regular basis more than Sand City’s Oops! did this year. For an IPA to stand out like this marvel it needs to have a perfect balance between hop flavor and bitterness as well as dialed in to the correct ABV so beer lovers can rejoice with many pints. The romance between the citrus spectrum, the floral and pine notes, and the light bitterness on the backend make this beer a hit. We were proud to pour it this year and we look forward to many more pours! — Eric Rifkin, owner of Bobbique

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Niko Krommydas has written for Tasting Table, BeerAdvocate, Munchies, and First We Feast. He is editor of Craft Beer New York, an app for the iPhone, and a columnist for Yankee Brew News. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.