We’re fortunate to have all four seasons here in Western New York. In 2015 we went from the coldest February ever recorded, to the warmest and most snow-free December ever recorded.
And as the seasons change, so do the tastes of beer drinkers. Here’s a list of my Top 15 “Sensational Seasonals” and limited-release beers from local breweries for 2015. Some of these beers were brewed once and may never be available again. But due to popular demand and ingredient availability, some of these creations are sure to make an encore performance in 2016.
15. WinterBock (Dopplebock, ABV: 7.5%) – Gordon Biersch – Walden Galleria
Winterbock is a strong creamy bock designed for sustenance. This beer is a full-bodied lager that contains caramel, toffee, and holiday spice flavors. Dopplebocks were historically brewed by eleventh century monks to help sustain them through fasts during the winter months. When the monks couldn’t eat, they drank beer filled with lots of bready, high-calorie malt. You may not be fasting, but Winterbock is sure to sustain you through the winter.
14. Jack the RIPA (American IPA, ABV: 7%) – Pearl Street Grill & Brewery
This ruby red RIPA is brewed with slashing amounts of floral and citrus flavored hops. Jack is executed with west coast hops such as Centennial, Citra, and Amarillo but sliced by medium-hued sweet malts and a slight bitterness. You’ll want to give Jack a stab next time it comes out of the shadows, because this RIPA is killin’ it.
13. Oatmeal Milk Stout (OMS) (Oatmeal Stout, ABV: 5.3%) – Hamburg Brewing Company
Hamburg’s Oatmeal Milk Stout (OMS) is a creamy and smooth sweet winter treat. OMS is made with chocolate malt, flaked oats, and roasted barley. Milk sugar is added and imparts sweetness to balance the chocolate malt. This beer pairs great with chocolate and fireplaces.
12. Stout Affective Disorder (American Stout, ABV: 5.3%) – Community Beer Works
Don’t be melancholy if this Community Beer Works winter beer ends up in your glass. Stout Affective Disorder (SAD) is billed as “a dark beer for dark days”, but will certainly brighten your spirits. SAD starts off with chocolate and coffee, and ends in a smokey yet smooth finish. The hop bitterness is just the right amount needed to round out this beer and help combat the winter blues.
11. Down By The River (Belgian IPA, ABV: 7.4%) – Flying Bison Brewing Company
Brewed in collaboration with Community Beer Works, this Belgian/IPA crossover made by Flying Bison covers a lot of ground. The aroma is floral and yeasty, but the taste has plenty of spicy citrus and bitterness. The sweet honey finish of Down By The River does a great job trimming the substantial alcohol content. This “Private Stache” gem crops up in spring and summer.
10. Grounded (American Double / Imperial Stout, ABV: 9.4%) – Hamburg Brewing Company
This limited edition beer made by Hamburg Brewing is a barrel aged beaut. Grounded’s standard fare includes chocolate, coffee, and toffee. But what really makes this locomotive jump the track is being bourbon barrel-aged for several months. Grounded will take your palate on quite a journey. All aboard!
9. Chocolate Cherry Bomb (American Double / Imperial Stout, ABV: 8.2%) – Ellicottville Brewing Company
This Ellicottville Brewing sweet seasonal sensation is a robust and malty bomb. As with a chocolate-covered cherry, Oregon sweet cherries are used to impart a tart cherry center that is surrounded by a sturdy chocolate exterior. Mild English hops attempt to balance the deep chocolate notes, but the chocolate and cherries in this bomb are unwavering. This bomb also drops coffee notes as well. Part of Ellicottville’s “Imperial Series”, Chocolate Cherry Bomb can be found on shelves in the first quarter of the year and can be found on shelves now.
8. XPA 4.0 (American IPA, ABV: 6.4%) – Woodcock Brothers Brewing Company
“X” marks the spot for this Woodcock Brothers IPA. The “X” stands for experimental, and this IPA has undergone multiple revisions and novel hop combinations. Version 4.0 is perhaps the best treasure yet. Passionfruit, pine, citrus, and additional fruit flavors come forth in waves, but are balanced by firm pilsner malts. If there is a XPA 5.0 planned, can this IPA possibly get any better?
7. Oatmeal Cookie Brown Ale (English Brown Ale, ABV: 5.8%) – 42 North Brewing Company
East Aurora brewery 42 North opened its doors in October, and hit the ground running. Borderland IPA, Walloon Wit, and Asylum Porter mainstays have started out strong, and the Bohemian Pilsner disappears as fast as its produced. But the Oatmeal Cookie Brown Ale really takes the… cookie. This cookie-inspired creation uses oat flakes that have been toasted in the neighbors ovens at Elm St. Bakery. The spices are real ingredients; no extracts are used. A blend of raisins, cinnamon sticks, whole vanilla beans, and molasses are boiled together, and then the whole slurry is added into the beer during fermentation. Thirsty yet?
6. Vanilla Cappuccino Pumpkin Ale (Pumpkin/Yam Beer, ABV: 6.2%) – Resurgence Brewing Company
This mashed-style beer combines vanilla, cappuccino, and pumpkin flavors. Despite the ominous devilish looking pumpkin on the label, this Resurgence pumpkin beer doesn’t kick you in the teeth. Instead, pumpkin is really an afterthought on your palate. Rich vanilla coffee flavors take center stage, with pumpkin pie spice hanging out in the background. Getting these flavors to work together is a risky endeavor, but in this case it paid off.
5. Galaxy Red (American IPA / Red, ABV: 7%) – Big Ditch Brewing Company
It’s difficult to select just one of these two juicy Big Ditch offerings, so the pair were chosen in back-to-back slots. Despite both being described in a single word as “juicy”, they are quite different in how they accomplish that juiciness. Galaxy Red is made with scarcely-obtained Galaxy hops from Australia. These hops are used as late kettle and dry hop additions to make this beer shine bright. Galaxy Red is elevated out of the world by a constellation of flavor stars, including citrus, peach, and passion fruit. This beer is planned for release again in Spring of 2016.
4. Deep Cut (Imperial / Double IPA, ABV: 8.5%) – Big Ditch Brewing Company
Deep Cut is named after a monumental effort that was needed to carve the last section of the Erie Canal. Deep Cut has undergone a series of carvings and improvements over the past year. The latest Deep Cut sculpture looks and smells just like a glass of orange juice; albeit a strong alcoholic glass of orange juice. Sink your nose into this beer for the pleasant aroma of wild berry and punch. An assertive bitterness and dry finish complement the fruity hops.
3. Hoppy Hour Hero moe.saic IPA (American IPA, ABV: 8.3%) – Flying Bison Brewing Company
This dank and juicy drink was brewed as a special batch in honor of the band moe. Hoppy Hour Hero is named after a song by moe. called “Happy Hour Hero”. This beer plays a palatable melody, indeed. Made with Mosaic hops, Hoppy Hour Hero hits all the right notes with a complex score of citrus and pine. Along with an ensemble of available IPAs including Down By the River and Buffalo IPA, Hoppy Hour Hero is music to the ears. Here’s to hoping that Hoppy Hour Hero plays an encore in 2016.
2. Interrobang (American IPA, ABV: 7.2%) – Community Beer Works
Do you even know what an interrobang is!? Hint: I just used one (!?). And this symbol pretty much summarizes this beer. Or pretty much any other IPA from Community Beer Werks (CBW). Any number of CBW offerings could be subbed into the number two spot on this list. “Yuz Not That IPA”, made with yuzu citrus fruit, received rave reviews. Sixteen ounce cans of “An IPA”, produced in collaboration with Big Ditch and Resurgence as part of the “Brewer’s Series” triple play, was a popular summer hit. ANY of the Singularity Series IPAs, whereby CBW brews with and highlights a rotating single hop, could all hold down this spot on the list.
However, reviewers feel that the best CBW IPA of them all is Interrobang. This beer is loaded with Mosaic and Amarillo hops, and contains plenty of tropical, citrus, berry, herbal, earthy, and pine notes. With Interrobang, CBW added a solid malt platform to showcase these hops and created one of the best Buffalo IPAs of the year. Rumor has it this beer might interrobang its way to mainstay status in 2016. What!?
1. Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Sponge Candy Stout (American Imperial / Double Stout, ABV: 10%) – Resurgence Brewing Company
Occupying the top spot on the list of Sensational Seasonals for 2015 is the longest named beer in Buffalo. Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Sponge Candy Stout epitomizes Buffalo in a bottle. Layer upon layer of Watson’s chocolate sponge candy is interwoven with caramel, dark malt, and toffee flavors.
And if that wasn’t enough flavor, this beer was then aged in bourbon barrels — brought in from Smooth Ambler in West Virginia — for one year. The resultant boozy chocolate liquid has just the right amount of bourbon flavor to balance the sweet richness of the chocolate candy. This delicious treat is only released once a year, so be sure to look for it in December of 2016. If you were lucky enough to purchase a bottle this year, you may want to cellar it, as this chocolate bourbon blend will undoubtedly improve with age.