Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

DRAFT Mag’s top 25 beers of 2008: Do you agree?

By William Brand
Monday, January 26th, 2009 at 12:22 pm in what's on tap.

It’s always fun to look at “best of” or “top whatever”  beer lists. here’s DRAFT magazine’s “Top 25 Beers of 2008” . You can find the tasting notes and the story here.

Isabelle Proximus by Lost Abbey Brewinglost-abbey-isabelle-proximus
Wood-aged beer

  • This collaborative effort was greeted with schoolgirlish enthusiasm, long lines, and a lot of attention online. Brewed at Lost Abbey with help from Avery’s, Russian River’s, Allagash’s, and Dogfish Head’s brewers, the beer was celebrated long before it was released to the public.

Orchard White by The Bruery


  • This new SoCal brewery made a splash felt around the country, and its Orchard White has quickly become one of the best interpretations of a Belgian-style witbier around. The Bruery specializes in Belgians stashed in large bottles, as well as special seasonal offerings that mesmerize the senses.

DarkLord by Three Floyds Brewing
Russian Imperial stout

  • This beer is so popular, Three Floyds started a festival for its annual release. This year’s celebration went beyond expectations with specialty drafts from around the country. In fact, the crowds managed to deplete the seasonal supply of Dark Lord well before the festivities concluded. Three Floyds makes a handful of exceptional brews, but this one is especially noteworthy.


    Deschutes The Abyss

Ola Dubh Special Reserve 16 by Harviestoun Brewery

Old ale

  • Harviestoun has long brewed its world-class old ale, Old Engine Oil. To up the ante, the brewery made Old Engine Oil Reserve, which was aged in whiskey barrels. In 2008, Harviestoun pulled out all the stops by releasing a series of old ales aged in some of the finest single-malt barrels on earth from Highland Park. We sampled them all and agreed the most enjoyable of the bunch was 16.

Blasphemy by Weyerbacher Brewing Co.

  • Belgian specialty ale

Blasphemy is appropriately named: The brewers (Easeton, PA.) took their rich, complex QUAD beer and aged it in American bourbon barrels. Experimental, fringe and, yes, even blasphemous, it doesn’t really matter; this beer is unforgivably delicious.

Hopslam by Bell’s Brewing Co.
American IPA

  • Bell’s has a well-deserved reputation as a maker of some of America’s most beloved brews, and this one’s even more exceptional than expected. This hopped-up beast of a beer may be the best display of clean, unadulterated hops in any American beer. It only hits shelves in January and February, so get your hands on it while you can.

The Abyss, by Deschutes Brewery
Russian imperial stout

  • Deschutes celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2008 and put out several commemorative brews. It was difficult to choose one beer from Deschutes this year, but ultimately we sided with the brewery’s second installment of its wildly popular oak-aged imperial stout.

XII by Firestone Walker Brewing Co.

Belgian dark strong ale

  • Beer enthusiasts around the country wondered if it was possible to match Firestone Walker Eleven, the brewery’s previous anniversary beer. Not to fear: XII has even more depth and outrageous complexity.

Blabaer Lambik by Brasserie Cantillon


  • Cantillon has long been the brewery beer enthusiasts turn to for hard lambics, those that make the mouth involuntarily pucker a bit with the beer’s sharp acidity and incredible dryness. Blabaer is the epitome of this exotic style; unfortunately, this beer is rarely found Stateside.

The Angel’s Share by Lost Abbey
American Barleywine

  • What Tomme Arthur does at his San Marcos brewery is nothing short of inspiring, putting out beer after beer that is carefully tended to as it matures in barrels. Angel’s Share presents a jaw-dropping experience at first whiff. It’s deeply complex, but still somehow joins all of its ingredients together for a swallow that is smooth, rich, and cohesive.

Kiwanda Cream Ale by Pelican Pub and Brewery

Cream ale

  • Any idea how good a cream ale has to be to make a top 25 list? As excellent as this one. This brewery (Pacific City, OR.)  may have one of the most beautiful views in America, with a backyard that butts up against the Pacific Ocean, and that beauty soaks into the beer.

Tripel by Abdij Trappisten van Westmalle
Belgian tripel

  • Our first 100-point beer, Tripel is the premier example not just of what a Belgian tripel should be, but of how to brew a beer with a lot of alcohol that isn’t heavy or overwhelming. Westmalle brewers are monks first and foremost; this is one of only seven active Trappist breweries in the world. Perhaps their devotion to the divine explains the heavenly flavors in each bottle.

Pliny the Elder by Russian River Brewing Co.
imperial IPA

  • Vinnie Cilurzo has crafted Pliny the Elder for years in Santa Rosa, Calif. Until 2008, this beer of lore was only available in the country’s top beer bars, mostly in the Bay Area and San Diego. With the installation of an upgraded brewery complete with a bottling line, however, it’s now sold in several regions around the country, much to the delight of beer fans.

Reserve Special Black Bier Ale by Dark Horse Brewing Co.
Baltic porter

  • This beer (from Dark Horse, Marshall, MI) demonstrates just how muscular and balanced a strong ale can be. While clearly powerful, the alcohol presence doesn’t burn or overwhelm the palate, and the overall malt sweetness is bold, but not sticky or syrupy.

Apricot Ale by Cascade Brewing Co.

Fruit beer

  • Cascade’s Apricot Ale  (UPDATE: Cascade Brewing at the Raccoon Lodge & Brewpub in Portland, Oregon – brewed by Ron Gansberg.) takes fruit beer to a whole new level: It’s like opening a bottle of freshly packaged apricots. This is an exquisite beer that allows the fruit’s juicy quality to shine with each thirst-quenching sip.

Perseguidor (Batch 3) by Jolly Pumpkin
Wood-aged beer

  • Jolly Pumpkin’s special release was carefully matured in oak barrels and quickly snatched up by loyal fans eager to sample the Michigan brewery’s next great creation. This beer is a blend of four barrel-aged brews that were aged up to two years. The long wait resulted in a beer that is a complex treat for the palate.

Palo Santo Marron by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Brown ale

  • Dogfish Head  (Milton, DE.) is proud of its off-kilter ways and big beers with a lot of attitude. In 2008, the brewery installed the largest wooden vats in the nation since Prohibition, made from a hardwood most people associate with flooring, then aged this impressive brew inside. The results were amazing, as these potential floorboards lend an excellent flavor addition to a big ABV beer.

Whiskey Barrel Smoked Porter by O’Fallon Brewery
Robust porter

  • This O’Fallon, Missouri brewery made a name for itself with beers like Wheach, but this smoked beer is something extra special. O’Fallon’s brewers obtained remarkable results when they took their GABF-gold-winning smoked porter and aged it in Buffalo Trace whiskey barrels.

Dragon’s Milk by New Holland Brewing
Russian Imperial stout

  • Dragon’s Milk is a testament to the quality and care that goes into New Holland’s beers. It’s carefully aged in oak barrels, and according to the brewers, it’s the “crown jewel” of the brewery in Holland, MI.  While still made in relatively small batches, this brew is increasingly showing up around the United States, even making a splash at the 2008 Oregon Brewers Festival.

Wisconsin Belgian Red by New Glarus Brewing

The New Glarus booth at the Great American Beer Festival in 2008. The place was always jammed.

The New Glarus booth at the Great American Beer Festival in 2008. The place was always jammed.

Fruit beer

  • This beer  from New Glarus, New Glarus, WI. is a celebration packaged in a bottle, capped, then sealed with wax. It has more than a pound of Door County cherries in every bottle, and is an exceptional display of why these cherries are so popular. This beer made our top 25 list last year, and it reigned supreme again in 2008.

Woodcut No. 01 by Odell Brewing
Old ale

  • Odell Brewing, Fort Collins, CO.,  is pushing into new waters with grace and success with the Woodcut Series that began in 2008. This beer is a true masterpiece with rich flavors and aromas balanced with a wonderful American oak note.

Adam by Hair of the Dog Brewing

Old ale

  • Hair of the Dog is one of the Northwest’s most celebrated brewers for a reason: Every beer it releases is high-quality, and selecting one beer above the rest is no simple task. We landed on Adam because its sweetness, alcohol, and hops are incredibly well balanced, and create a drinking experience that makes you wonder about the way beer used to be. Adam is based on a recipe from the Old World, but the flavors and textures experienced seem new with every sip.

Nuova Mattina by Birrificio del Ducato

  • The U.S. market has seen very little from Italy by way of beer, but in 2008, Nuova Mattina’s output was received with thunderous accolades, and the Italian saison is cream of the crop. In fact, it’s redefining the way we look at Italian beer, with the use of local spices and a clear commitment to quality in brewing and packaging. This beer isn’t cheap, but it’s worth every penny.

Pannepot by De Struise Brouwers

Belgian specialty ale

  • For five years, De Struise has rented space at Belgium’s Deca Brewery to brew its beer. In that time, De Struise has become recognized as one of the world’s premier breweries, and in the last two years, we’ve been fortunate enough to get this beer on our side of the pond. This Belgian treat is perfectly balanced, with bold flavors that never overwhelm the palate.

Darkness by Surly Brewing

Russian Imperial stout

  • Surly releases some of the most aggressive canned beers, but this specialty brew (in a bottle) achieves a level of quality that can’t be beat. The brewery only releases this beer once a year and it doesn’t last long, but those who find it can attest to its outstanding complexity and flavor.

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

  • David Jensen

    I’m saddened to say that I have tried none of these. At least now I have a new list of beer to try, if I can still get access to any of these.

  • William Brand

    Beers ‘ve never seen in the San Francisco Bay Area include DarkLord, Blasphemy, Hopslam, Kiwanda Ceam Ale, Reserve Special Black bier Ale, Apricot Ale from Cascade — Pyramid Apricot is similar and excellent — Haven’t seen that particular Jolly Pumpkin, but some of their best like Roja can be found here.
    Don’t believe the Whiskey Barrel Smoked Porter from OFallon is here. Ditto Dragon’s Milk and sadly no Wisconsin Belgian Red.
    Never seen the Odell beer either. But Nuova Mattina and Pannepot can be found occasionally. I’ve never seen Darkness by Surly Brewing.

    The rest can all be found at good beer stores. Don’t know where to look: Email me at and ask for our 2009 Retail Beer Store List.

  • Ryan K.

    I’ve been lucky enough to try a little more than a handful of the beers on the list and cant argue with any them being selected. It’d be great if we could get a few more of them out here (Three Floyds and Bell, most notable for me), but you cant really complain to much when we live in a state that has become a true beer mecca.

    Next up… Isabelle Proximus, if my roommate is willing to share.

  • http:/// Mario (Brewed For Thought)

    I think Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout deserves a spot on the list.

  • chris Crabb

    Hey William,

    FYI, the Cascade Apricot Ale is made from Cascade Brewing at the Raccoon Lodge & Brewpub in Portland, Oregon – brewed by Ron Gansberg. You have it listed as being from (Cascade, Burlington, WA.) If you can, please correct – thanks!

  • Scott B.

    I really enjoyed The Dissident from Deschutes this year. Now for 2009, I would already like to nominate Sierra’s new Torpedo Extra IPA.

  • William Brand

    OK Chris. correcting it now, How would you compare it to Pyramid?

    Yeah Mario, Bourbon County Stout’s a great one. It’s been around in the Midwest for a few years, si my guess is they didn’t think about it. It’s new to us, of course, and I really like it, even thugh it costs an arm and a leg.

  • William Brand

    Yes, the Dissident is/was a champ,. Loved Torpedo, as well. Good selection

  • Chris Crabb

    Thanks for the correction! Comparing the two is apples to oranges (or apples to apricots, pardon the pun!). Pyramid is a wheat beer, while Cascade Apricot Ale is based on a Belgian Tripel and went through 16 months lactic fermentation and aging in French oak wine barrels. The apricots were allowed to slow ripen before introduction into the beer, which aged four months on the fruit before bottling. It’s a fantastic beer at 8.35% ABV.

  • Chipper Dave

    I’ve had just a handful of those beer last year but of those that I did try I must admit they were darn good beer. Of note for me was The Abyss from Deschutes and Woodcut No. 01 from Odell. The Abyss was simply delicious and one of the best dark brews I’ve had recently. Odell’s Woodcut was a bonus for me. I attended the tapping party and got a hand signed bottle from Doug Odell himself. That Old ale was very very good. I’m aging a bottle for another year and will tap it on it’s first anniversary. At $25 a bottle it was worth saving. The others I tried were Pliny the Elder, now available in Colorado, and the Westmalle Tripel which I had during the Twitter Taste Live. All worthy beers and would keep on the list.

    Only one I’d add to this list would be Alaskan Smoked Porter 2008. Simply the best smoked beer I’ve tried. Highly recommend it.

  • William Brand

    I’m with you on Alaskan Smoked Porter. Great right now and stunning in a couple of years. Its one of the few beers I always age.
    The Odells sounds really good. I;ve never been a big Odells fan. Obviously, it’s time for me to pay attention.

    About the Cascade Apricot Ale. Thanks for the info Chris. The DRAFT magazine description is really lame. A tripel-style, aged on ripe apricots for four months and they call it an Apricot Ale. They need to go back to beer school.

  • craig

    most of the list seems closer to wine….than beer..

  • Derrick

    I”ll weigh in with my two cents and second Mario’s motion for Goose Island Bourbon County Stout to be on the list.

    I’d put it ahead of The Abyss, which I thought was good, but not a great as everyone was raving about. To me, it was a little bitter and harsh with all the other good stuff. I’d take Goose Island Bourbon County Stout or Stone 12th Anniversary Chocolate Oatmeal Stout aged at least six months over it. (Maybe that’s why Stone 12th didn’t make the list. It was a little too aggressive and bitter for me when it was released in July 2008, but after 6 months, it really mellowed out and greatly improved.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’d put Lagunitas’s Rueben and the Jets Ale in the Pliny the Elder stratosphere.

  • Drew

    Good to see Kiwanda Cream Ale getting some recognition and respect. It’s a great beer in my opinion.

  • beerinator

    By the way, the link to the original article seems to be broken. I think you left a period in the url at the end that when removed makes it work.

  • Mike

    Russian River Consecration is a glaring omission. Luckily it will be in boittles come Monday, Februray 2.

  • AC

    Had a some of these and the one I’m least impressed w/ is the Ola Dubh Special Reserve 16, maybe its the marketing and the story but just as much depth with an Old Rasputin w/ a better finish and not so sweet as the Ola Dubh.

  • William Brand

    I agree with you abou Ola Dubh…not my cup of tea. But it’s a long, long way from the UK to Oakland. Maybe in England, it would be better.

  • easong

    Bell’s Hop Slam IPA is drinkable, but doesn’t match up to our California IPAs: Green Flash West Coast, Firestone-Walker Union Jack, Russian River Blind Pig, Moylan’s, Stone, Ballast Point, and certainly not to anything brewed by Pizza Port.

    I guess they recognized Pliny in the double category and thought we got our share.

  • Mayor of Concord

    I’m not much of a beer drinker and many of these don’t sound like anything I can get in the East Bay but I may start searching them out now.

  • William Brand

    If you live in Concord (CA), try Monument Wine & Spirits, 2250 Monument Blvd. Great selection.Some beers on the list like Dark Lord, just aren’t available here.

  • James Boxton

    Hahaha….California douchebags get so uptight when they don’t win everything in beer lists. It’s cute in a way. I’ve tried 11 of these great beers and all are great in their own way. Hey Easong, Hopslam is different than those beers you mentioned which is why it is listed. It is not as hoppy as CA beers, it is a little sweeter which makes it not the norm. Go back to surfing and….like…drinking Arrogant Bastard, doood.