The best beers of 2012

Esquire

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Flying Dog El Dorado

Esquire.com’s beer correspondent chooses the most exciting new releases of the year.

Plus: a few trends to talk about at the bar, from 007 ditching the martini to the social acceptance of beer that kind of tastes like lemonade.

The Hoppy Beers...

Flying Dog El Dorado

Flying Dog showcases specific varieties of hops in its Single Hop beers. The latest in the series is El Dorado, a massive imperial IPA with 10 percent ABV that's brewed with the new and hard-to-get El Dorado hops.

One-time release. Available in May in DC, MD, VA.

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Golden Road Point the Way

Golden Road Point the Way

A new beer from a new brewery, Point the Way IPA has been a top seller since Golden Road Brewing opened late last year in Los Angeles. Golden Road debuted this balanced, floral brew in 16-ounce cans in January.

Year-round. Available now in CA.

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Harpoon Rich & Dan's Rye IPA

Harpoon Rich & Dan's Rye IPA

Harpoon's first new full-time release in more than two years, Rich & Dan's Rye IPA is named after brewery founders Rich Doyle and Dan Kenary. The use of rye malts lends a spicy complexity and a rich copper hue to the brew.

Year-round. Available now in AL, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, VT, WV.

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Westbrook Brewing Covert Hops

Westbrook Brewing Covert Hops

This black ale from South Carolina's young Westbrook Brewing Co. is made with more than four pounds of hops per barrel for an earthy, piney kick.

Seasonal release. Available now through May in SC.

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He'Brew Hop Manna

He'Brew Hop Manna

Six varieties of hops, including the citrusy and "C"-loaded — Cascade, Centennial and Citra — give Shmaltz Brewing Co.'s new year-round IPA a punchy, piney aroma and bitter, grapefruit-rind bite.

Year-round. Available now in AL, AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, MI, MN, MO, MT, NE, NJ, NY, NC, OH, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, VA, WA, WI.

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Green Flash Palate Wrecker

Green Flash Palate Wrecker

Available now for the first time in 12- and 22-ounce bottles nationwide, this "triple" IPA from San Diego's Green Flash Brewing Co. is a rollercoaster of floral and biscuit-y aromas, followed by a wallop of piney hops.

Spring seasonal. Available now in AL, AK, AZ, CA, CO, FL, GA, IL, IA, KS, KY, MA, ME, MD, MO, NC, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OR, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, VT, WA.

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Sixpoint Resin

Sixpoint Resin

A massively hopped double IPA from Brooklyn's Sixpoint Brewery, Resin is a hophead's dream come true. The beer's bright, grassy aromas and hop-resin flavors are like a punch in the face. A good one. And at 9.1 percent alcohol by volume, it's a kick in the ass, too.

Year-round. Available now in DC, IN, MA, MD, NH, NY, NJ, PA, RI, VA, VT, WI.

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Shock Top Lemon Shandy

The Best Use of Beer Lemonade

This may go down as the Year of the Shandy. Europeans have long known about the lip-smacking refreshment of shandies — beer mixed with sparkling lemonade, grapefruit juice, or other citrus sodas. Americans will have plenty of opportunities to play catch-up this summer. Anheuser-Busch InBev has two new releases out in time for the summer heat: Shock Top Lemon Shandy, which I've been enjoying, and Michelob Ultra 19th Hole Light Tea & Lemonade, which you probably shouldn't try to say more than once in a row. They'll jockey for shelf space alongside the ever-popular Leinenkugel Summer Shandy and the new Coors Light Iced T, which is being test-marketed in Canada.

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Stone/Iron Fist Pillow Mint at the Ritz

The Funky Beers...

Odell Shenanigans

Colorado's Odell Brewing spiked the oak-aged Shenanigans with a yeast strain called Brettanomyces, which imparts a slightly tart flavor in this crimson-hued ale.

One-time release. Available now in AZ, CO, ID, KS, MN, MO, NE, NM, SD, WY.

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Stone/Iron Fist Pillow Mint at the Ritz

The Funky Beers...

Stone/Iron Fist Pillow Mint at the Ritz

Homebrewer Ken Schmidt won Stone Brewing Co.'s March Madness homebrew competition this year for the second time in a row. In June, Stone will unveil a full-size batch of his Pillow Mint at the Ritz, an imperial chocolate stout, with help from California's Iron Fist Brewing Co.

One-time release. Available in June in AK, AZ, CA, CT, CO, DC, DE, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, KY, LA, ME, MD, MI, MO, MT, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OH, OR, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, VT, WA, WI.

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Cigar City Cucumber Saison

Cigar City Cucumber Saison

Cigar City in Tampa is preparing to bottle its Cucumber Saison for the first time. This easy-sipping, 5-percent-ABV golden ale has the added perk of fresh cucumber, which complements its orangey Citra and lemony Sorachi Ace hops.

Seasonal, unknown release date. Will be available in FL, GA, AL.

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Highland Razor Wit

Highland Razor Wit

Belgian-style witbiers are traditionally spiced with coriander and orange peel. North Carolina's Highland Brewing Co. takes it one more step with additions of ginger and cumin.

Seasonal release. Available May through August in AL, FL, GA, NC, SC, TN, VA.

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Sun King/Oskar Blues Chaka

Sun King/Oskar Blues Chaka

Two pioneers of the craft-beer-in-a-can movement — Indiana's Sun King and Colorado's Oskar Blues — collaborated on this Belgian-style ale, which will debut in 16-ounce cans at May's Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego. After that, the 8-percent-ABV beer brewed with Indiana hickory syrup and Colorado malts will be available in the breweries' home territories.

One-time release. Available in May in CO, IN.

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Dogfish Head Positive Contact

Dogfish Head Positive Contact

Dogfish Head teamed up with hip-hop artist Dan the Automator of Deltron 3030 to create this beer-cider hybrid that includes Fuji apples, cayenne pepper, roasted farro, and fresh cilantro — ingredients that Dan picked from New York's Eataly market. Only 9,000 cases of 750-ml bottles were produced.

One-time release. Available in May in AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IL, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, NC, NH, NJ, NE, NY, OH, OR, PA, SC, TX, VA, VT, WA.

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Deschutes Chainbreaker White IPA

Deschutes Chainbreaker White IPA

Oregon's Deschutes Brewery marries a hoppy India pale ale with a Belgian-style witbier in its new Chainbreaker. Brewed with orange peel, coriander, and juicy Pacific Northwest hops, this is the most balanced example I've tasted of the emerging white IPA style.

Year-round. Available now in OR, WA and ID; rolling out soon to AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, MN, MO, MT, NV, NM, ND, SD, TX, UT, WY.

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The James Bond Lager

"Shaken, not stirred" is no more. Or, at least, on suspension. When the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, comes to theaters in November, our favorite British spy (Daniel Craig, reprising the role) will trade in his martini for a Heineken.

The switch is part of a reported $45 million endorsement deal the Dutch beer brand struck with the film's producers.

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O'Fallon Kite Tail Summer Ale

The Mellow Beers...

O'Fallon Kite Tail Summer Ale

This new cream ale — the ale world's equivalent to American lagers — is clean and crisp, with a slightly tart, refreshing finish.

Available late April through August in AL, CO, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, MI, MO, OH, PA, TN, WI.

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Samuel Adams Verloren

Samuel Adams Verloren

The latest release in Samuel Adams's Small-Batch Series is this gose (pronounced GOES-uh), an all-but-forgotten German-style wheat beer that has an unusual ingredient: salt. That lends a slightly mineral character to the beer's flavor.

One-time release. Available in May nationwide.

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Tallgrass 8-Bit Pale Ale

Tallgrass 8-Bit Pale Ale

Tallgrass Brewing Co.'s new canned pale ale is retro-cool in its homage to old-school 8-bit video games. "Just like those classic games, 8-Bit is spectacularly simple at first glance yet remarkably fun and complex when you get into it," the Kansas brewery notes. Australian-grown Galaxy hops might give you a Pac Man-like boost, too.

Year-round. Available now in AL, AR, KS, MN, MO, MS, MT, ND, NE, OK, PA, SD, VA, WI.

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Terrapin Easy Rider

Terrapin Easy Rider

A new entry in the growing field of "session" beers — ones that have a relatively low alcohol content, so you can enjoy several in one drinking session without suffering liver fatigue — is this version from Terrapin Brewing Co. in Athens, Georgia. Easy Rider is brewed with five kinds of hops for lots of flavor, but at just 4.5 percent ABV, it's hardly hangover-inducing.

Seasonal release. Available in May in AL, FL, GA, NJ, NC, PA, SC, TN, VA.

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Magic Hat Elder Betty

Magic Hat Elder Betty

Sweet-tart elderberry flavors brighten this wheat ale from Magic Hat, which is rolling out this summer in the Vermont brewery's Summer Scene sampler pack and in six-packs.

One-time release. Available now through July nationwide.

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New Belgium Shift

New Belgium Shift

Pale lagers get a bad rap among beer geeks for being boring in the flavor department. They can't say that about Shift, a brand-new pale lager that comes in 16-ounce cans and has a subtle kick of green-grape flavor from Nelson Sauvin hops.

Year-round. Currently available in AR, AZ, CA, CO, DC, GA, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, MD, MN, MO, MT, NC, ND, NE, NM, NV, OR, SC, SD, TN, TX, VA, WA, WI, WY.

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Omission Pale Ale

Gluten-Free Beer That Doesn't Suck

Any brewer will tell you: It's really, really hard to make a gluten-free beer that tastes good.

Malted barley, after all, is one of just four main ingredients in beer. As a substitute, brewers have usually used malted sorghum, but its thin flavor leaves something to be desired. Widmer Bros. Brewing in Oregon has changed that with its new Omission line of gluten-free beers. A proprietary process enables Widmer Bros. to brew with malted barley while keeping gluten levels below the international standard for what's considered gluten-free.

The first releases — Omission Pale Ale and Omission Lager — are available this month in Oregon, with broader distribution planned. And they taste like real beer, because they are real beer.

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Mikkeller

Brewers Without a Home

Building and maintaining a brewery is expensive. Many-millions-of-dollars expensive. A trend that shows no sign of slowing is that of the so-called gypsy brewer. Believe it or not, such men and women are producing some of the most sought-after craft beers in the world, even though they have no physical base.

At brewing time, they rent space and equipment at various breweries, giving them the freedom to make whatever beers strike their fancy (like Beer Geek Brunch Weasel from Mikkeller in Copenhagen, Denmark, brewed with coffee beans that have been excreted from civet cats — much better than it sounds). Two more gypsy labels to keep an eye on in 2012: Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project (Cambridge, Massachusetts) and Stillwater Artisanal Ales (Baltimore).

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