Larry Koestler

My Year of Craft Beer Drinking: 366 Uniques in 366 Days

Posted in Craft Beer, New York City, Social Media, Unavailable in New York City by Third Rail Beer on May 7, 2012

The above graphic, created by me, owes a debt of gratitude to the Houston Press for providing the inspiration with its own clever, if controversial, “United States of Beer” map from last year, in which it attempted to determine the local brewery most closely associated with its home state. They were able to do this for all 50 states; alas, me being based in New York means not having access to every local brewery in the country. That said, I drank beer from more than 100 craft breweries* throughout the U.S. last year, and every single one is represented by their location and brewery logo in the above graphic

A little over a year ago, I stumbled across Untappd (for more on how I became the craft beer fiend I am today, feel free to check out part 1 of this post). While I’d been a casual user of Foursquare, here was a social media platform that appealed directly not only to one of my core hobbies, but to my long-held desire to ritualistically keep exact tabs and statistics on things I enjoy — in this case, something I partook in on a weekly basis, if not more frequently. If you’re reading this, chances are I don’t need to extol the virtues of Untappd to you, but it’s truly grown into one of my favorite websites during the past year.

I joined Untappd on April 27, 2011, and one leap year later, on April 26, 2012, I racked up 366 unique beers from well over 100 different U.S. breweries — or one unique per day — and 573 total beers consumed. I have literally checked in every single beer I have tasted in the past year. While there are plenty of Untappd power users who likely put my numbers to shame, I happen to think that’s a decently impressive tally for someone who became a new parent a year ago and doesn’t have scads of free time to while away my days drinking like I did as a younger man.

Anyway, as both a craft beer-lover and data aficionado (I also enjoy writing stat-heavy posts about baseball), now that I have a year’s worth of data surrounding my drinking habits I thought I’d crunch the numbers, work up some fun charts and also hand out some awards for beers that really blew me away during the past year. Being the data nerd that I am, I manually imported all of my Untappd check-ins into Excel; feel free to download my spreadsheet here.

Untappd: My Year of Craft Beer Drinking

Here’s my monthly breakdown of beers by total and uniques:

Given the holidays, December was unsurprisingly a heavy month of consumption; the only other month I racked up 60-plus beers was July 2011. With my one-year anniversary fast approaching, I really kicked the unique consumption into gear in March 2012, tallying my second-highest unique total of the year that month.

Untappd of course also tracks each user’s top six “favorites,” or most consumed.

My top six (79 total beers) was comprised of Brooklyn Brewery’s Brooklyn Lager (34 times), Dogfish Head’s 90-Minute IPA (13), Flying Dog’s Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale (9), Stone’s Ruination IPA (9), Victory’s HopDevil Ale (7), and Brooklyn’s Summer Ale (7). The top three are no surprise; as a New Yorker, Brooklyn Lager is generally the go-to when out at a restaurant or a bar with a relatively limited selection. Despite my overwhelming love of all things IPA, I would still rank Brooklyn Lager among my all-time top five beers. Dogfish’s 90-Minute is of course exceptional, and Flying Dog’s Classic Pale Ale is among the best pale ales in the country.

In fourth place we have Stone Ruination, though that’s only because I didn’t discover it until last year; as you’ll see below I fell head-over-heels in love with Ruination in 2011. In fifth, HopDevil is another delicious choice, though I haven’t had one in months given how focused I became on trying beers I hadn’t had before during the last half year or so. And rounding out the top six is Brooklyn Summer, which, like many seasonal ales, tastes exactly like it sounds.

Moving on, I was curious to see what my top 5 breweries by total consumption and my top five breweries by unique beer styles were.

Again, Brooklyn is king, though much of its tally is due to the proliferation of Brooklyn Lager on my tab. Things take a bit of a turn when filtering by uniques.

Dogfish Head was far-and-away number one, aided strongly by Downtown Bar & Grill’s Dogfish Head weekend last January. Stone, which became my brewery of choice shortly after the discovery of Ruination, came in at 2nd, and of the 13 Stone brews I had the good fortune of tasting in the past year, each and every one was utterly delicious.

Here’s the rundown of the Dogfish Head and Stone uniques I enjoyed. Again, feel free to download my Untappd spreadsheet if you’re interested in a look at all 366 uniques I drank.

Dogfish Head Stone
120 Minute IPA 11.11.11 Vertical Epic Ale
120 Minute IPA (2009) 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA
120 Minute IPA (2011) Arrogant Bastard Ale
60 Minute IPA BELGO Anise Imperial Russian Stout
75 Minute IPA Cali-Belgique IPA
90 Minute IPA Double Bastard Ale (2011)
90 Minute IPA (2009) IPA
Aprihop Levitation Ale
Black & Blue OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale
Burton Baton (2010) Old Guardian (2011)
Chicory Stout Pale Ale
Hellhound On My Ale Ruination IPA
Midas Touch Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale
Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew (2011)
My Antonia
Olde School (2010)
Pearl Jam Twenty Faithfull Ale
Raison D’Etre
Ta Henket
Theobroma
World Wide Stout (2010)hhhhhh

East vs. West

As you saw by the map at the beginning of this post, by virtue of my living in New York City there are far  more northeast-based brews available for my consumption than from any other part of the country. That said, there are certainly plenty of California- and Colorado-based breweries that make their way east. Although the number of breweries that don’t distribute to New York is also fairly eye-opening as well.

During the past year I am unashamed to admit that I have become a full-fledged west coast beer maniac. No offense to my local breweries, who I also adore, but the aggressiveness with which many west coast brewers hop their beers is eminently pleasing to my double IPA-loving palate. I’ve already briefly touched on my love of all things Stone, but other breweries that would comprise my “top breweries in America list” right now include Green Flash, Bear Republic, Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada and Rogue.

My craft-beer-by-state count currently stands at 31, which means I still need to try local craft beers from Connecticut (Cottrell, which I’ve actually had, but not since joining Untappd), Virginia (Williamsburg AleWerks), North Carolina (Carolina Brewing Company), Georgia (Terrapin), Alabama (Good People Brewing Company), Tennessee (Yazoo), Kentucky (Lore Brewing Co.), West Virginia (Mountain State Brewing Co.), Iowa (Olde Main), Arkansas (Diamond Bear), Oklahoma (Choc Beer), Kansas (Free State), North Dakota (Edwinton Brewing Co.), South Dakota (Heist Brewing), Wyoming (Snake River), New Mexico (Second Street), Arizona (Four Peaks), Nevada (Great Basin Brewing Co.) and Alaska (Denali).

And of course, the breweries I’ve mentioned in parentheses are the ones I came across during cursory Google searches; there are of course reams of other local state breweries I am unaware of and if anyone has any recommendations or suggestions for breweries to try in the above-listed states — not to mention states I have had beers from as well — I would love to hear them. For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of drinking craft beer is the discovery process.

Though I’ve had Three Floyds, it was only their collaboration with Mikkeler, Boogoop, and so they remain elusive as ever. Some of my huge wins during the past year were getting my hands on Russian River’s Damnation and Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, although RR’s Pliny the Younger remains on my most-wanted list.

My kingdom for a Pliny the Younger (or, I love IPAs of all kinds)

Russian River famously doesn’t distribute to New York, which has only made me crave both Plinys Elder and Younger that much more. After all, the latter is ranked number-one in the world by BeerAdvocate.com users and number-four in the U.S. by RateBeer.com. Now part of that has to be due to Pliny the Younger’s obscurity — it’s only available on draft — primarily at Russian River’s brewpub in Santa Rosa, California — for a scant two weeks in February. For someone living on the east coast this makes it virtually impossible to have.

While it may be some time before I get to try Younger, my love of the aggressively hopped, pungent, aromatic, floral, citrusy/grapefruity and delicious India Pale Ale knows no bounds. I love IPAs of all shapes and sizes — regular IPAs, doubles, triples, blacks — you name it, and if it has the acronym IPA in it there’s a very good chance I’ll like it. The below pie chart shows my breakdown of beers by type.

I’ve lobbed all IPA styles into one catchall IPA group, and as you can see, I make no bones about my taste preference.

Drumroll, please

I don’t think I’d be able to wrap up a year of craft beer drinking without anointing some of my favorites, so here goes.

Best Beer, Not-Available-for-Purchase-in-New-York-City division

(photo c/o Larry Koestler)

Winner: Surly Furious. The pride of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, local brewery Surly isn’t available anywhere outside the state, although that didn’t stop me from getting my hands on a palate-pleasing four-pack of Furious, Surly’s flagship IPA. And holy crap was it worth having a buddy transport it over half the country. Surly’s delightful combination of Ahtanum for a subtle grapefruity and floral taste; Amarillo to bolster the citrusy flavor; Simcoe to add a piney/woody/citrus accent; and Warrior, for a refreshing smoothing-out of the bitterness, results in one of the most flavorful 6.3% ABV IPAs I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. Not many breweries can pull off such a delicious-tasting IPA at such a relatively low ABV — 60-Minute immediately springs to mind — and it’s a true testament to Surly’s brewmaster that he can concoct a brew that tastes like a double at such mild ABV levels. (Tip of the hat to beer writer Josh Bernstein and his tremendous book, “Brewed Awakening,” for the hop descriptors. A must-read for anyone into craft beer.)

(photo c/o Larry Koestler)

2nd: Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale. Like Russian River, Bell’s was another brewery whose beers I’d been dying to get my hands on given how high they rank, and Two-Hearted Ale lived up to the hype and then some. This 7.0% IPA overflows with flavor, and owes its deliciousness to the Centennial hop, which packs a massive citrus punch.

3rd: Boulevard Double-Wide IPA. I was able to secure a four-pack of Kansas City, Missouri’s Boulevard’s DIPA last summer in Texas, and loved it from the moment I cracked the first smokestack-style bottle. The secret to its success is a blend of Bravo — a strain of Zeus that provides an earthy/herbal flavor; Cascade, one of the most popular hop varieties — particularly among west coast brewers — personified by Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale; Centennial for a big citrusy punch; Chinook, for additional herbal/earthy/piney character; and CTZ, another calling card of many American IPAs.

Best IPA

Winner: Stone Ruination IPA. I don’t mean to cop out here, but the excerpt on Stone’s website from the beer’s label sums it up pretty perfectly: “So called because of the ‘ruinous’ effect on your palate! This massive hop monster has a wonderfully delicious and intensely bitter flavor on a refreshing malt base. One taste and you can easily see why we call this brew ‘a liquid poem to the glory of the hop!’ Those who seek, crave and rejoice in beers with big, bold, bitter character will find true nirvana in Stone Ruination IPA!” In a year filled with aggressively hopped, mouth-watering IPAs and double IPAs, this was probably the most delicious beer I drank. I might be cheating a bit by categorizing it as an IPA, but Stone doesn’t market is as a double (it’s available in six-packs), and as a general rule of thumb I consider an IPA to be an imperial if it’s at 8.0% or higher. Ruination clocks in at 7.7%, but it’s so outrageously hopped that it almost tastes like an 11% beer, albeit one that you could drink several of in one sitting. On pure taste alone at a relatively low ABV, it’s tough to beat Ruination. Stone brews Ruination with Columbus (also known as Tomahawk, renowned for its earthiness and subtle hints of citrus) and Centennial hops, which, as previously noted in Two-Hearted Ale and Double-Wide, packs big-time citrus flavor.

2nd: Ithaca Beer Company Flower Power IPA. This 7.5% warrior is pure drinking bliss. Brewed with Simcoe, Cascade, Ahtanum and Centennial, Flower Power overpowers you with taste and will make you pick this over other choices whenever it’s an option.

3rd: Cigar City Brewing Co. Jai Alai IPA. Florida isn’t exactly known as a hotbed of craft brewing, but the flagship offering from Tampa’s premier craft brewer is top-notch. Cigar City doesn’t reveal which hops it uses in Jai Alai, which carries a 7.5% ABV,  but notes that it “has upfront citrus bitterness with a hint of caramel and citrus and tropical fruit hop notes in the finish.”

4th: Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA. This 7.0% ABV winner from the west packs a unique hoppy punch. As much as I love IPAs, after a while if you drink too many of them — like anything, really — they can start to taste somewhat similar. That said, Racer 5 tastes like almost nothing else I’ve had previously, and perhaps it’s the four-Cs blend of Chinook, Cascade, Columbus and Centennial that give it its uniquely refreshing flavor.

5th: Smuttynose “Finestkind” IPA. This was one of my first IPA loves, and even after all of these years its flavor still stands out. Maybe it’s the sediment that settles at the bottom of each bottle due to it being unfiltered, or the mix of Simcoe, Santiams and Amarillo that provide it with the bold grapefruity taste that’s a hallmark of many of the best IPAs in the land. Either way, it’s fantastic.

Best Double IPA

Winner: Sierra Nevada Hoptimum. Holy hops, Batman. This brand-new Sierra release for 2012 is, by a good margin, the hoppiest beer I’ve ever had. This 10.4% monster is highly aggressive, and knocking back one 12-ouncer in one sitting will send you on your merry way rather quickly, but the flavor is undeniable. According to Sierra’s website, Hoptimum is brewed with five whole-cone hops: German Magnum, Simcoe, Citra, Chinook and a special proprietary variety. An astonishingly good beer.

2nd: Hoppin’ Frog Mean Manalishi Double I.P.A.I haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy too many other offerings from this Akron, Ohio-based brewery, but the Double IPA is beyond reproach. Hoppin’ Frog’s website doesn’t give away this 8.2% charmer’s hop secrets, but its description — “An extreme, super-assertive and satisfying amount of American hop character is balanced with a toasty, caramelized, intense malt presence” — tells you everything you need to know.

3rd: Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA. The gold standard of American IPAs. If you’re reading this then you don’t need me to tell you about how great the 9.0% ABV 90-Minute is. It’s about as perfect as beer gets; the only reason it’s ranked third is that I wanted to showcase some of the other beers I loved this year.

Brewery of the Year

Winner: Stone. From brewing my favorite IPA of the year in Ruination; to releasing the best black IPA I’ve had to date in its 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA; to painstakingly taking the time to craft epic love letters to each and every one of its beers on the back of their labels; to concocting some of the most aggressively flavored, hopped and delicious beers on the planet, including Arrogant Bastard, Double Bastard and its flagship IPA while also challenging itself to successfully create a delectable low-ABV offering in its Levitation Ale; Stone can do no wrong in my book. My only issue with the just-north-of-San-Diego-based brewer is that being in New York I can’t readily enjoy Stone’s World Bistro, which sounds like the greatest place on earth.

Acknowledgements

I’ve littered acknowledgments throughout this post, but I have to thank Greg Avola and the Untappd crew one more time for providing the framework for me to make a roundup like this happen. And most importantly, I want to thank the multitude of incredible craft beer bars and retailers in New York City that have helped cultivate the culture and made collecting a custom six-pack, buying a rare bomber or downing a flight easier than ever, including but not limited to City Swiggers, Rattle N Hum, Good Beer NYC, Top Hops Beer Shop, New Beer Distributors, Beer Table Pantry, Best Yet Market, The Beer Room at Whole Foods on the Bowery and The Pony Bar. This is only a sampling of some of the best places in the city to enjoy craft beer; please make sure you patronize and thank them for existing.

*The U.S. breweries (unless other noted) represented in the map at the top of this post are, in alphabetical order: 21st Amendment Brewery, Abita, The Alchemist, Anchor, Anderson Valley, Avery, Ballast Point, Barrier Brewing Company, Bear Republic, Bell’s, Berkshire Brewing Company, Big Sky Brewing Company, Blue Point, Boston Beer Company, Boulder Beer Company, Boulevard Brewing Co., Breckenridge Brewery, Brew Dog (U.K.), Brewery Ommegang, Brooklyn Brewery, Butternuts Beer & Ale, Cape Ann Brewing Company, Cape Cod Beer, Captain Lawrence, Casco Bay Brewing, Chameleon Brewing, Cigar City Brewing, Clown Shoes, Cricket Hill, D.L. Geary Brewing Company, Dark Horse Brewing Co., Defiant, Deschutes, Dick’s Brewing, Dogfish Head, Elysian, Erie Brewing Co., Fegley’s Brew Works, Firestone Walker, Flying Dog, Fort Collins Brewery, Founders, Full Sail, Goose Island, Great Divide, Great Lakes Brewing Company, Green Flash, Greenport Harbor, Hair of the Dog, Harpoon, Heavy Seas, Hoppin’ Frog Brewery, Independence Brewing, Ithaca Beer Company, Keegan Ales, Kelso, The Kernel Brewery (U.K.), Kona, Kuhnhenn Brewery, Lagunitas, Lake Placid Pub & Brewery, Lakefront Brewery, Laughing Dog Brewery, Lazy Magnolia, Left Coast Brewing, Left Hand Brewing Company, Long Trail, Luke, Mad River, Madison River, Magic Hat, Mayflower Brewing Company, Mercury Brewing Company, Michigan Brewing Company, Mission, Moylan’s Brewery, Narragansett, Nebraska Brewing Company, New Belgium, New Holland Brewing Company, Ninkasi, Ninth Ward, NOLA Brewing, Oskar Blues, Pretty Things, Rahr & Sons, Real Ale, River Horse, RJ Rockers, Rogue, Rooster Fish, Ruckus Brewing, Russian River, Shipyard, Shmaltz, Sierra Nevada, Sixpoint, Ska, Sly Fox, Smuttynose, Southampton Publick House, Southern Tier, Speakeasy Ales and Lagers, Spoetzl Brewery, Stevens Point Brewery, Stone, Stoudts, Surly, The Bronx Brewery, The Matt Brewing Company, Three Floyds, Tommyknocker Brewery, Troegs, Two Brothers, Uinta Brewing Company, Victory, Wachusett Brewing Company, Weyerbacher, Yards Brewing Co.

15 Responses

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  1. Scott said, on May 7, 2012 at 9:06 am

    This is beautiful. Allow me to help you with some brewery recommendations:

    Tennessee – Yazoo (the only one you’re likely to find, although if you visit me I can show you much better ultra-local breweries like Calfkiller and Jackelope.)
    Georgia – Sweetwater, my personal brewery of the year.
    Kentucky – Bluegrass Brewing Company
    Kansas – Lucky Bucket (their IPA is legit)
    Alabama – I’ve heard great things about the Good People beers, but I somehow haven’t had any yet

    Also, I’d like to give a hat tip to Lagunitas, because it doesn’t get much play in your post but I think everything they do is wonderful.

    • Larry Koestler said, on May 7, 2012 at 12:38 pm

      Thanks Skip — looks like I have even more to look forward to when I finally visit you.

  2. Eric S said, on May 7, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    Great read. Of course, I had to read through your entire spreadsheet to see there were any favorites that you hadn’t gotten to yet. Not surprisingly, you covered most of the bases, but here are a few hoppy suggestions that should be available in NYC:
    Founders Double Trouble
    Maine Beer Company Peeper Ale or Zoe (hard to find, but well worth it)
    Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale
    Avery Maharaja (when it’s fresh)
    Bear Republic Racer X (I think it may be bottled now)
    Sierra Nevada Bigfoot (very hoppy for a barleywine when fresh, delicious either way)

    • Larry Koestler said, on May 7, 2012 at 12:39 pm

      Awesome; thanks Eric, and thanks for the recommendations. I actually just had Maharaja this past weekend, and I have a bottle of Bigfoot currently sitting in my fridge that I’ve been meaning to crack open.

  3. joelsavitzky said, on May 7, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    This was a great read, nice job Larry! I say your five-year plan should be a lot of international brews – or at least expand to Hawaii and Alaska :)

    I’d definitely pull for The Kernel and BrewDog here in the UK and the Kona Brewing Company in Hawaii!

    • Larry Koestler said, on May 7, 2012 at 1:28 pm

      Thanks, my man. I did of course enjoy Kernel and BrewDog thanks to you; just wasn’t able to include them in the map for obvious reasons. But if you keep finding good international craft brews, I’ll keep drinking ‘em!

  4. [...] it’s been a hell of a year for craft beer drinking, and in part 2 of this post, I’ll be delving into the numbers behind my year of drinking and also anointing several of my [...]

  5. [...] created a chart showing my month-by-month consumption in my “366 uniques in 366 days” post, and following a record June in which I enjoyed 108 unique brews, I felt compelled to [...]

  6. [...] Chart Lab’s “Breweries of the United States” map puts mine to [...]

  7. [...] Great list featuring one excellent craft beer representative from all 50 states, compiled by noted beer authorities Chris O’Leary, Josh Bernstein and Ale Sharpton, also reminiscent of Aleheads’ classic map of the United States, not to mention my own United States of Beer-Merica map. [...]

  8. [...] Cow and Arctic Panzer Wolf; Two-Hearted Ale; and Heady Topper, among others — imbibed 366 unique beers in 366 days, and reached my 1,000th unique check-in on [...]

  9. [...] year ago I manually compiled a ridiculous amount of data to analyze my craft beer drinking habits and also celebrate the enjoyment I have derived from the [...]

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