Todd Shaner, 53, is a member of the sports desk at The Inquirer and has been editing, writing, and designing pages for 32 years. He has been following the craft beer scene, locally and nationally, since 1995 and enjoying every sip along the way.
I like to end each year in beer with my top-25 list.
This year, I'm doing the top 25 beers I tasted for the first time in 2016. Many were first brewed this year, but some have been around.
It was a tasteful year, and as I put this list together, I was struck by how many are from Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey establishments, and how many are IPAs, porters, and stouts.
This can only mean that 2017 will be even better.
25. Mikkeller Santa's Little Helper (10.9% ABV): A Belgian Strong Dark Ale, mildly spiced for the season, that goes down way too easy.
24. Weyerbacher Sunday Morning Stout (11.3%): Ahhh, sit back, relax and continually sip beer's version of bourbon-barrel aged coffee.
23. Ommegang Shadow Brewer Imperial Stout (9.7%): Coffee, chocolate, roasted, bitter, intense. Or, in a word, masterful.
22. Forgotten Boardwalk The Captain's Quarters Smoked Porter (5.7%): What, that's not enough for you? OK, it's aged in bourbon barrels.
21. Hoppin' Frog Killer Vanilla Extraordinary IPA (7.5%): A vanilla IPA? They went there and pulled it off. One of the more unique tastes of the year.
20. Conshohocken Blood Money Blood Orange IPA (6.7%): Blood orange in a beer has rarely tasted so good. Strong flavor.
19. Stable 12 Wild West IPA (7.8%): The Phoenixville brewery outdid itself with this West Coast IPA. Tasty and bitter and all that is good about an IPA. Shout out to Conshohocken Brewing's Type A, another top-notch West Coast IPA.
18. Levante Sausage Lemonade (4.7%): For the love of God, what is this? The West Chester brewery has whipped up a Smoked Wheat brew that is all smoke up front (think inhaling an ash pit) and tart thereafter. It takes a sip or two to appreciate the complexity. And the folks at Levante won't let you order a full one without tasting it first.
17. Flying Fish Exit 7 Pork Roll Porter (7.5%): Yep, pork roll. The Exit series resumed in earnest this year, and this is the best of '16's bunch. Seemed to me that the more it warmed, the flavor of pork roll was present.
16. Singlecut Beersmiths Billy 18-Watt IPA (5%): The taste and the low ABV that Session IPAs should be all about. Side note: Any IPA by Singlecut could be substituted here. They're that good.
15. Dogfish Head Beer for Breakfast Stout (7.4%): No time to eat breakfast? This stout is for you. Chances are something you eat for your first meal was used to brew this, including an acceptable use for scrapple.
14. Manayunk Brewing Co.'s Drain Pour (6.6%): This Brett Saison has a really sharp, distinct taste. But the definition of drain pour on the label is classic and puts this over the top.
13. Neshaminy Creek The Shape of Hops To Come (9.5%): Apollo, Simcoe, Citra, Newport, and Topaz hops combine for tour de force of tasty bitterness in this double IPA.
12. Cape May Brewing Co.'s Mop Water (7%): A spiced beer that looks like mop water, but tastes a lot better (no, I haven't tasted mop water, just a guess on my part). This can really put you in the holiday spirit.
11. 10 Barrel Joe IPA (6.9%): Crisp taste, grassy smell, unfiltered. Great IPA.
10. Tired Hands Science Experiment No. 1 (6.1%): Tired Hands has been known to do some weird stuff so this "weird" IPA is brewed with oats, hopped, and has tastes of grapefruit and maybe a bit of rosemary. Different, but that's what you expect from the Ardmore brewery.
9. Deschutes/Hair of the Dog Collab #2 (14.3%): Deschutes' Abyss and The Stoic are combined with Hair's Fred and Doggie Claws to form a deep, dark, intense brew that gets your attention immediately. Kinda like that first punch in the face.
8. Avery Tweak (16%): Yeah, baby. Smell this, then sip – and I mean sip – this fantastic offering from a brewery that knows how to make high-alcohol, intense beers. This is not for the faint of heart.
7. Sly Fox 21st Anniversary Black IPA (6.7%): Pretty sure this is the Fox's first Black IPA and it captures everything that's good about the style. A critical malt backbone is eased by dry-hopping with four hops. Not bitter, but rather tropical/citrusy hops taste makes this a beer worthy of a celebration.
6. Levante Cloudy & Cumbersome (5.6%): A recent sampling of many of the West Chester brewery's offerings found this to be the runaway best of a really fine batch of brews. The unfiltered appearance draws you in, but the hops flavors powered by Mosaic leave a pleasing taste on the palate.
5. Tuned Up Double IPA (9.5%): This Spring City brewery opened this year quietly, but the response to it has been exceptional. The untitled brew was its first DIPA, and it will be hard to top. A complex, dense IPA that will floor you in many ways, including the little bits of hops in the brew.
4. NoDa Brewing's Hop Drop 'n' Roll IPA (7.2%): I'm going with what the bartender who recommended this at the Charlotte airport said: "It's the Heady Topper of the South and a man's IPA." A little strong on both points, but this was an incredible find. Almost makes you wish for a flight delay.
3. Troeg's Nimble Giant (9%): The Hershey brewery's best IPA to date (no, Nugget Nectar is not an IPA), this double explodes with fruity goodness. Exceptional beer.
2. Cape May Brewing Co.'s Coastal Evacuation (8%): An unfiltered double IPA that brings the best out of Centennial hops. The taste is so pure and delicious you have to force yourself to stop drinking it.
1. Lagunitas Born Yesterday Fresh Hop Pale Ale (7%): From the first sip of this unfiltered extremely fresh-tasting beer, I was blown away. Nothing was better this year. NOTHING. A runaway at No. 1.