NARROWING the field to just one Beer of the Year is a daunting task. Here are my other favorite new beers of 2014.
Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose (Boonville, Calif.). Don't ask me how Gose, a heretofore obscure tart German wheat beer made with salt, coriander seeds and lactic bacteria, became the trendiest new style of 2014. Tasting like a cross between a mimosa and a margarita, this one comes in cans. I'm looking forward to revisiting it down the Shore this summer.
Ballantine India Pale Ale (Los Angeles). Pabst took one of its countless retro labels and glommed onto the still-exploding rage for IPAs. I can't say if it's truly a faithful re-creation of the same ale that the former Newark, N.J., giant brewed until the 1960s, but it is darn nice. It's dry-hopped for a huge floral aroma and brewed with hop oils that produce a pine-like flavor. An excellent buy at under $30 a case.
Barren Hill Biere De Extra (Lafayette Hill). Brewer Scott Morrison, who has a solid reputation for Belgian-style farmhouse ales, amped things up with an "extra" malt bill to create a sweet biere de garde with an underlying flavor of ripe pears.
The result: a pair of bronze medals at the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival. Morrison recently left the brewery, but his replacement, Dave Wood, is already knocking out some solid kegs.
Evil Genius Purple Monkey Dishwasher (West Grove, Pa.). For some weird reason, peanut-butter chocolate porters were a thing in 2014. There must've been a dozen of them on the shelves, including this exceptionally nutty version from the Chester County contract brewer.
Free Will Peach Lambic (Perkasie). Made with three strains of funky Brettanomyces yeast plus Pediococcus bacteria, this ale is as tart as you'd expect. But fresh peaches introduce a light, winelike flavor that gives it the kind of complexity you'd find in polished Belgian-made lambic.
Brewing a beer like this is both time-consuming and a bit of a risk, but the payoff is a bottle that deserves wider attention. Keep your eye on Free Will.
Guinness the 1759 (Dublin). Yes, I bashed this one a couple of months ago - but that was only because, at 35 bucks a bottle, it's too damn expensive. Still, this is a superb, strong dark ale with a touch of smoky flavor balancing its sweet malt. Guinness' brewers, who I imagine didn't set the price, deserve some cred.
Neshaminy Creek The Shape of Hops to Come (Croydon). Of course, I couldn't do a year-end list without a double IPA. Crack open a 16-ounce can and you get a massive whiff of, yep, grass - as in a baggie full of weed.
I can only guess that it's Pineapple Express, because there's a good deal of tropical flavors in this one. Look for it to return in July.
Southern Tier Goat Boy (Lakewood, N.Y.). Southern Tier will never be accused of subtlety (see Pumking, Choklat and 2XMAS), and I love them for that. This wheat bock is equally full-flavored, and they nailed it head on with its banana-and-clove aroma and sweet/spicy malt.
St. Benjamin Liaison Saison (Philadelphia). I first had a taste of this lavender-infused, farmhouse-style ale in 2012, when Saint Benjamin brewer Christina Burris was making five-gallon batches in her kitchen.
Now that she's working with partner Timothy Patton on a professional system in North Philly, it's matured into an aromatic refresher that I'd love to see bottled for a summer picnic. This ale is a fine reminder that the roots of today's craft-brewing scene are in homebrewing.
Troegs Cultivator (Hershey, Pa.). With their longstanding Troegenator consistently ranking as the best double bock in America, it was only a matter of time before the Trogner brothers would begin dabbling with other bocks. And what a dabble it was.
This helles bock, part of the brewery's new Hop Cycle series of seasonals, is a beautiful balance of sweet, yet clean-finishing, malt and snappy Hersbrucker hops.
* Still more new brews I couldn't get enough of in 2014: Founders The Dissenter imperial India pale lager, Otter Creek Citra Mantra IPA, Long Trail "Sick Day" IPA, Tired Hands The Emptiness Is Eternal saison, Stoudt's Belsnickel spiced Schwarzbier and Sly Fox Nihilist Russian imperial stout.