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Best beer of 2020, whatever that means
The other day my pal Dave said Allagash White and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale are the two perfect beers, presumably among those brewed in America USA Land of the Free and Home of the Brave and Also Ted Cruz. I mostly agreed but tried to add Bell’s Two Hearted before deciding that while it’s just as classic and excellent as the other two, it lacks their categorical definitiveness, because what even is IPA, manatee? (Ted Cruz sucks.)
Allagash White is the ideal iteration of a Belgian wit, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has been so genre-dominating since its inception that for a solid few decades the competition’s collective game plan was “as close to SNPA as possible but with our name on it,” before shifting these last ten years to just giving up on the project altogether. Meanwhile Bell’s Two Hearted didn’t even stick “IPA” on the label until a few years ago; the beer didn’t change, but the marketing finally caught up. Was it an IPA before? Well no, because it didn’t call itself one. But it is now, because it wants to be. OK! For practical purposes, IPA means “hop-forward and not lager,” very little more or less, so Two Hearted qualifies just fine.
[Insert doomed SEO paragraph about Columbus sending overhopped pale ales up to the International Space Station because the extra acidity helped them pour right in zero gravity, then brief follow-up paragraph about how that might all be bullshit, hey, don’t quote me, just saying that’s what some theys say.]
I’ll never try to tell you lovelies what the best IPA is, because no one can define IPA, and I my own silly self can’t even define “best.” I’d make a terrible beer contest judge, because nothing would taste good to me in a fluorescent-fucked conference room full of two-ounce plastic cups, and I have no desire to learn never mind debate whether a dry-hopped pilsner is technically a sandwich or perhaps a Christmas movie. (I would also make a terrible beer contest judge because I am grossly unqualified and I’m not sure any amount of training could reverse that. ) So I struggled to identify the best beer I drank in 2020.
The Allagash Along the Way 25th anniversary blend of wild ales I had on New Year’s Eve was spectacular, but I talk about Allagash too much here, plus it was already 2021 in Thailand by then and Worth a Shot is nothing if not a global movement. We filled our stupid “It’s Cool to Be Kind” plastic travel mugs full of Notch Raw Power small NEIPA on our way to the impromptu City Hall dance party the morning CNN finally called it for Biden; that tasted pretty damn good, but if I haven’t started talking about Notch too much here yet I will soon, so let’s skip that one for now, plus why does everything always have to be so political?? We drank a couple big mugs of Rising Tide Waypoint coffee porter under a tent in the pouring rain on our anniversary, how can anything be better than that? It’s complicated and this is hard. What is best?
Despite being a copyeditor by trade and nature, I’m not a huge “words mean things” guy beyond acknowledging the slogan’s objective truth. You don’t want to be too rigid with language these days—it’s been nearly decade since the shit-talking online resistance dictionary ruled that “literally” literally doesn’t mean literally anymore. That decision struck me as absurd for ten seconds, and then I realized that words aren’t facts, which are inviolable, but rather symbols, which mean what w’all agree they mean.
Facts: Helena is the capital of Montana; Helena is another great Allagash beer; Helena is a subtly sexy grandma name.
Agreed-upon symbols and signifiers: paper money can be exchanged for beers and services; Under Armour brand clothing gives off a vaguely fascist vibe; there are, give or take, 60 minutes in an hour.
This is why the best beer I drank in 2020, and today’s official recommendation, is Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA. Did I select this monstrosity, with its variable ABV anywhere between 15% and 20% depending on the vintage, because it was the beer that got me drunkest fastest in the worst year of our collective lives? Yeah, that must have factored in. I also like that it’s from Delaware, just like our shiny new president, dull old Joe. Em and I split a bottle on Election Night, in fact, to get the vibe right and the eyes crossed well before Kornacki announced that Florida had done its vile thing once again.
I didn’t take notes, but I’ve had 120 Minute a handful of times through the years, and my two most persistent impressions are “this is fantastic” and “this is barleywine.” If memory serves, and why would it?, there’s a bunch of caramel and toffee and dried fruit and all that stuff that makes a beer taste halfway to a brandy. It’s great! But the Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine I had Sunday night, with its fresh hop aroma and grapefruit and pine flavor, tastes more like an IPA than 120 does. But, you know, shmords.
Today’s other recommendation is to just call people what they want to be called, for the love of fuck! It’s so easy! When in doubt, ask! Or go with something friendly and neutral; I like “hoss.”