Tyson's Top 10 Beers of 2013

Hi everybody. This year, over Christmas, Mitch and I got to spend time with our good friend (and Mitch's long-time friend) Tyson Baldwin, who happens to be the assistant brewer at Seven Seas Brewery in Gig Harbor, WA. This was during when the Westoverts were putting together our end-of-year lists, and I asked Ty if he would make us a Top-Ten-Beer list. (He is a serious beer nerd and burgeoning expert.) He said he would (and look! he did)! 

Just when you think you had the Westovarian figured out, we go and get a little legitimate. Okay, here's Tyson:


Note: To all who care this is a list of beers that I have discovered in 2013 for the first time. This is not necessarily a list of newly created beers from 2013 but beers that I have stumbled upon during my adventures in the craft beer world. You see the brewery’s name, the beer’s name and then the beer’s style. I’ll throw you some beer-nerd facts (if I can find them or remember them) and then a little ditty on why its great. Also, if you care about the arbitrary stat of beer IBU’s then sorry, you won’t find them from me because I don’t care about that, ask me why if you do care. Enjoy fellow beer enthusiasts and grab a pint if you stumble upon any or all of these masterfully crafted ales.

1) Black Raven: La Petite Mort (Strong Belgian Style Dark Ale)
8.8% ABV
Malts: 2-Row Barley, Crystal, Rye, Special B 
Hops: Magnum, Styrian Goldings
Yeast: Belgian Ardennes

Named after the French term for a sexual orgasm, ‘la petite mort’ or ‘a little death’, is astutely named. I for one have been in love with this style for a long time and Black Raven nails it. With a full-bodied balanced mix of dark fruit like raisin and plum as well a caramelly middle without being too much or too sweet and an nice spicy bite toward the end; this delectable fluid has quite the journey for the imbiber of fine beer. As uniquely as Black Raven crafted this one of a kind (of a style) I have to say it hits the top rung.

2) Brouwerij Verhaeghe: Duchesse de Bourgogne (Flanders Red Ale)
6.2% ABV
‘Lagered’ Ale, Aged in Oak Casks and blended with a previous batch
Water source: and ancient French Aquifer that has a superb mineral content for the crafting of beer

Sour beer is not for everyone. That said this is one of the most unique sour beers that I have tasted. The Duchesse is a smooth and well balanced Flanders ale (balance being typical to the Flanders). This ale is extremely drinkable and has a nice blend of roasty/toasty malt character to it toward the back end and a fun collection of fruit esters and a touch of vanilla that might go unnoticed. Superb! 

3) Cascade: Kriek (Kriek) 
7.3% ABV
6+ months lactic fermentation and aging in oak barrels
8 months fermented with fresh Bing and sour pie cherries

Krieks are a weird style within the brewing world and I have found very few to be exemplary. Although Krieks can be hard to describe I find Cascade Brewing has made a mark that home brewers should seek to hit if they find the urge to go crazy in their experiments. With a tart beginning and a nice rounded and yet distinct cherry character and a smooth toffee and chocolate undertone this beer is a great pair with a dark unsweetened chocolate bar… which I did try, and loved.

4) 7 Seas: Barrel-Aged Port Royal Export Style Stout (Specialty Stout)
7.2% ABV
Their year round Port Royal Export Style Stout aged 8 months in Maker’s Mark Bourbon Barrels

Although I work for 7 Seas Brewing and it might be a cop-out to add one of our beers to the list I just have to say I stopped drinking this beer because I wanted more people to taste this elixir and knew that if I had another I would have limited the supply. It’s our normal year-round stout that we plopped into Maker’s Mark barrels that helped to infuse a nice ethanol and whiskey character as well as a nice vanilla blend to the already great roasty full-bodied bear of a stout. Not to toot our horn but this was good, especially for being our first barrel project.

5) Rueben’s Brews: Roasted Rye IPA (Dark Rye IPA)
7.0% ABV
Malts: Rye, Roasted, Carmel, Chocolate

These last few years I have tried to explore Rye beer. Had bad, few good, but i’d have to say this was the best of the new. With this beer one can get a hint if chocolate layered under a nice roasted back bone and a prominent foreplay and after play of the tangy and earthy character of rye and the fun floral bitter of the hops. Another journey all who care about good beer should take.

6) Firestone Walker: Wookey Jack (Black Rye IPA)
8.3% ABV
Malts: Pale Malt, Malted Rye, Dash of Cara-Rye, Midnight Wheat from Briess, De-Bittered Black Malt (Weyermann - Germany/Patagonia malting - Chile), Dash of Wookey dust
Hops: German Magnum, Citra, Amarillo

Firestone Walker Brewing is Godsend to the world of craft brewing. I could put any one of their beers I have tried from them on this list but this was a new one for the year. The Wookey is in the style realm that I like to call the Cascadian Dark Ales. But, there’s a fun twist that is not usual to the usual take on the style. Rye, again Rye. I have fallen in love with Rye’s flavor and F’in Dubs has truly made something magical. There is a lot going on in this beer and part of me does not want to describe it… so, I won’t. Do yourself a favor and buy one. 

7) New Belgium: Pluot (Specialty Sour)
10% ABV
Malts: Pale
Hops: Target
Yeast: Brett Claussenii

New Belgium has a very special place in my beer-heart. I lived in Fort Collins for 10 months and got to spend many hours exploring their spectrum. Conclusion is that I generally do not prefer the majority of their staple year-round brews. Their Lips of Faith series however is another story. The creative mind and machine behind these fast-paced and wonderfully creative ales are in the least genius. Pluot does not overpower. Pluot does not make you taste the over ethanol bite. Pluot does not make you cringe at its apricot or plum character. Pluot does not make it a chore to summit a 22 in one sitting, by one’s self. Pluot treats me. Pluot should treat you. Grab it while you can!

8) Black Raven: Second Sight (Strong Scotch Ale)
7.0% ABV
Malts: 2-Row Barley, Crystal, Special B, Chocolate
Hops: Magnum, Mt. Hood

I have been to Scotland and I have indulged in their fine beer craft. America has disappointed me. It was not until this year that I found a Scotch Ale brewed by American brewers that came anywhere near what I once experienced in Scotland. Again Black Raven hits the list. This ale has that nice rounded character that is so easy to drink that I have dreamt about. Ever so slightly one might perceive a smokey character but there is a nice pit fruit and slight chocolate and carmel hint to this wonder of America. Black Raven, you've done it again.

Honorable Mention: These beers make the list for one reason, they are to damn good not to be present. These are out of the ‘main’ list for the fact that I have had previous versions of them before. All that to say, these are new-ish and should be mentioned.

9) 7 Seas: Hop Prophet (100% Wet Hop Ale)
5.8% ABV
Hops: Cascade and Simcoe, picked from the vine driven from Yakima and plopped into the brew.

I know, my own brewery again. Stay with me… this beer is the only beer that I have had that I have forsook all other beer for. I didn’t drink anything else except for what I had to during work. This beer captures the essence of the completely fresh hop. We did not mix it with other pelletized or dried hops, no, the hops you get are the hops from the vine. And you can tell with its unique earthy and citrusy back bone to the floral and non-danky fresh and pungent aroma. The malts lend to a velvety and smooth ride and all in all the emphasis on these unique hops has me still envious of my previous self who got to drink it earlier in 2013. 

10) Deschutes: Jubelale (Winter Warmer)
6.7% ABV
Malt: Pale, Crystal, Extra Special, Carapils, Roasted Barley
Hops: Nugget, Cascade, Willamette, Styrian, Tettnang, East Kent Goldings

Deschutes every year that I have cared about good beer has made the Jubelale. This years version of this winter warmer was fantastic. I would not be honest if I didn’t say that I appreciated last years slightly better than this years but this year’s version was unique all its own. Well rounded with a roasty/toasty side to the nice earthy and well balance hop conglomeration. It is ready to ease your cold winter heart and sure to bring a smile to your face. Make sure to share this one for it’s worth it.


  1. I'll bite. Why are IBUs an arbitrary stat?

    Also, sorry for creeping.

  2. Kyle,

    This is Part 1:

    Thanks for asking. It's fun to share the whys with someone who does want to know.

    IBU's are arbitrary and if you are a brewer or homebrewer I hope you can appreciate why I believe such. Ultimately the reason why people give that stat is because it is a marketing mechanism. Drinkers believe they are going to know or know how to expect how bitter a beer tastes on the palate if they would only know the IBU's. IBU's are a scientific stat. IBU's are not a palate stat. Let me explain...

    IBU's are recorded by volume or weight by how much Alpha Acid ('the important acid' in bittering a beer) content there is within the beer. Across the board they seem to disregard the fact that you might get a bitter addition to a beer via rye or esb malt or the like. IBU's care about the hops and yes it is 'interesting' to know how much acidity is imparted by one's hops. Scientifically it is an interesting stat more so for the brewer, those of us who care. But not the IBU's themselves. Brewers primarily care about the Alpha Acid content and with different harvests, year to year, a brewer might get a hop slightly different from the previous harvest. Thus, the brewer, if he does (and should) care about consistency, tries to calibrate one's hop addition to one's recipe. If you are a homebrewer you may not want to care, and that's OK. Great beer is made in many forms. But, if you are growing in production or are working with a larger or expanding scale these concepts should be considered.

    My real point is the fact that IBU's are not a palate stat. When it comes down to it you can get all your numbers and targets correct as a brewer and still not hit the mark palate-wise or customer-wise; and such leads to a lack in sales even if you as the brewer believes the batch to be the 'perfect' concoction. Hops are a bittering agent. In the vast majority of beer made today it is 'the' bittering agent. IBU's calculate generally the Alpha Acids within each hop as they impart themselves to beer. But here's the thing... You may have a beer that has the largest hop bill within your plethora of recipes and yet it is a sweet bomb. Why? Hop to hop Alpa Acids are different. But an important reason is the fact that sweet and bitter, on the palate, balance each other out. Depending on the beer, it will not matter what kind of level of IBU's you label it as. If your beer finished with a sweeter (higher) gravity it means you will have a sweeter beer that those hops may not be able to curb. If it finishes as a dryer (lower) gravity those hops, even if you didn’t add very many will be more prominent upon the palate.

  3. Part 2:

    I have had some beers with lower IBU’s that have held a violent hoppy and bitter element to them and conversely beers that speak of some ungodly amount of IBU’s that are unpalatably sweet. As a brewer one thing that is key is consistency and consistency batch to batch within your recipes. If you screwed up in the mash you may have more residual sugars than anticipated and even if it is the same amount of hops it will not be the same beer. Vice versa as well, if you are working with a dryer beer and slightly change the hop profile it could mean a world of difference. It is what makes some beers stand out and some that ultimately are only bought because of convenience or unwarranted loyalty. You can have an overtly sweet beer until you bitter it with your hops resulting in a more balanced beer. It all depends on what you want to achieve and because IBU’s simply state the level of acids within your beer rather that how bitter your beer is on any one individual’s palate I find IBU’s to be fun for me but arbitrary for those who want a peak into what they are ordering. On the customer’s end, generally, IBU’s are useless and I commend the person or people who have made that a namesake for the process of ordering beer, although I disagree with the use. I think some beers are only purchased because of IBU’s but to me that is an insult to truly crafted and balanced beer. All this to say I won't mention yeast, water mineral content or all the other factors that change how one might perceive a flavor within any one beer. That might be another conversation for another time.

    Boast all you want about the amount of hops but I prefer a beer that tastes good rather than touts stats that, because the populous is enraptured by the mystery of the almighty ‘IBU', don't actually accurately portray what is going on within one's mouth.


  4. Interesting. I like the differentiating between palate stat and an objective measurement. I mean, frankly I don't care at all for mouth-assaulting IPA hop bombs, so in my homebrewing the hops are primarily late additions for flavor and bittering addition for balance, but I suppose if the main reason IBUs are used is as a kind of look-how-much-bigger-mine-is-than-yours stat, than yeah, that's useless.

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