1/18/21: A (Not Super Outrageous) 2021 Beer Wishlist

1:06 PM

It's mid-January now, somehow. Which is weird. But fine, I guess? We still have the majority of 2021 spread wide before us and, while the breweries that will have long since announced their lineup for the year, there's always wiggle room for special every now and then, right?

This post is a new kind of post for me, in that I won't be actively discussing a beer I'm drinking (don't worry, I still have a drink accompanying me on this journey; this afternoon it's Dogfish Head's Campfire Amplifier). Instead, I'm using this space to lay bare my wishlist for beer in 2021. I'm not inventing styles and recipes here--only looking back at legacy beers from some of my favorite breweries that I think are ready to reappear.

There are some rules I'll be abiding by for my choices: 

1) Each beverage on my list must be a beer

2) It needs to be a beer that's not currently available via distribution

3) It needs to be a beer whose distribution has been slumbering for at least a year (meaning that you won't see a Christmas beer that's only just returned to a brewery's vault)

4) No collaborations--while I wish some of my favorite collabs will be brewed again, I know that the odds of two or more entities working on a beer they've already done is slim to none

Now that you know how this'll be played, let's get to the list. These aren't in any particular order aside from how they came to mind. I'll give five beers I want to see hit distro and I'll tack a few extras on at the end that don't necessarily fit the criteria I've listed above. Because what's the point of rules if you can't break them?

MadTree Brewing Co.'s The Great PumpCAN

MadTree's entry into the pumpkin beer canon is something to which I give great importance, being the beer that made me want to explore wider style of pumpkin ales. This is something that has fallen out of distribution in recent years, although it can still be found on tap in the MadTree taproom every fall. 

Why's it out of distro? My only guess is that it was a causality of the pumpkin beer over-saturation a few years ago. Here's a great Forbes article that discusses it. Basically, consumers had too many pumpkin ales to choose from each fall, so breweries cut back once sales started to suffer. Sure, you can still find pumpkin beers that crop up in July and more and more fill store shelves until November, but you won't find as many breweries putting out pumpkin-flavored offerings as you might have in the first few years of this blog.

The last time PumpCAN was released in a to-go format from the brewery (not relegated to growler fills) was when MadTree broke into their cellar in late 2019 and put up some bottles of 2015 BBA PumpCAN for sale. I drank and reviewed one last Halloween and, hopefully to nobody's shock, it's drinking amazingly.

I still have a single can from PumpCAN's final distribution run, as well as a second bottle from that 2019 re-release of the 2015 BBA variant. I'm holding onto both for a special occasion (most likely two separate occasions, but you never know). If I'm lucky enough, that can of the original beer will age as well as it's barrel-aged brother.

Why do I want PumpCAN to return to distro in 2021? Remember how quickly all the Chirstmas stuff sold out last year? Not just beer, but decorations, too--everything went super quickly. Turns out a pandemic makes people yearn for things that provide them with memories of happier, less-pandemicy times. There's surely room for Halloween memories, and I can't think of a better way to play into those than with a killer pumpkin ale. Voila! The Great PumpCAN.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery's Beer for Breakfast Stout

Beer for Breakfast is one of my favorite beers. Originally released in 2014 as a brewpub exclusive, the beer saw its second iteration in 2016 (this is the vintage you may be familiar with if you've been kicking around the blog since 2017). The stout was most recently seen in November 2019, with a brewpub-only bottle release of a variant that had been aged in maple syrup and bourbon barrels. This 2019 release is near the top of my "To-Try" list.

I still have eight of the 2016 Beer for Breakfast bottles. See, there's a bottleshop near where I used to live that stocked an abnormal amount of it. Once I saw that the beer was no longer in production, I drove to that shop and bought their final three sixers. Since then, I've rationed what I have left of the release--saving it for birthdays and special occasions only. I'm hoping to make my supply last until the beer's back in distro.

The stout strikes me as a beer that's brewed under certain conditions, not one that Dogfish Head, the brewery behind it (should I have explicitly stated that earlier?), retired for economic or taste reasons. I suspect Sam Calagione and crew simply need ample access to the stout's adjuncts (and maybe there needs to be a specific brewing team to get together once that access is achieved) to make the stuff. I'm thinking the beer's an "only brewed under exact conditions" sort of affair. 

Who's to say that 2021 won't produce those exact conditions? Sure, Dogfish has announced their beer plans for this year and Beer for Breakfast isn't on there, but I've come to expect surprises from the brewery. The smoky, mapley goodness of the beer certainly wouldn't go amiss in this crazy post-2020 world.

Braxton Brewing Company's Rum Barrel Aged Snow Shovel

Do you remember when I drank and posted about Braxton's RBA Snow Shovel back in early 2018? I sure do--that Snow Shovel variant isn't an easy beer to forget. The rum, the honey, the chocolate, the ginger; it's no surprise that I gave the thing a 10/10, claiming that I'd rate it higher than that if my scale allowed for it.

When bottles of the variant were original announced and released in November 2016 (which is when I'm assuming this post on Braxton's blog went up; Untappd's showing two vintages for the beer), the idea was that it would see some limited distribution across Braxton's footprint. To my knowledge, that never actually happened. However, it could well be that I just wasn't paying close enough attention back then.

I was sure as hell paying attention in early 2018, when the beer dropped again. I nabbed two bottles of it--I'm still holding onto that second one. The plan is to wait for a snowed-in day (hopefully this winter!) to break into that second bottle for a blog post, one where I can talk about how it's developed over the last few years.

But knowing that I still have a bottle squirrelled away isn't quite good enough. Not only will that bottle be gone once I inevitably drink it, you, dear reader, won't have access to it. This is why RBA Snow Shovel is on my 2021 wishlist. If it sees distribution, then not only will I have a shot to grab a few more bottles, you, too, will have a chance at getting your hands on some. That means you'll be able to bask in its rumy, winter warmer goodness.

Braxton's goal with the beer was to bolster the brewery's nascent barrel aging program, which has certainly come into its own since 2016. I've written about Dark Charge before, which is the jewel in the brewery's barrel program crown, on the blog. Over four years after RBA Snow Shovel's unveiling, Braxton can barrel age and barrel age exceedingly well. It's time to shine some of that expertise back on one of their first forays into idea; it's time for them to show us what they can do with a modern Rum Barrel Aged Snow Shovel.

Saugatuck Brewing Company's Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Blueberry Maple Stout

I have long adored Saugatuck's Blueberry Maple Stout. It was the beer that showed me maple could be a viable and delicious adjunct when properly employed. When I discovered there was a bourbon barrel-aged variant of it, I knew I had to track it down. I have two remaining bottles of the 2018 batch and five of the 2019. I'll be holding onto these for some time yet, thanks to the 2018 Saugatuck Barrel Aged Bootleg Bash showing me how wonderfully the stout ages.

2020 was a strange year in many ways (a gross understatement). One of those is that it was the first since I started paying attention that SBC didn't drop its annual BBA Imperial Blueberry Maple Stout. It's disheartening, sure, especially since the 2019 batch saw wide distribution across the brewery's footprint (case in point: I was easily to find it in the Cincinnati area--leading to my purchase of four four-packs of it) (yes, I drank quite a bit to leave me with just five bottles). 

All this to say that I think it's pretty damn likely that SBC'll bring the beer back this year. Now that they can their beer it'll doubtlessly be easier for them to ship more of the stout out. With any luck, you and I will both be able to get our hands on some of the hopefully-upcoming 2021 batch. Drink a some and age a can or two for years down the road. Just be sure to come back here and thank me once you've cracked into them in 2024 or '25.

Jackie O's Pub and Brewery's Vanilla Bourbon Barrel Black Maple

Of all the beers on my wishlist, this one's the most disappointing to write about. Not because the beer is bad or anything (it's resoundingly delicious), no this is disappointing because I thought I had more bottles of Vanilla Bourbon Barrel Black Maple-adjacent beers left. Going through my cellar before writing this presented me with a sad truth: I have a single bottle of 2019 Bourbon Barrel Black Maple and a single bottle of 2018 Double Barrel Black Maple. I also have an empty bottle the 2018 BB Black Maple in my treasury (my collection of rare bottles whose contents I've consumed). That's it.

It's sad, because BBA Black Maple is a top tier porter for me. I've never written about on the blog, but it hold the distinction of being the first beer I broke into this calendar year (that was a 2019 bottle). I thought I had a lot more of it and its variants. Two bottles? That's a crying shame.

I knew for sure that I didn't have any bottles of Vanilla Bourbon Barrel Black Maple. At one point I had one or two but that was back when I picked it up after its 2017 drop. This took the beer (brewed with maple syrup and aged in bourbon barrels) and saw an added stint of conditioning on vanilla beans. The only thing that survives of this variant, the only proof I have that I ever had any, is a single Untappd review of it from a taster I had that led to my purchasing those bottles I just mentioned.

I gave the porter five bottlecaps and said "The vanilla adds a brightness to the beer." That simple, quick-and-dirty review belies just how great the porter actually was. It was sweet, but far from cloyingly so. It was bright, yes, but big and robust. It was a case of maple syrup being used to its optimal capacity in a beer, soaking up the oaky booziness of the bourbon barrels. Man, Jackie O's just needs to bring the beer back. I'm sure the thought's somewhere in the farthest reaches of the brew team's minds. The brewery constantly resurrects and improves upon old recipes. It's time for Vanilla Bourbon Barrel Black Maple to get that treatment.

Honorable Mentions

We've made it through my official wishlist (following the parameters I gave at the top of this post). There are a few beverages that I'd like to see return that don't quite fit into rules I've set, and I want to take a brief moment to talk about them and my hopes for them this year. Because it's my list and this is what I want to do with it.

Bell's Brewery's Best Brown

Bell's Best Brown is my favorite brown ale. It comes out each and every fall, recently seeing a label redesign. It's roasty and toasty, while not being overpowering. It pairs perfectly with those evenings in September and October when the chill begins to set in shortly after sundown.

There's no doubt in my mind that Best Brown will see a triumphant 2021 return. However, it's my wish that part of that triumphant return will feature the ale in mini kegs. Hopslam's in mini kegs, so is Oberon and Two Hearted. It's time for Best Brown to get the same treatment. This is one of Bell's' best beers and it needs to finally be taken up to that mini keg level. I'd buy at least two or three.

Blake's Hard Cider Co.'s Wayward Winter

The sole cider on this list, Wayward Winter is nearly the most shot-in-the-dark drink on here. I wrote about it just after its last release (my post went up in January 2016), giving it a 10/10 rating and praising its deft mixture of coriander and elderberry (with a presumed addition of maple syrup--I swear that stuff was in there).

Blake's replaced the cider with Archimedes the following year. This was a winter elderberry cider available in cans. I gave it a 9.5/10 when I tried it, noting that it wasn't quite the same caliber as predecessor. Archimedes was retired shortly thereafter without a successor.

I would guess that Blake's' attention was just diverted elsewhere. They're still doing killer cider, to be sure, but are also in the wine and beer games now. Still, I would love to see Wayward Winter come back in 2021. All I have left of it are memories and a few bombers I use for homebrewing with the label still plastered on them.

New Holland Spirits' Ichabod's Flask

Okay, I just said Wayward Winter's nearly the most shot-in-the-dark drink on this list. That's because New Holland's Ichabod's Flask, a spirit I'm not sure will ever be produced again, takes that number one spot. I've only had two shots of this elusive whiskey, both from my dad's bottle of it. He stumbled across New Holland's final bottle in 2019 and snatched it up after being poured a shot by the person working the counter.

He treated me to it twice. It was a perfect whiskey version of New Holland's Ichabod, an incredible pumpkin ale. The whiskey featured all the flavors of pumpkin spice in a subtle fashion, without any actual pumpkin.

This Christmas, my folks gave me a great surprise. See, I'd been told my dad bought the final bottle of Ichabod's Flask. This is true, but not in the way I'd been told. He had, in fact, bought the final two bottles. He held onto one for over a year before gifting it to me. It's now in my liquor cabinet, waiting for an occasion that warrants my breaking into it.

There's no date on my bottle, but I know it's one New Holland forgot they had for quite a few years. The distillery's given absolutely no indication of plans to make another run of it but I sincerely hope that 2021's the year they bring back that whiskey.

And, after all that writing, we're at the end of the post. I can't help but ask: What are the items on your 2021 wishlist? Drop them in the comments below. I'd love to see what brews you're hoping for this year!

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