The past year, 2013, has been a good one for both experienced beer lovers, and those starting out on the exciting beer exploration trek.

I have been introduced to a lot of finely crafted ales and lagers. My “favorites” list has shifted and changed, (grown?), and the “family standards” list has picked up a few offerings.

Interesting enough, my All-Time Favorite has not changed — Cold Smoke, a Scottish Ale from Kettlehouse Brewing.

At the same time, the Family Standard is still Moose Drool, an American Brown Ale from Big Sky Brewing in Missoula, Montana.

Having “favorites” and “standards” doesn’t in the least bit diminish or lessen the excitement I experience when I come on a new and well-designed brew.

There is simply wonderful stuff being created by incredibly creative men and women taking over the brewing scene in these United States.

Locally, the stouts coming out of brewer Adam Mills’ kettles at Cranker’s in Big Rapids are simply inspiring.

The old Strongarm, (which hasn’t been around a while), the Oakenshield Stout, and Cranker’s oatmeal stout are great brews.

Oakenshield is my local draft standard — hands down.

Cranker’s Old Siberian was a glorious warmer which I really, Really, REALLY hope will be back on the menu this winter season.

There’s a lot going on in the brewing world.

I’d suggest anyone even mildly interested to start following trends.

There are plenty of publications and online offerings that can educate and keep budding aficionados well informed.

I’m looking forward to trying a few new things in 2014.

Here are three suggestions from my main beer ‘hook’ that I have not tasted, but that are in my sights.

  • Tropical Tripel is a collaboration between Cigar City Brewing and Dirk Naudts of De Proef.

It has been awarded 94 points by Ratebeer which notes: “A Belgian ale aged on oak chips with coconut and peaches.” Yummy. Sure.

It is pricey, but with something like this you are paying for the experience not just the contents.

  • Eviltwin Brewing Imperial Biscotti Break earned a perfect 100 points from Ratebeer. This will be an exceptional experience.
  • Local Option’s Morning Wood got 93 Points from Ratebeer, and is described as “... an oak-aged coffee ale developed and brewed by Local Option Bierwerker. Fresh American oak is used during the aging process and Dark Matter’s El Salvador San Jose pulp-natural coffee aromatically drive the beer; while remaining subtle components of the beers’ complete flavor profile.”

These are only three.

There is a lot more good beer being brewed as we speak.

As we head into 2014, make sure you have a great time on the explorer’s journey.

You might want to kick the year off with these suggestions.

Happy New Year.

Founders Sweet Repute

Founders Brewing Company

Grand Rapids 

One of Founder’s most recent offerings, Sweet Repute, is listed as a Wheatwine, “... aged in Bourbon barrels and Bourbon Maple Syrup barrels.”

The result? Something ever so tasty, a touch sweeter than ‘normal’ and very warming at 12.6 percent ABV.

Sweet Repute pours an inviting light maple-wood brown color and is quite crisp and clear. There is a nice, muted white head of foam that forms and lasts a little while leaving a pretty lacing that is spread around the surface of my schooner.

First whiff is exciting — lots of sweet bourbon and maple aroma backed with rich caramelized malts that certainly are in the background, but aren’t exactly secondary. The blending of rich scents and aromas is really quite intoxicating. There is also just a touch of smokiness to bring the whole mix down to earth.

At first wash, the bourbon sweetness is surely the most expressive flavor. There is an almost cloying taste brought to the fore by the maple syrup. The maple and bourbon really battle it out to determine who is the dominant flavor. I give the barrel infused bourbon my vote, but the maple sweetness is not too far behind.

Lots of caramel malts add to the flavor parade.

And note well, this is most certainly a “warmer.” Pace yourself and drink judiciously.

By-and-large, this is a wonderful offering by the Founder’s crew.

IF you can readily find it, Sweet Repute will be a great addition to your holiday cellar.

This is simply one of those fantastic fireside brews.

Thank you, Founders. I may try to cellar this one and see how it ages.

Frankenmuth Dunkel

Frankenmuth Brewery

Frankenmuth

This is a Munich style Dunkel lager — a very nice dark lager that pours sharp and clear. Initially, Frankenmuth’s dunkel looks dark brown, but it is fun to see the beams of garnet red shooting out in the right light. There is a bit of head — just a nice capping — with little or no lacing when the foam subsides.

This lager is definitely malt forward, (which is fine by me!) The toasted malts offer up a bit of sweetness, but at the same time there is a sense of earthiness and some nutty tones skipping around the back.

All in all, I found this quite balanced in the scenting, and very inviting.

The aromas are well translated in the tasting. Here too, the wash brings out a fine behind of dark fruit and delicately roasted malts. There is just a tinge of bitterness reminding sippers that this is a lager after all.

Moderately chilled, this is a wonderful, old-school dunkel that will be just as welcome on the Christmas holiday board as it is on the deck after mowing the lawn next summer.

This brew looks good, smells sharp and inviting, and tastes crisp and clear with all the malty goodness one can only expect from a well-planned dunkel.

For local explorers — If you had the dunkel at this year’s Germanfest, this is just as good and even a bit more expressive.