I'm going to jump right in and start with Sierra Nevada's Hoptimum which I have only thus far had on tap at By the Bottle here in Vancouver (and the keg was blown in a couple days flat).
I haven't always been a huge fan of Sierra Nevada, and think many of their beers are over hyped. I may get a lot of fanboy flack for that, but it's just the case with me. Like many, I was first introduced to their pale ale when I was in high school. I loved the hop bite it offered, but thought it was much too filling at the time, and over carbonated. To me, it lacked in drinkability.
Another well overrated beer is their Celebration. While tasty, it just doesn't live up to the hype for me. While winter warmers are not my style, either are funkily tweeked IPA's. When Widmers Brrr came out... I liked it at first, but was rather worn out from it after only a couple of 6-packs. I didn't buy any this year. I did get one 6-pack of Celebration to try and change my mind about it... but it didn't work. Seirra Nevada's Torpedo as well just doesn't come across as all that good to me. Of the few 6-packs I have purchased... all tasted different. The consistency just wasn't there. My second purchase of it changed my mind about the beer briefly because it was just a darn good 6-pack. But still too filling and bubbly.. and more malty for my taste. To me a good west coast IPA should be light on the malts, and high on the hops and bitterness. The malt flavors should be very light and semi-sweet caramel, and biscuity and bready. I've even had Pliny the Elder's that came across with two completely different malt profiles.
My favorite beers from Sierra Nevada have always been their fresh hop series, and their Anniversary Ale. I was royally pissed off when they gave up on their Anniversary Ale. To me that was their best 6-pack to date, and I loved that beer. I am glad they made up for it with Hoptimum.
While slightly too sweet, I understand why. While most imperial IPA's sit between 7.5-9% alc. by vol., this bad boy is sitting up at 10.4%. It must be super dry-hopped as well as it used only whole cone hops. The super hop madness, and sweet caramel malts balance it out very well for the hop enthused lover of IPA's. Dangerously drinkable is putting it lightly. Grapefruit, citrus, pine, grassy... hop hop hop... a great release.
Next on my list comes from a well known brew pub to locals in Portland, OR, but is not very well known to those outside of the city. They have always remained rather small, and have very limited and local bottling. I grew up within walking distance (to me walking distance is a couple miles or so) from the NE Portland brewpub Alameda Brewing. I am rather partial to the El Torero IPA, and the flagship house favorite Blackbear XX Stout. While their history goes way back, and the owners had a falling out back in the day.. they have remained, and are still cranking out great beers and good food. I believe one of the original owners still resides in Washougal, WA where he still homebrews some great beer.
This brings me to their latest Imperial bottle release that I had first seen at Bottles, a newer bottle shop and taproom that is just a few doors down from the brewhouse.
I sincerely hope it sticks around as a year around brew. I have a feeling Alameda Brewing will get a little more crafty here in due time. I look forward to more of their fine offerings.