By Julia Burke, Beer Editor

The best and worst aspect of our “Beers of the Year” program is the difficulty of choosing a favorite; while we agreed on Krysztoff, and Mark Tichenor has plenty more to tell you about that particular Baltic porter (look for his post next week), several beers caught the crew’s attention in a big way.

I highly encourage NYCR readers to try all of the finalists if they haven’t already.

BruteThe first time I had Ithaca Beer Company’s Brute I found it truly staggering. I had just begun exploring sour beers and this one was a pucker-inducer of epic proportions — a real surprise from the brewery I knew as the mother of Flower Power IPA. Somehow I couldn’t stop drinking it. That was two years ago. Brute became a regular item on my see-it-and-grab-it list, and it seemed to get better every time I tried it.

This year I picked up four bottles at the brewery during an autumn trip. When I cracked one open to introduce to a first-timer, I knew instantly it was brewer Jeff O’Neil’s (now of Peekskill Brewpub) best yet. The Brett pucker is still there, but the bready Champagne yeasts character and soft, pillowy malt bill (barley, wheat, and corn) are singing right in harmony for a beer that’s so balanced and luscious it drinks more like a great dry riesling than a tongue scraper. This is absolutely one of my favorite sours in the world and a true achievement. The acid hounds at the table, like me, Lenn, and Bryan, could’ve downed a bottle of this; team members less accustomed to such prickle in their beers found it bracing and weren’t sure they could drink a glass.

The Cork Report team is a little more than half hophead, give or take, so I knew the two double IPAs at the table would be rock stars as well. I was correct, and the act of comparing Captain Lawrence Captain’s Reserve (the hometown IPA of my downstate friends) with Southern Tier 2X (my own beloved local favorite) was intense. Captain’s Reserve had its claws out, with fierce hop bitterness but a controlled and drinkable intensity; 2X showed sweet and sultry even though the Captain has it by 1% ABV in the booze department. In a style category that often amounts to hop swordfighting, these beers showed power and ferocity and had the hopheads among use drooling with pleasure.

Also showing beautifully was Brooklyn Brewery’s Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen Weisse. This gorgeous collaboration between Schneider brewmaster Hans-Peter Drexler and Brooklyn’s Garrett Oliver, in which each brewer made a hoppy weissbock in the other’s brewery, shows incredible layers of citrus, yeast character, and beautiful Amarillo and Palisade hops — a marriage of exceptional old-world brewing skill and good old American hop character. This beer is truly a joy to drink; it kicked off the tasting and I think some of the team members were reluctant to move on to the next finalist.

I’m thrilled for the chance to taste with such a diverse crew: while our backgrounds, day jobs, tastes, and experiences may differ, our passion for great artisan beverages brings us together. It’s a great exercise to taste your favorites with such a mixed group, and because I believe it’s the mark of a great beer to occasionally be able to win over converts, it’s an important practice too.