Hotbox Coffee IPA
Oskar Blues Brewing Co.
Many breweries have tried their hands at coffee-infused IPAs over the past year, but we’re not sure anybody’s done it better than Oskar Blues. Hotbox’s best trait is that it’s obviously an IPA first and foremost: two parts hops to one part beans. In the aroma, this means Simcoe hops deliver their payload of caramelized onions and grass clippings well before the earthy/nutty Ethiopian beans appear. Bright grapefruit, grass clippings and white onion likewise make up a majority of the flavor; mocha- and blueberry-accented beans float above the palate and attach to tangerine at the swallow. A rock-solid IPA, perked up.
Full disclosure: This is the background image on my computer at this very moment. That’s a glass of New England-style IPA from Cerebral, which was one of the first breweries in Colorado to fully embrace the cloudy version of IPA. Those beers earned the brewery a lot of love from the beer-drinking community—enough, in fact, that it was named Ratebeer’s best new brewer in Colorado in January. But despite the presence of a turbid Cerebral IPA on my desktop, it’s always been the brewery’s wild ales that had a place in my heart. Ambiguous Vibes is the brewery’s latest, constructed from a blend of saisons, 80% of which were fermented in stainless steel, 20% of which spent time in Chardonnay barrels, and all of which were spiked with funky Brettanomyces yeast and juice from Kabosu, a popular Japanese fruit closely related to yuzu. The result: A beer that smells of pear skin, pineapple, French vanilla and, interestingly, scrambled eggs (a contribution of the yeast and just a little more prominent than I’d like). On the tongue, sugar-free pears play off the kabosu, which has a soft, almost minty quality that appears at the swallow and through several exhales. Hints of dry wheat and vanilla emerge midpalate, while the subtle and slightly buttery funk of Chardonnay can be picked up right before the mostly dry finish with the slightest hint of acidity.
Perennial Artisan Ales
Every member of the Draft staff who tried Perennial’s rye barrel-aged imperial stout reacted to it with the same backwards head tilt and slow, appreciative “oof.” We call it “The Maman Response.” We’re thinking of writing a paper on it. Until the scientific community recognizes the value of such research, however, we’ll stick to writing about the beer itself—and there’s a lot to say. Melted dark chocolate, woody maple syrup and torched marshmallow squeeze the tongue like a fist; deeply toasted oak delivers a soft smokiness and sprinkles of toasted coconut when they let go. Fruity rye whiskey floats above the palate before the swallow, which surges with crumbled graham crackers and steak char. Luxardo cherries dance at the exhale, and the barbecue notes—the wood and smoke—become even more apparent as the beer warms. It’s thick and creamy as a milkshake and the heat of 11% ABV is noticeable, but both aspects are fully appropriate given the avalanche of flavor that rumbles down the gullet with each swallow. Oof.
Societe Brewing Co.
It’s not often we get to applaud a sour cherry-infused wild ale for its texture; such beers are usually pretty thin and bubbly as champagne—which is fine, if a bit reductive. But The Savage’s body is lush and velvety, like a rich red wine, and that heft corresponds to a flavor heavy with earthy cherry pumice and blackberry jam. The nose gets hit with toasted almond, Dr. Pepper and pinot noir with each return to the glass, while swallows reveal hints of milk chocolate, coconut and dried vanilla before the CO2-bitter finish.
Knowledge is just about everything we could ask for from a double IPA: balance, complexity, nuance, and just a little burn that lets us know what we’re up to. Plus, as enamored as we are lately with cloudy IPAs, it’s also nice to see one that’s well-filtered every once in awhile. Knowledge’s gorgeous golden hue is multiplied by its astounding clarity, and above the giant, rocky ivory head, aromas of candied grapefruit, sweet grass, onion root and saltine crackers are just as clearly defined. More oniony notes to go with the bold grapefruit peel character on the tongue; it’s citrus-pithy and oniony at once. The hop flavor is two-sided—grapefruit pith plus white onions—and the factions are somewhat at odds at the front of the sip but merge nicely post-swallow thanks to a supportive layer of fresh-mown grass and crackers. Gentle nudges of sweet, resinous, dank weed also appear occasionally, and while alcohol warmth is apparent, its flavor isn’t.