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The best beers we tasted this week

DRAFT’s editors taste dozens of new beers each week. These were our five favorites.
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Firestone Walker Fortem, Finback Echelon, Idle Vine The Wanderer, Urban South Charming Wit, Wicked Weed La Mure Morte

Leo v. Ursus: Fortem
Firestone Walker Brewing Co.

When we first heard that Firestone would be dropping an unfiltered imperial IPA as the premiere of its new “Leo v. Ursus” series (a group of beers released each quarter which, according to the brewery, will often be “hoppy and intense” and may sometimes “address ‘wish lists’ expressed to us by loyal fans”), we thought that maybe, just maybe, the brewery would finally be tipping its toes into the cloudy, juice-forward version of IPA that’s become known as “New England-style.” Alas, a hazy IPA Fortem is not. It actually hardly even looks unfiltered. But above the mostly clear golden liquid and dome of white fluff: magic. A melange of mown grass, bright lemon zest, chives and a hint of tangerine dance across a soft pastry dough floor in the aroma, while the flavor takes a more citrusy approach, layering lemon and orange zest atop grass, white onion and clean, crackery malt. Our favorite aspect, however? The white and pink peppercorn notes that appear at the exhale, courtesy of fun new German hop varieties Mandarina Bavaria and Hallertau Blanc. As per usual with Firestone head brewer/Minister of Magic Matt Brynildson’s creations, it’s clean as hell and perfectly balanced, but with a rounded bitterness that makes it slightly more approachable than snappier brews like Luponic Distortion or Easy Jack, but still: a great IPA.

TLDR: It’s a new IPA from Firestone. Go get it.

Echelon
Finback Brewery

If you didn’t know it already, we’re big fans of Finback’s beer. Especially the hoppy stuff. We like their IPAs. A lot. This has a lot to do with their variety—even among two IPAs of similar hop bills and strengths, the flavors seem worlds apart—but perhaps even more to do with their bitterness, which can only be described as “supple.” This isn’t by accident: “We really try to think about our level of bitterness and how we want to approach bitterness,” Finback founder Basil Lee told us when we asked him what makes his IPAs so solid. “We definitely want bitterness, because it balances the beer and gives it crisp dryness, but we also want it to go away quickly. We want bitterness but we also want softness; we want bitterness that’s fleeting.”

Echelon benefits equally from this approach, but sets itself apart from other Finback IPAs through an infusion of yuzu, an Asian-origin citrus with an intense flavor sort of like a cross between grapefruit and lemon. Those notes are loud and clear in the aroma, interspersed among dank cannabis and squishy wheat bread and donuts. A melange of orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime coats the tongue with each sip, though each swallow cleans off the zest and brings in soft wheat; green onions settle in a few beats after the swallow. The yuzu’s incorporated subtly enough that you’d think its flavor were from hops if you didn’t know better, and, yeah, the bitterness is soft and fleeting.

The Wanderer: Volume 1, Issue 1
Idle Vine Brewing Co.

Though its beer had been appearing around Austin since December, Idle Vine didn’t officially open the doors to its taproom in Pflugerville (an Austin suburb) until January. It released this imperial black IPA soon after, totally making up for the wait. Lactose, wet pine bark and chocolate oranges settle atop toast in the aroma, while the flavor rolls prunes in pine tar, high-percentage cacao and tangerine zest. Neither the substantial ABV (10%) nor the tongue-bruising bitterness (99.9 IBUs) are that noticeable—in fact, the bitterness is quite low, which makes the finish balanced and even, with mild pine branch smoke lingering post-swallow. The beer’s body, however, is the highlight, soft and plush as velvet. The Wanderer should prove a fantastic base for the 11 variants tweaked through fruit and chocolate additions, barrel-aging, etc. that Idle Vine says it plans to release over the course of 2017.

Charming Wit
Urban South Brewery

We’ve tasted several beers from young New Orleans brewery Urban South over the past couple weeks and Charming Wit is its best. It’s also the prettiest, with a huge white head, thick and dense as merengue, and their best-smelling, with spicy notes of white pepper, clove and a pleasant flash of sulfur accenting sugary Lemonheads. You could use this as a car freshener. On the tongue, lemongrass, bright coriander and curacao energize soft, vanilla-tinged wheat before a flash of almost-sour twang at the swallow. Gentle licorice and orange pulp flavors linger long after the fluffy, prickly liquid has left the palate. Rare is the wit that so stylishly slaloms between the style’s guideposts; this is a seriously flavorful, seriously drinkable summer quaffer.

La Mure Morte
Wicked Weed Brewing

How do you do it, Wicked Weed? How do you extract so much flavor from fruit, as you have from the juicy, seed-speckled blackberries here? How do you know precisely when to pull your wild ales from the barrels at the very moment they’ve extracted the essence of new oak and vanilla yogurt but haven’t yet become so acidic that they’re hard to drink? How do you so skillfully blend your beers to reveal unexpected flavors, like the hints of sweet cherry and Watermelon Jolly Ranchers here, yet wipe them all away in a wave of effervescence? What’s your secret, and can we reveal it to every other producer of fruited sour ales in America?

One Comment

  • Ron Roller says:

    I know the owner of Idle Vine. He is a great friend and I loved the Wanderer. I made the grand opening. I just asked him when I could expect the next great beer out.
    Ron

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