Work From Home
Maple syrup is the perfect food. Don’t @ me; I will accept no argument on this. What else tastes just as good atop cakes of flour as it does on bacon? Maple syrup enhances everything it touches. (A little syrup gets on my eggs? Whatever, man. I was about to dip my sausage in that shit anyway.) Plus, it comes from trees, which means it’s healthy. So an imperial porter brewed with maple syrup (from Vermont—the good stuff) plus cold-brewed Columbian coffee was basically bound for this list from jump. That doesn’t mean Cerebral phoned this one in, though: Those coffee beans have a lively fruity-spicy character—like blueberries, blackberries and gingery cola—that connects with the malt’s brown sugar and dark chocolate notes flawlessly. Soft maple and graham crackers make each swallow like a warm bite of syrup-drenched pancake, but there’s also an alluring orange zest note that places Christmas chocolate oranges next to the pancake breakfast. The ABV seems well below its nearly 10%; the body is chewy as marshmallows; and the maple, as always, is pure magic.
Sourglass Saison du Sablier
With the name “saison” increasingly being used to describe beers with more acidity than your average neighborhood kid’s lemonade stand, it’s refreshing to come across an example of the style that tastes like the classics. Though Sourglass—the sour and wild-fermented arm of Longwood, Florida-based Hourglass Brewing—makes this beer with wild yeast and bacteria strains, including Brettanomyces, tartness is kept to a minimum. Crisp pear, dried lemon peel, white peppercorns, straw, baguette crisps, and the lightest splash of white vinegar mingle in the aroma, while swirls of the glass bring out eggy sulfur. Sips reveal deeper pear-topped crostini and peppercorn flavors, plus gentle hints of sweet pineapple and sauvignon blanc. Dry, funky hay hits midpalate; the finish is bone-dry, with the slightest hint of green apple acidity fading to a lingering peppery quality. It’s just a really solid saison, as authentic as anything from Belgium, and with Brett still chomping away in the bottle, it should improve even more with time. I can see this blowing minds three years from now.
Again & Again
Bearded Iris Brewing
Fans of the New England-style IPA, put Bearded Iris on your radar; the one-year-old brewery based in Nashville and named after Tennessee’s state flower knows its way around hazy hoppy ales. Of the ones we’ve tried so far, Tunnel Vision (an IPA with Citra, Mosaic and El Dorado oil), Scatterbrain (a Simcoe-hopped IPA) and Double Homestyle (an imperial IPA with Mosaic) were all outstanding, but it was the aroma of Again & Again that stuck with us. Perhaps that’s because the pale ale’s hopped at the rate of a double IPA (always a strong strategy) with Simcoe, Citra, Centennial, Columbus and Warrior hops. The result: a football field’s worth of just-clipped grass, plus tangerine zest, blackberries, and hints of Creamsicles and pastry dough. It is, to use one of those five-dollar words they taught me in journalism school, effluvious. Sips reveal a similar blackberry-tangerine-grass cluster, with an addition of tangy blood orange right at the swallow. Bitterness is very low and smooth, while the body is soft as goose down.
Crafted Artisan Meadery
Great name, right? Great artwork, too. Any time The Scream can be worked onto an alcohol label is a win in my eyes. Crafted is located in Mogadore, Ohio, which we could easily write off as a place only overeager hobbits would agree to visit if it wasn’t also quickly becoming one of the best places in the country to find imaginative, flavorful meads like the pear- and cardamom-flavored Dispear. Pear, clover honey and spearmint greet the nose like a complex mojito, while the flavor is like a pear wrapped in tea leaves—the fruit and cardamom are wonderful dance partners. A sugary, fruity finish flashes with floral honey but is mostly like biting into a crisp pear; exhales are spicy, like a baked pear dessert topped with ground cinnamon. And at just 6% ABV, this is a mead I could drink all day, gladly.
Dirty Commie Heathen
The Unknown Brewing Co.
Whether or not certain people at the top of our government can say the same, this imperial stout has always been clear about its Russian connections. It’s a bear of a beer, boasting 12.4% ABV and an aroma stuffed with black licorice, plum, oak bark, fresh coconut and a hint of sour cherry —courtesy of the tart Michigan cherries added to the bourbon barrels in which it’s aged. There are three major things going on at once in the flavor: oak, cherries and cocoa. The blend of the three is smooth, very much like a cherry cordial followed by a lick of oak. Hints of licorice and maple appear up front; gentle, toasted coconut combines with spicy black licorice and delicate cherry tartness at the swallow, with a hint of roasted peanuts following closely behind. Most impressive: There’s not even a hint of the ABV, which is just crazy. It’s like the Russians hacked my alcohol heat sensors. It avoids overpowering sweetness, keeps the barrel as an accent, rather than the focus, maintains a soft, creamy body, and even incorporates a little tart cherry. Say dos vidanya to your liver and drink up.