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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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Bottle Logic Up Up, Abnormal Beer/J. Wakefield all of the lights, Pfriem RyePA, Hop Butcher they who bear honey, Fair Isle Ellie
Ellie
Fair Isle Brewing Co.

When we taste the beers that arrive at our office each week, we usually keep it to a few ounces per. We have a lot of beer to get through, and only so much liver to give. When tasting Ellie, we finished those few ounces. And then another glass. And then the whole 25-ounce bottle. There was no way any of it was going down the drain.

Fair Isle is still technically a brewery in planning, with a projected opening date of “sometime in 2018.” You can read all about the farmhouse-focused brewery (which has already made a nifty little collaboration with Jester King) right here. Ellie arrived at our office unlabeled save a tiny sticker on the cap that read “FH w/ Elderberries.” After tasting it, we had to know more. So we contacted Fair Isle co-founder Andrew Pogue.

“All of those beers were made as homebrew/test batches,” he said in an email. “All of our beers are fermented with out mix culture of wild yeast and bacteria—originally comprised of a handful of commercially available and those cultivated in the mountains of Washington. That particular beer is one of our standard farmhouse ales (Pilsen + Malted Wheat; ~6.5% ABV) aged for two months in stainless and then re-fermented with foraged elderberries in stainless. We strive to produce balanced beers and are really pleased with the flavor profile the Elderberries contributed without being a fruit-forward beer. The beers we sent are meant to represent the direction we are headed and a teaser of what’s to come.”

If that’s so, Fair Isle is going to be a big deal among beer drinkers come 2018. Ellie’s balance of bacterial funk, acidity and fruit is just outstanding, from the aroma of earthy pressed berries, hay bales, amaretto and hibiscus to the soft, winelike acidity found in the flavor. It’s like a glass of silky Malbec tasted alongside scoops of berry-topped vanilla Greek yogurt, with delicate winelike tannins and a lingering hint of cocoa.

All of Fair Isle’s beers will carry females names from 19th and early 20th century, Pogue says. In this case, Ellie is the R&D nickname for Lady Eleanor, which comes from a phrase folklore says should always be repeated before felling an elder tree, lest evil spirits come to get you: “Lady Ellhorn, give me of thy wood/And I will give thee of mine/When I become a tree.”

RyePA
pFriem Family Brewers

pFriem is an unconventional brewery in that nearly every beer that comes out of its facility in Hood River, Oregon, is named precisely what it is. No fussing around with song lyrics or hop puns—the IPA is called IPA; the pilsner simply Pilsner. It would be an odd marketing tactic if each beer wasn’t also one of the best examples of its particular style in the country. Aspiring Cicerones looking to learn what each style should taste like would do well to just drink their way through pFriem’s entire portfolio. This rye IPA is no different: The aroma is like a piece of dry, spiced rye bread—sharp, with bold lemon peel merging with caraway. Some soft peppercorn and a hint of anise are perceptible as well. Lycheelike citrus with a hint of bubblegum and sweet apricot greet the palate, then follow up with accents of anise, caraway and dried grass. Gentle fruit sweetness deftly balances the spice and moderate floral hop bitterness into an even finish. It’s a bold expression of rye; the malt comes through more clearly than most examples of this sub-style. But, duh: It’s pFriem.

They Who Bear Honey
Hop Butcher for the World

Hop Butcher lives up to its name, chopping up hops in new and interesting ways with each new IPA and pale ale it puts out. They Who Bear Honey is one of the most creative yet: an international pale ale with Mosaic and South African Southern Aroma hops as well as blueberry honey—meaning the honey created by bees landing on blueberry blossoms. These are intuitive ingredients; we’ve always found Mosaic, in particular, to have a subtle blueberry quality. And we found it in this beer’s aroma, as well: blueberry skins and wheatgrass, plus mango rind and lavender. Hints of caramelized sugar, almond and shortbread cookies emerge with deeper whiffs—a very unique, pleasing aroma. They flavor, too, has all of the above; it’s like Hawaiian honey rolls with blueberries baked in. Grass clippings fall tickle the palate up front before soft mango pulp emerges; honey rolls and blueberries appear at the swallow. A smooth, low, unimposing bitterness is present but not insistent.

All of the Lights
Abnormal Beer Co./J. Wakefield Brewing

We can think of few breweries doing dessert stouts better than the two that collaborated on this “imperial milk porter,” so we expected good things. After reading the description of its brewing process—“post-fermentation, the entire tank was recirculated through toasted Ghanaian cacao nibs and hazelnuts for four days, followed by Brazilian coffee for one more day”—we anticipated even more. And then we smelled it: Rich toasted hazelnut is almost inseparable from mocha-forward coffee beans in the nose, and additional notes are equally decadent: caramel sauce, creamy peanut butter, milk chocolate squares, an almost bourbony vanilla character. Coffee is a bit more prominent on the tongue; toasty hazelnut again leads the way, but the beans quickly surge and overtake them with flavors of crumbled cocoa, blackberries and even cracked pepper. The swallow is sweet and smooth, leaning heavily on chocolate syrup and sweet graham crackers, with another crunch of hazelnut just before the soft, sweet finish. The alcohol content is hidden well, as the beer drinks several notches below its nearly 11% ABV. It’s not terribly complex, but it’s every bit the treat we hoped it would be.

Up Up
Bottle Logic Brewing

The legend of the Konami Code goes like this: Back in 1985, video game designer Kazuhisa Hashimoto was testing out the arcade game Gradius. To avoid playing the whole game like any other chump, he designed a shortcut: An easy-to-enter button code that gave him all the powerups. But dummy forgot to remove the cheat, and when the game went live in 1986, it was still there. That code—Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Select, Start—then spilled into a number of Konami games, earning a place in the hearts of video game nerds everywhere. Bottle Logic has announced that the entire Konami Code will eventually be represented through the series of hazy IPA cans kicked off by Up Up.

About that beer: It features the same malt base as the brewery’s popular Northeast-style IPA, HazeShift, but Mosaic, Galaxy, and Citra hops give this one a fruitier aroma focused on bold, sweet passion fruit and Mandarin orange slices, with pine needles above. A swirl brings out a funky green note, like fermented grass. Passionfruit, overripe pineapple and tangerine meld on the tongue, with the citrus in particular mashing the taste buds like a noob gamer trying to get through a boss battle. Fresh-mown grass blades and a hint of parsley fold in before the slightly sweet finish—the perfect amount of grassy, green character to balance the lingering wheat bread and citrus zest. The soft, pillowy body is exquisite, too. If there’s a real-life cheat code to the beer game, Bottle Logic has unlocked it.

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