Turo, a sour blonde ale brewed and fermented with whole cluster grenache grapes from Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, is more winelike than any beer we’ve ever tried—and that’s both a good and a bad thing. Here’s the positive: The wine flavor and aroma are just unreal. You get rich, earthy pressed grape, wet soil and touches of well-aged balsamic backed up by waffle cones and ocean mist. As with any good Grenache, it’s timid when it first hits the tongue but unfurls like a flower at the swallow, revealing vinegary acidity, dark cherries and moist leather, while soft vanilla custard lingers on the palate between sips. But there is a downside: It’s dead flat. The carbonation is nonexistent, and the blonde ale base has been so overpowered in both color (it’s a deep purple-black) and flavor that we feel this is more wine than beer. But it’s good wine!
A Well Forged Sword
Central State Brewing Co.
Picture one of those chocolate oranges you usually start seeing around Christmastime—you know the kind. Now, melt that sucker down, pepper in a bagful of roasted peanuts, and slather your concoction atop burnt toast and a hunk of well-done flank steak. That’s the flavor combination you’re getting with each sip of this collaboration between Central State and St. Petersburg, Florida’s Green Bench Brewing Co. The oranges are a welcome—if not totally necessary—addition to what is an undeniably superb base stout; thick, roasty, rich and smoky.
4 Noses Brewing Co.
Bourbon gets all the glory, but a good rye whiskey, which trades out bourbon’s caramel and coconut for sharper, fruitier character, can be life-affirming—especially when properly joined with a rich imperial stout. Candied pecans, maple syrup, graham crackers, almond milk and Hershey’s milk chocolate all make appearances on the tongue, but the notes of blueberries, star anise and plantains are what really grabbed us. The beer tastes as if it was already aged in the bottle a few years before we got to it; the flavor’s rounded and cohesive, sweet but not cloying. You get woodiness without needing to pull splinters out of your tongue; you get alcohol warmth but nowhere near the burn expected from 9.5% ABV. With a silky finish that melds oatmeal, nougat and marshmallow fluff, this special-release brew’s round and soft as a plush toy from start to finish.
Noble Ale Works
We checked: In five of the last seven months, Noble has had at least one hoppy beer land on this list. (Here are the appearances in December, January, February, April and June.) And with Citra Showers, they’ve now gone six for eight. Brewed solely with the wonderfully expressive Citra hop, this double IPA drenches the palate in Orange Julius, mango pulp and juicy papaya flavors before sweet, glazed breakfast pastries wipe the rain away. Alcohol flavor is prominent, but so are notes of cantaloupe and lawn clippings; firm and slightly pithy bitterness rolls down the sides of the tongue after the swallow. A final sprinkling of sweet melon and papaya falls before the palate-clearing booze and bitterness of the finish.
Hops Are My Co-pilot
Tombstone Brewing Co.
For people who live on the east side of Phoenix, the Valley’s western half is like the shadowy place in The Lion King: You must never go there, Simba. But there are a few places for which a beer geek will brave the journey; Ground Control in Litchfield Park is definitely among them. The lauded beer bar recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, and to celebrate, head beer guru Ian Harwell collaborated with local brewers on several new creations, including Superstition Meadery’s Coffee Blueberry Hex (a blueberry melomel with Ground Control coffee), Dark Sky Brewing Co.’s High Country Brunch (an imperial stout with maple syrup and more Ground Control coffee) and Borderlands Brewing Co.’s Sitting in a Tin Can (a hazy double IPA). Our favorite of the collabs, though, was this imperial IPA brewed with Cashmere, Idaho 7 and Cascade hops. The nose changes with temperature: It’s incredibly grapefruity at first, like a just-sliced peel, but warmth brings out crystallized pineapple and peach juice with a side of Wheaties and glazed donuts. Mown grass emerges with a swirl of the glass. Sips stay true to the warmed-up aroma—at least until the swallow, when dripping peach, angel food cake and mango rind burst forth. Warm vanilla rises between sips, as does a surprising amount of pithy, grassy, slightly rough bitterness; it digs into the tongue in a way we’re not used to with the style. It may not look like much—a shade or two darker and this would be pond water—but dammit if it doesn’t have everything we want in a New England IPA.