Southern Prohibition Brewing
Ah, Mosaic. Has there ever been hop whose name captures its essence so perfectly? In this double IPA, for instance, it imparts a patchwork of complementary flavors: watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, tangerine, Bazooka Joe. A squishy glazed doughnut malt base supports additional round citrus pulp notes just before the swallow and lingering handfuls of lawn clippings after, and while the bitterness seems a bit low—alcohol does a lot of the balancing work—it’s also incredibly clean. Who needs to plug four or five different hop varieties in a beer when you can create such a pleasant flavor collage with just one?
Upland Brewing Co.
There was a time when even mentioning the name Upland to DRAFT’s beer judges got their faces looking like this:
That doesn’t seem to be the case any longer; the sour-focused brewery’s finesse with its wild ales of late has really impressed us. Cursed Kettles, a collaboration with Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Prairie Artisan Ales, may be our favorite creation of theirs yet. The base beer is kettle-soured with Prairie’s lactobacillus and fermented with Brettanomyces from Upland, then it was aged for three months in wine and bourbon barrels with figs and black cherries. The result is a beautiful combo of barrel and dark fruits: warm caramel, candied plum and fig, vanilla, toffee, a hint of coconutty whiskey. The acidity is mild, snappy, clean and connected with the dark fruits and the sharp wood in surprising ways, and while the flavors are strong, the beer’s balanced and drinkable enough that a bottle disappears rather quickly.
Flynn on Fire – Gates of Helles
Switchback Brewing Co.
Rauchbiers—AKA beers made with smoked malt—are among the most polarizing tipples in the brewed world. The reason for this, from our perspective, is twofold: The flavor of smoke itself automatically turns off a good number of drinkers, and many examples of rauchbier can be, well, over-rauched. It takes a soft touch; one tiny notch too heavy on the smoke and you might as well be drinking cigar ash. With Gates of Helles, however, Switchback keeps the smokiness at the perfect level. Beechwood-smoked malt imparts a mild, oily, bacony note that accents dried pretzel crumbles and sweet white bread; while earthy hop flavor and subtle noble bitterness combine with the smoke for the impression of a just-doused campfire in the woods. Helped along by a hint of sweet honey, the unctuous stuff slides gracefully off the palate, augmenting but not overpowering the delicate base beer. Helles yeah.
Pure Project Brewing
After Pure Project snuck into the top 25 of our list of the best IPAs in America, we suspected we had to keep a closer eye on the young brewery. After tasting Coffee Tenmile, we know it. A bourbon-aged imperial porter infused with “organic, shade-grown Costa Rican coffee,” the beer has a nose that balances blackberry and chocolate-covered acai with toasted hazelnuts and bit of nougat; the interplay of the dark berries and nuts in the coffee is outstanding. Deeper inhales reveal light graham cracker aromas and big whiffs of tobacco—like a humidor full of cigars—as well as a little marzipan. On the palate, the emphasis is mostly on the coffee, though toasty malt does arrive on the back end of the sip with a lingering burnt bread crust quality. Though the body’s a bit thin, the flavor (and the 13% ABV) is delivered so smoothly we’re willing to overlook it. Most impressive here is the handling of the bourbon; this is very good coffee stout with just a kiss of whiskey, with a flavor closer to what you’d get if the beans were barrel-aged than if the beer was.
For all the hand-wringing about whether they constitute cultural appropriation and what, exactly, differentiates them from other beers of their ilk, “Mexican-style lager” continues to be a popular style among brewers. Heyzeus is the best we’ve tried in a while, capturing the hallmark aromas of a premium lager—grain husks, dried maize, a strong whiff of sulfur—as well as interesting flavors such as the front-sip’s snap of apple and the hints of pepper and basil that swirl over the bone-dry finish. Previously only available on tap, Heyzeus made the jump to 12-ounce cans in August, making this loco-crisp, loco-clean and loco-crushable lager even more available.