Wren House Brewing Co.
In a market rife with so-called “mole stouts” bursting with overwrought cinnamon and cocoa flavors, Olmec is a breath of fresh jungle air. Phoenix-based Wren House crafts this 12% stout with vanilla beans, cacao nibs, cinnamon and chiles, but whiskey barrel-aging tames and unites the adjuncts like a team of Blue Barracudas fighting off the temple guard. Wet whiskey barrels yield vanilla and toffee in the nose, deepening into cinnamon, roasted chiles and dark, earthy chocolate. There’s a tangy, sticky molasses quality to the chile/chocolate crossover; turbinado sugar and black licorice scents increase this. Like a melted dark chocolate bar studded with peppers, earthy roasted peppers transition on the tongue into baker’s chocolate seamlessly, while the barrel smooths out the edges and weaves vanilla into the mix, and the 12% ABV is about as hard to find as the Shrine of the Silver Monkey.
Sun King Brewing
A great beer name deserves a great beer flavor, and this Flanders brown ale does not disappoint. Aged in red wine barrels with Montmorency cherries, the brew has a nose that leads with the sweet/tart fruit, while adjoining leather plus old-wood mustiness—this smells like an attic in a great way—admirably replicate classically funky Flemish beers. The acidity is cleaner and simpler in the flavor, where the cherries lean sweeter, the malts are graham-crackery and cherry parfait notes roll in two beats after the swallow. While the tartness could use a little grunging up, its clean quality also makes this can a crusher; you could easily polish off the whole thing without thinking much of it. Which we did.
Ever been on a brewery tour and stepped inside the cooler where the hops are stashed? That’s what this beer smells like: big green notes of dried grass and fresh pine, with accompanying kiwi, onion and basil. Simcoe, Citra and Galaxy hops are the contributors to this storage space of a nose; on the tongue they deliver dried out grass and pine up front, vidalia onions mid-palate and minimal underripe earthy-sweet tropical notes (mango peel, pineapple crust) after the swallow. A sugar cookie-dough malt note rises as the beer warms, dinging just as you swallow the soft, pillowy body. The 8.5% IPA is great, but get it now: Finback, based in Queens, New York, changes the hop lineup with each new “oscillation.”
Lone Tree Brewing Co.
Take out your day planner and put a big red circle around October 1; that’s when Lone Tree (based in, you may have guessed, Lone Tree, Colorado) releases the newest batch of its annual imperial red ale. You’ll want to get it fresh to take in the exquisite West Coast hops: dried out pine needles, just-chopped white onions, wet tree bark. All the pungent, herbal stuff up top dives into a heady rush of pumpernickel, soft nuts and even softer cocoa, with sweeter toffee notes taking over the closer the beer gets to room temp. It’s as balanced and flavorful as the style gets—and the shirts sold on release day are cool as hell.
We’re really into the cloudy, juicy segment of IPAs right now, and Braddock, Pennsylvania-based Brew Gentlemen is doing it better than most. Akamai (a Hawaiian word meaning “intelligent” or “clever”) pours like muddy peach juice but smells like dry-hopped OJ, pulpy with a shot of chlorophyll-packed wheatgrass. Sweet, earthy onion initiates the sip, mingling with flavors of nectarine and orange skin before a mulchy, soil-like finish. Moderate bitterness and fresh-mown lawn flavors linger long after the swallow.
One Hop This Time – Vic Secret
Night Shift Brewing
Freeze! Everybody clap your hands; this can’s worthy of applause. OHTT gets a new single-hop treatment with each new release; this time round it’s been crafted with Vic Secret, an Australian variety that growers say carries flavors like pine, pineapple and passionfruit. That’s not what we got out of it at all, however—in fact, the dynamic hop character is much closer to Chinese osmanthus tea—earthy but bright—plus dill, limoncello and fresh-ground pepper hovering over subtle sweaty onion funk. Hard to believe so much complexity is coming from just one hop. Can we make Vic Secret the next “it” hop, please?
The Rare Barrel
This golden sour with peaches and apricots was the talk of this year’s California Craft Beer Summit Beer Festival, and for good reason. The citrusy aroma swirls with notes of lemon curd, lime zest and split green oak; peachy softness is tertiary but comes to the fore as the beer sits, interwoven with the tiniest ring of sweaty funk. The flavor, however, is packed with sugary peach and apricot syrup alongside spun sugar and meringue, fluffy and sweet. A mid-sip moment of sweet green grapes dissolves into powerful acidity at the swallow, adding another tier to the brew’s layered nature.