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The best beers we tasted this week

DRAFT’s editors taste dozens of beers each week. These are the six that stood above the rest.
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Spiced Imperial Dark Ale
New Belgium Brewing Co.
We told you about this collaboration with Anne-Francoise Pypaert, brewmaster at Orval, back in February. A Belgian strong dark ale brewed with spruce tips and aged with medium-toast oak spirals sounds intriguing, no? And intriguing the beer is, though not, we think, for the reasons the brewers intended: The beer smells and tastes like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Grainy-toasty wheat bread and natural peanut butter meld with sugary grape jelly in the nose; deep whiffs reveal flashes of cooling menthol and Christmas tree trunk, but overall the spruce tips read more as nutty. On the tongue, nutty wheat bread followed by crushed peanuts, and the sweet jelly dries out, becoming more raisiny. After the swallow, pure chunky peanut butter and twiggy, branchlike notes accent to the nuttiness and alcohol grows upon itself after each sip. It may not be exactly what the brewers were going for, but we dig it.

Half Hitch
Crux Fermentation Project
Our appreciation of this imperial IPA brewed with Mosaic hops begins with the pour: inside a glass, it shimmers and shines in perfectly clear bright gold. The aroma, like the hop used to construct it, has a little bit of everything: funk (appearing as sweat sock and sprouting onions), citrus (as heavy, perfumy orange peel, like a Florida orange grove on a humid day), plus fresh-mown grass, a hint of honeydew melon and a dollop of honey to round it all out. The flavor is cleaner and more subdued than expected: chives, scallions, clover, grass. Clean, firm bitterness is at the perfect level, as is a moderate alcohol flavors that cleans the palate and dries things out without getting fusel. The body is exquisite–incredibly smooth and soft as almond milk–making every sip a small delight.

Unrefined
Voodoo Brewery
We know Voodoo mostly for spectacular stouts and barrel-aged beers, but this IPA showed us the Pennsylvania-based brewery also knows its way around hops. A rotating beer–this is batch three, brewed with Azacca, Citra, Amarillo–Unrefined fires off aromas of onion, mango and menthol, plus garlic and fresh-mown grass. You’re greeted to a new note with each return to the glass; the nose is constantly shifting and constantly pleasant. Sweet pineapple leads the flavor into garlic and onion root, while tangerine peel and sage arrive at the leafy finish. Bitterness is apparent but not harsh, arriving late and allowing bold hop flavors to show off before settling in.

The Nothing
Smog City Brewing Co.
Never-Ending Story references will get us every time, but this imperial stout from Los Angeles deserves a tale of its own. The liquid itself is imposing–a early impenetrable mahogany capped by a silky, dense coffee-colored head-and exudes aromas of peanut shells, tangy Craisins and flank steak crust. A sweet, nutty nougat cushions the bouquet’s landing alongside bitter cacao beans and thin coffee creamer. On the tongue, the beer is like rich, earthy and expensive cocoa. A currantlike dark fruit character quickly gives way to smooth nutty malts; the sip finishes quite dry and rich, with a touch of anise and super-pleasant char.

Soul Shakedown Party
Sun King Brewery
A rum barrel-aged version of Sun King’s Wee Muckle Scotch Ale, Soul Shakedown Party won bronze in the “Classic Styles” category at the 2014 Festival of Barrel-Aged Beer (no small feat). One whiff of the aroma shows how it won: Heath bars, pretzel dough, sticky toasted coconut, nougat, marzipan and banana walnut muffins meld beautifully, and there’s just enough doughy malt character to balance out the saccharine side. Rum seems to us a smart choice for Scotch ale-aging: the barrel’s flavors of vanilla and funky banana/coconut combo are an interesting pairing for the base beer’s caramel, marzipan and candy bar aspects. It all combines to give the impression of sticky monkey bread. We don’t doubt that this beer could also be delicious in bourbon, but that extra funk of the rum works so well with this style. Well-conceived, well-executed, and well-worth seeking out, now that it’s in cans.

El Camino (Un)real
21st Amendment Brewery/Firestone Walker Brewing Co./Stone Brewing
El Camino Real (AKA the Royal Trail) stretches 600 miles along the California coast, linking the 21 Spanish missions settled from San Diego to Sonoma. Today we know that road as Highway 101, and along with connecting religious settlements it also provides a path to the three breweries that first collaborated on this fennel seed-, chia seed-, pink peppercorn- and fig-infused black ale in March 2010. This second iteration of El Camino (un)Real—now in cans, courtesy of 21st Amendment—combines the same cadre of ingredients to add tugs of black licorice, dried figs and cracked pepper to the burnt bread crust and earthy coffee bean flavors that dominate each porter-esque sip. It’s a beer that begs to be opened during a roadtrip, but definitely wait until the driving’s done: beneath the drying, dark chocolate finish, the beer’s alcohol burn is so well-hidden that the 9.5% ABV on the side of each can seems—we have to say it—unreal.

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