Big Bad Baptist
Epic Brewing Co.
If you haven’t heard, Salt Lake City/Colorado-based Epic released two new Big Bad Baptist variants—one made with cinnamon and vanilla, another with barrel-aged coffee beans—in bottles last month along with regular old BBB. The classic, however, is still our favorite. Burnt toast and dark chocolate conduct the sip alongside hints of sourdough and dry, split oak. The cocoa lasts and lasts, and the coffee—accented with a soft blueberry skin fruitiness—is like an espresso shot. After the swallow, the dark chocolate shifts to the milky variety and lingers on the tongue forever and ever. Alcohol arrives a few beats after the swallow in the form of sugary whiskey and big but gentle warmth. It’s smooth, balanced and impressively well-composed—tough to do in a beer that’s 12.6% ABV.
Fonta Flora Brewery
If you haven’t yet met Fonta Flora, read this and get back to me. Nearly all the ingredients used in the brewery’s beers are sourced from the area around its home in Morganton, North Carolina; the fruit-infused wild ales, in particular, offer a clear glimpse into the flavors of Appalachian agriculture. Rhythm Rug is made with locally sourced strawberries, and their influence is clear upon the first whiff of the creamy pink brew—fresh-stirred strawberry jam coats the aroma. Deeper whiffs reveal perfumy floral notes, bright lemon peel and fresh new oak alongside leafy greens. The bright acidity that emerges on the tongue is like an underripe strawberry; a green pepper note that rises in the middle plays off this tartness then fades into a sweet strawberry-and-oak finish. Each sip reveals a venn diagram of oak and strawberry and funk, where all are separate but also overlap in curious, pleasant ways.
3 Sons Brewing Co.
3 Sons has existed for years, but mostly in beer geek imaginations—though it’s won the Best Brewery and Best Beer awards at Cigar City Brewing Co.’s Hunahpu Day celebration the last two years running, the brewery doesn’t have an actual location and has never produced a beer for consumption outside of special events or friends-only bottle releases. That’ll change early next year, when 3 Sons is set to open for real in Dania Beach, Florida, and we’re thrilled—it means we’ll be able to get more of this bourbon-aged imperial stout brewed with vanilla beans and Mostra Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. Chocolate fondue, Mounds bars, Mallomar cookies and sticky vanilla innards coat the tongue with each sip, while exhales of espresso and whiskey dry the intense sugars out just enough. It is, in summation, amazing.
Golden State of Mind
Before the popularization and acceptance of hops as a beer ingredient, nearly all beer was bittered with a spice and herb mixture known as gruit. Usually this blend included witches-brew ingredients like yarrow, mugwort and bog myrtle. Thankfully, brewers have embraced the hop as the One True Bitterer, but examples of beers flavored without the use of hops—also known as gruit—still exist. Most of them, however, are terrible, with the astringent bite of a years-old spice rack. Ale Industries manages to avoid those pitfalls in this chamomile-, coriander- and orange peel-spiced ale. The aroma is like gin distilled in the middle of an orange grove, while the flavor has a shandylike yet slightly savory quality that would make this a killer warm-weather brew. The adjuncts seem clean and fresh and natural; this is the best (though also probably the least authentic) gruit we’ve tried in years.
Fonta Flora Brewery
A note about this oak-aged wild ale from co-founder and brewer Todd Steven Boera, which you’ll also find in that article linked above: “As an Ohio native, I am obsessed with the paw paw, which is a North American native ‘tropical’ fruit that some say is reminiscent of a mango and a banana; it’s also known as Carolina Custard around my current neck of the woods. This beer was brewed with N.C. barley, rye and wheat and fermented clean with our house ale yeast, then transferred and refermented in white wine barrels by our house blend of Brettanomyces and lactobacillus, plus the paw paw fruit.” The process lends the beer vanilla, custard and pear skin aromas when it sits still, but lime, watermelon and rose stems emerge with a swirl. Fruity-sweet lemon, clover honey and melon flavors lead the sip into a lift of fruit syrup that fades with bright green apple acidity at the sides of the tongue; the finish is pure white oak. I’ve never tasted a paw paw, but now I think I gotta.