Upland Brewing Co.
Earlier this week, we asked brewers to tell us why so many sour beers seem more acidic than xenomorph blood, and it should be said that some of Upland’s past offerings have pushed the upper end of our acidity preferences. But this Peach! Oh, this Peach. The aroma is great—farm-fresh stone fruit and rose stems bumping elbows with vanilla and apple cider vinegar—but it’s the flavor’s restraint we found most impressive. The acidity is present but perfectly manageable, lifting the notes of juicy peach, green oak and minerally Chardonnay while providing contrast to the cooling custard flavor that appears between sips. Perhaps the brewers have moved toward a softer blend; perhaps the sugars from the half-pound of peaches per bottle are tempering the tartness. Either way, it’s as if Upland was Happy Gilmore after he decided to play like a real golfer for a change: “Here comes the putter throw…wait! He’s restrained himself!” Maybe this is a new Upland.
Schlafly Rye IPA
The Saint Louis Brewery
Simcoe hops tend to be fairly dank and oniony; Galaxy hops usually impart strong tropical fruit flavors. Bring them together, as the creators of this 7.2% IPA did, and you get a flavor like peaches and leeks. Sips are sweet and fruity up front, with additional notes of pear and clementine orange right next to chives, but parsley, mint and the telltale snap of rye dry out the swallow. We love the use of the alternative grain here to enhance the funkier side of the hops, as well as the teeter-totter of a fruit-sweet front and that clean, bitter end.
150th Anniversary Lager
Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co.
This magazine is 10 years old, and if we’re around for another 140 we think we’ll celebrate the same way Leinie’s did: by inviting Hofbräu München out for a party. The influence of the historic German brewery is apparent from first whiff of this Oktoberfest: The aroma of doughy pretzels, baked apples and marzipan is as authentic as anything from Munich. Sips leave behind the fruity character of the nose and focus fully on lightly toasted, bready malts; swallows pop with baked rolls, warm caramel and a hint of toasted almond balanced by mild, woody hop bitterness. Flavorful, malt-focused but not sweet, drinkable and balanced; this is what Oktoberfests should be. Happy 150th, Leinie.
Stalin’s Darkside 64
Evil Czech Brewery
To honor imperial stout’s historic connection to Russia, brewers tend to name their beers after the country’s most beloved figures: Rasputin. Kate the Great. Ivan Drago. Stalin? Not so beloved. But Evil Czech’s tagline is “sometimes for beer to be good, it has to get evil,” so perhaps a beer bearing his name is to be expected. This imperial stout is released yearly on March 5, the anniversary of Stalin’s death (he died in 1953, which is why this year’s release is numbered “64”). It’s also aged nine months in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels, which infuses the aroma with a toasted-oak smokiness that permeates the sweeter notes of prunes, marshmallows and cocoa powder. The same smoked dark fruits emerge on the tongue along with a bit of cola and a dusting of ground anise. Vanilla bean, marshmallow powder and subtle grape jelly can be picked out as the beer sits in the mouth; rich dark chocolate and coconutty oak surge after the swallow. Though the charred-malt bitterness that grips the sides of the tongue is pretty potent, the alcohol (11.5%) doesn’t hit nearly as hard as it could and the creamy-but-light body is as inviting as a hug from your babushka. Stalin would not approve.
Imperial Breakfast Stout Aged In Bourbon Barrels
Voodoo is good at making barrel-aged stouts. Like, really good at it. This imperial version of Breakfast of Champions (itself an homage to Founders Breakfast Stout stout brewed with lactose, oatmeal, coffee, maple syrup and cocoa nibs) aged 20 months in bourbon barrels is further confirmation of their prowess. The aroma is two parts rich chocolate syrup drizzled over slightly vinous coffee beans, one part blueberry maple syrup, and this dessertlike blend is spread atop a decadent base of crumbled graham crackers and nougat. Peppery espresso and bourbon are the first flavor arrivals, though the bold whiskey and oak notes gradually transition to softer graham cracker, marshmallow powder and peanut dust. The finish is where this beer really shines, as it vacillates between dark berries and cocoa through the swallow, finally settling on toast crumbles and dried tobacco after a few beats. Quick sips condense all this into easy-to-down blueberry/maple/coffee/cocoa cake pops. For a beer that spent nearly two years in bourbon casks, the flavor of the spirit is inconspicuous; the oak seems to have been used to help the other flavors coalesce, rather than as the main event. Like we said, these guys know barrel-aging.