Blue Point Brewing Co.
This New England IPA thing has gotten out of hand, you guys. Not only are the breweries owned by AB InBev trying their hands at the style; they’re doing a damn good job of it. This 8% double dry-hopped double IPA may not be quite as cloudy as its Northeastern brethren—its gentle fogginess makes it more of a hazy jerk than a hazy bastard—but the aroma’s up there with the best of them as grapefruit zest and mango rind press themselves into baking wheat bread while grass and chives dance at the edges. We’re most impressed by the amount of malt here—it’s one of the more balanced examples of the style, aromatically, that we’ve come across. Tangerine peel greets the palate, then shifts to dried mango strips and soft vanilla. Gentle dried onion floats above the fray from start to finish, and swallows are bready, like squishy wheat crust. Though moderate bitterness—a little pithy—evens out the finish, the hops have an almost spicy quality that tingles the tongue like red pepper flake. Tell people this was from one of the better-known NEIPA producers and they’d already be in line for the next can release.
Madhouse Brewing Co.
Peanut butter and jelly. Milk and cookies. Bacon and eggs. These are all classic food combinations because their flavors both balance and enhance one another. With that in mind, we have another pair to add to the set: strawberry and basil. The greatness of this combo became clear to us as soon as this Des Moines-brewed sour ale hit our lips: chopped strawberry provides soft red sugars and fruity acidity; basil supplies savory, green herbaceousness. Paired with a clean but forceful lactic tartness, the berries and leaves waltz across the palate, juxtaposing savory with sour before a soothing thread of vanilla brings their dance to a close. Suck it, spaghetti and meatballs.
Barrel Aged Mountain Standard
Odell Brewing Co.
We’ve had our gripes with oak-aged IPAs in the past; so many entries into that sub-style exchange their bright hops for sharp wood and come out on the losing side of the trade. But this is an oak-aged black IPA, and those dark malts—paired with a full year in bourbon barrels—seem to have made all the difference. Nutty cocoa nibs and vanilla beans are the first aromatics to hit the nose, while a slow stream of maple syrup slips underneath them. Swirls bring out the fat, piney hops and bitter toast char. On the tongue, the same cocoa and maple are met by Nilla Wafers, ginger root and pine tar. Bitterness is low (very surprising given what the un-aged version of this beer is like) and there’s just a nudge of caramely, coconuty whiskey at the finish. Though a little warm, alcohol is well hidden given that this is nearly 11%—it drinks more like 8. The flavors are delivered with a light touch, as if whipped into a froth and spread slowly across the tongue, and the whole impression is one of downy softness.
Hop Butcher for the World
It’s not often you come across a pale ale that just blows your world apart, but we probably should have expected one from Hop Butcher, whose hoppy ales are regulars in this column. Citra and Mosaic hops infuse the beer with a mighty aroma melding dank weed and fresh-cut grass then accenting them with by caramelized onion, grapefruit zest and a smooth mango note. It’s constantly shifting between these scents like ChromaFlair. Sips are similarly prone to fluctuation. One visit to the glass might yield funky onion notes; another will reveal tangy tangerine giving way to fruity pineapple and peach. Grassy flavors float always above the palate while tangy grapefruit pith tickles the sides of the tongue, and the finish, just a little sweet, is like herb-dusted crackers. We find ourselves incredulous that this much flavor (and this beautiful a texture; it’s soft as goose down) could be packed inside a pale ale, but each swallow affirms it. Not since Zombie Dust have we crossed paths with one this expressive.
Urban Funk House
The Collective Brewing Project
A tasty, oak-fermented saison from Texas that wasn’t brewed by Jester King? Believe it, hombre. The Collective focuses on coolships, foeders and the barrel-fermented beer in Fort Worth—Dallas’ partially absorbed twin—and does it well. The nose on this Brett-spiked saison, for instance, is like a bowl of peaches and cream garnished with mint, while the flavor focuses on green apple acidity, pink peppercorns and lightly toasted oak chips. Zippy carbonation accentuates the piquant phenolics and expedites the dry, snappy finish. Though a bit warm and heavy for the style, the back-and-forth between the fruity, dessertlike aroma and the sharp, peppery flavor kept us intrigued until the bottle was—all too quickly—gone.