Hardywood Park Craft Brewery
Much like eating magic mushrooms or going rock climbing, attempting to drink an entire bottle of Trickery without a spotter (or, even better, three or four of them) is ill-advised and will probably result in serious bodily harm. Even after eight months’ rest in apple brandy barrels, the body of this 13.5% ABV imperial milk stout is so thick and chewy you need to drink it with a spoon, and the aroma and flavor are about as dense as a dying star. Nougat, molasses, natural peanut butter, cocoa powder and vanilla soft serve all barrel across the palate, followed by of crushed cabernet grapes and luxardo cherries. Each sip seems to reveal something new: Here a rambunctious burst of plum and brewer’s licorice; there a soothing spread of treacle and marshmallow fluff. But the finish is absolutely the highlight, shifting from the dark fruits and sugars toward the balancing, roasty character of chicory. Drinking this is an event; it’s an absolute monster of a beer, appropriate in no other setting than at a tasting. Gather five or six spotters—some people might also call them friends—and prepare for a good time.
Kentucky Christmas Morning
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery
Two Hardywood Park beers in one Best O’ The Week roundup? That’s what happens when one of the better barrel-aging breweries in the country ships us a box full of their best work. Kentucky Christmas Morning begins life as Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout, an already stunning seasonal spiced with ginger and wildflower honey from farms near the brewery in Richmond, Virginny. A few months of aging in bourbon barrels, then some pre-bottling filtration through freshly cracked coffee beans, and voila: Christmas. The real present here, however, is how fresh and raw the ginger seems even after the beer’s months in confinement; it combines with notes of brown sugar for a character like just-baked ginger snaps. Flavors of cinnamon and caramel-hazelnut lattes emerge upon deeper inspection, but the ginger is ever-present, popping at the swallow and tingling the palate with each exhale.
4 Hands Brewing Co.
Let’s talk for a minute about hops. Though this is most likely what you picture when you think of the beer ingredient, hops rarely arrive at a brewery in that form. Sometimes the cones are kept whole but are dried to make them last; more often they’re pulverized and formed into pellets. A few brewers even use liquid hop extract to bitter and flavor their beers. But a state-of-the-art form of hops is slowly becoming the new hotness: lupulin powder.
Lupulin powder is essentially a superconcentrated form of hops made by flash-freezing and then shattering intact hop flowers. Its makers claim it’s the least vegetal form of non-extract hops available. It costs twice as much as your standard pelletized hops, but it’s also twice as potent. Plus, hop powder has the potential to reduce cost: Whole-cone and pelletized hops, when added into fermenters for dry-hopping, tend to soak up beer like a sponge, resulting in a pretty substantial amount of loss with each batch. Lupulin powder doesn’t trap as much beer, and according to some brewers can reduce the amount of beer lost in each batch by 5 percent. That’s a substantial difference.
Which is all well and good for brewers, but we consumers care about one thing over all else: How’s it taste? If Loose Particles is any indication, the flavor and aroma this form of hops can provide is worth the price. The nose is huge, swirling with dried onion, garlic and sticky weed fragrances above a base of slightly overripe orange and baked bread rolls, while sips reveal bright orange peel and pineapple. Additions of oatmeal and wheat soften the hop impact in the flavor somewhat, lending the beer a soft body and crisp malt character almost like a white IPA, but the bitterness is still firm and squeaky-clean; there’s none of the harshness that certain hop varieties and forms can deliver. We’re pumped to see more beers made with this stuff make it into the mainstream.
Listermann Brewing Co.
Speaking of lupulin powder, say hello to Brew Fighters. This hazy New England-style IPA was brewed with Mosaic powder as well as Vic Secret, Simcoe and Galaxy, and the effect here is even more potent than in Loose Particles. New aromas revealed themselves with each lift of the glass—one visit reveals sliced strawberries on angel food cake; the next mown grass and blueberries; another apricot and a little pineapple rind—but always there’s a dollop of sweet cream on top. The flavor’s much more grassy up front, with a little fresh pine. Blueberry and strawberry skin arrive next, then the swallow brings out pineapple, grapefruit pulp and a tingly, green hop spiciness, almost like chili peppers. The hops are incredibly expressive, conveying clean, clear fruit flavors and easygoing bitterness. Bonus: Listermann is donating 10 percent of the beer’s proceeds to the Norwood Firefighter’s Association. Wins all around.
Alhambra Reserva Roja
Grupo Cervezas Alhambra
Flavors of deeply toasted bread crust, moist raisin bread and a hint of sassafras root; a thick, chewy body and balanced, medium-dry finish; a mild but lingering tree-bark bitterness with just a nudge of warmth from 7.2% ABV. Normally, to encounter a bock this close to the style’s ideal you’d have to travel to Northern Germany. Granada, Spain—where Alhambra, a subsidiary of Madrid’s Mahou San Miguel since 2007, is located—is a slightly shorter trip, but still far, which is why bock fans should be stoked that Alhambra began distributing this beer in Washington D.C., Northern Virginia and New York City in June.