Creature Comforts Brewing Co.
It wouldn’t be surprising if a porter flavored with lactose, cacao nibs, coffee and vanilla tasted more like a Frappuccino than a beer; plenty of dark ales made with even fewer specialty ingredients come across like sugary desserts. It would be surprising if that beer came from Creature Comforts, however; the Georgia-based brewers are masters of nuance and balance. In Koko Buni, the disparate components overlap one another beautifully: nutty, smoky Ecuadorian cacao here; blueberry- and acai-accented Ethiopian coffee there; tangy lactose, vanilla and sticky coconut in between. Each swallow of the creamy brew brightens with earthy cacao and another shot of java, while lactose smooths these out into a cohesive whole. Like another CC beer we enjoyed a couple months back, it’s a can that calls for food-pairing—we suggest the Koko Buni bar from Condor Chocolates, made with shaved coconut and the same cacao nibs and coffee beans used in the beer.
Hop Butcher For The World
Of all the terms drinkers dug out to describe their IPAs this year, “juicy” was probably the one used most often. It’s an apt descriptor, especially as brewers use more tropical fruit-flavored hop varieties and the still-argued-over New England IPA becomes even more prevalent and popular. There may not be a beer more worthy of being called juicy, though, than Mellotron. Brewed in the style of a New England IPA and hopped solely with Azacca, an American variety prized for its mango and papaya notes, the Chicago-brewed beer is closer to a cocktail you’d buy at a beach resort than an IPA. The nose is packed with lawn clippings, peach fuzz, tangerine and pineapple juice; sips add intense mango rind and a sprinkle of pine needles to the mix. It comes across as sugary, but not malt-sweet; hop-sweet. You know … juicy.
Holy Mountain Brewing Co.
Brewing an absolutely killer pilsner is tough, but not impossible. “There’s just a strict process that needs to be followed for this kind of beer to come out tasting good,” says Colin Lenfesty, Holy Mountain’s co-owner and head brewer.
First, you gotta have good water. Check, says Lenfesty: “I think one of the most important things we have at our disposal is amazing water. It’s very soft, and we hardly do any kind of adjustment for this beer at all. We’re looking for a really nice, rounded profile between the hops and malt.”
Next, a great pilsner has to have great malt. (This aspect’s especially important, as a majority of American brewers attempting pilsner seem to focus too heavily on the character of their hops and not enough on their malts. This is a shame—nay, a travesty!—because malt character is most of what separates a Czech pils from other versions of the style.) Three Fates is made with Barke Pils malt, “a heritage barley variety that’s been available to us the last couple of years,” Lenfesty says. “I’ve found that it comes across much more malty with a really nice, full body. It finishes a little higher in gravity than when we use our normal pilsner malt, but not by much. It’s just enough to help with that great balance between that and the Czech Saaz.”
Good lager yeast is also important, and Three Fates has that, too. “We usually make the drive up to Chuckanut Brewing in Bellingham and they kindly supply us with a pitch,” Lenfesty says. “They are making the best lager beer in the country right now, and they always have amazing healthy yeast ready to tear it up.”
And then there are the unique tweaks each brewer makes, such as the choice to leave this classically crystal-clear style unfiltered: “We filtered batches initially, but decided we liked it better unfiltered, so that’s how it is now. And we don’t have to run a stupid filter.”
So what happens when you hit all those notes correctly? Magic. Three Fates’ begins in the aroma, where the malt is the first arrival, and it’s all classic pilsner: dry oyster crackers, hints of lightly toasted sourdough bread, and a very soft, buttery sweetness. (That flavor’s allowable in the style—the prototypical pils, Pilsner Urquell, is full of it.) Hops are secondary but no less characterful, contributing bright green aromas that blend mown grass with fresh-ground black pepper and hint of bell peppers. A smooth, soft cracker character leads the flavor, starting off fresh and becoming toastier as the beer warms in the mouth. Hops first deliver black pepper and slightly vegetal bitterness, then open with flavors of grass and herbs—parsley and dried oregano—at the swallow. Crisp bitterness clips the perfectly balanced finish; a slow fade of crackery malts is all that remains.
“It’s my favorite beer to brew, no question,” Lenfesty says. Good thing, because if everyone enjoys this pils as much as we did, he’s going to need to make a lot of it.