Region: Asheville, NC
Price: 5.2% ABV
Style: Extra Special/Strong Bitter
Smell: bread dough, toasted pine nut, cinnamon, earth
Taste: toast, spicy, yellow pepper, peanut
Overall: ESB! This is the first beer of this style that I’m reviewing ever—I can’t imagine why, though. I mean, what isn’t absolutely irresistible about something that describes itself as an Extra Strong Bitter? If that doesn’t sound just perfectly charming, I don’t know what does…
It starts off with the smell of rising bread dough and a prominent nuttiness, like when I’m toasting pine nuts for pesto or something. A hint of spice emerges with some earthiness from the hops. On the palate, the nuttiness continues like peanuts roasted in their skins, and the flavor of bread turns to toast—delicious, white bread toast. No butter, no jam; just toast. Also the tangy bitterness of the inside of a crisp, sweet, yellow bell pepper jumps right up and catapults off of the finish. I’d say this has got great balance—spicy hops, bready malts, and vegetal-borderline-fruity esters make a lively, albeit savory, trio.
Drink a glass of wine, as Scientific American notes, and you materially alter the number and types of proteins at large in your system. This is a pleasant feature for drinkers, but not nearly so helpful for geneticists for trying to understand what is going on. — Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything
Come meet @rangeralex from @newbegium and register to win the fat tire cruiser. TONIGHT. Also shift, rampant and imp coffee chocolate on tap (at Good Bottle Company)
LAMMSBRÄU ORGANIC PILSNER
Region: Neumarkt, Bavaria, Germany
Price: $9.99/4-pk at Total Wine
Sight: hazy lemon yellow, speckly carbonation
Smell: weed, white grapefruit, straw
Taste: citrus, cantaloupe, sweet rolls, straw, grassy hops
Overall: Organic and Reinheitsgebot-ready, this is a classic, clean, archetypal pilsner that you could confidently offer to anyone that asks “What does a German pilsner taste like?” That suspiciously… “how-do-you-say… herbal?”, slightly skunky aroma that may or may not remind you of a certain type of college apartment (we all had that friend) is there to greet you, as I find with most pilsners (the ever-present reminder that hops are indeed in the cannabis family). It’s accented attractively with white grapefruit in the top notes and doughy bread as the mellow base, with a waft of hay. The carbonation is at the level of about how bubbly club soda feels after it’s been mixed—not super aggressive, but not creamy either. On the palate, the nuance of weed fades completely, replaced by rounder fruits (melon), sweeter bready malts (think of the rolls they serve at O’Charley’s), and a fresh, grassy hop on the finish. Crisp and clean as a pilsner should be, this is definitely one to remember to resurrect once summer rolls around.
LAMMSBRÄU ORGANIC DUNKEL
Region: Neumarkt, Bavaria, Germany
Price: $9.99/4-pk at Total Wine
Style: Dunkel Munich Lager
Smell: cinnamon pinwheel, molasses, blonde roast, wet earth
Taste: cinnamon pinwheel, toasted pine nut
Overall: Also an organic proponent of the Reinheitsgebot, this beer really makes me feel like I’m drinking one of these:
Aroma-wise, it smells like a bakery—cinnamon pastries and gingerbread accented with Starbucks’ blonde roast. There is a base note of damp earth—here “earth” is no euphemism for something stinky and manure-like; I really mean “earth” as in how potting soil smells, or the forest floor after a rain. On the palate, that gooey, nutty cinnamon pinwheel definitely dominates. Cinnamon, dough, and a pronouncedly toasty nuttiness cover the bases on this medium-bodied dunkel. This is smooth, somewhat mellow, and something different-but-not-too-crazy that you could easily get your Yuengling, Fat Tire, or Samuel Adams people to branch out into. It would also make a great dinner beer for any grilled or roasted proteins you may be serving (especially pork or beef).
Region: Belgium & Colorado
Price: $10.99/22-oz at Total Wine
Style: Fruit beer
Sight: clear ruby, cotton candy pink circlet
Smell: fresh-picked cherry, Pinot Noir, purple or red Flintstones vitamins
Taste: dark Hudson cherries, dry rosé, spice cake
Overall: My very simple understanding of this undertaking in the Lips of Faith series is that a cherry lambic from Old Belgium blended with a non-cherry ale at New Belgium. Right from the pour this beer is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a glass full of my birthstone—ruby—with a wide column of fine, miniscule bubbles floating silently but expediently from the depths to the surface. As a whole, it looks so clean, clear, and unflawed that it’s as if someone found a perfectly smooth, solid, oval ruby, and happened to have a piece of glassware that fit it like a glove. Stunning—I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever looked upon a prettier beer. I’m sure, however, you’re also interested in its personality, so I’ll move on to the aromas…
Something about this smells just like a Pinot Noir—bright acid and tart red fruit. The cherry note is very fresh, barely ripe, right off the tree. Funny enough, there is also a snap of something that recalls the Flintstones vitamins I’d crunch on my way to elementary school—specifically the red and purple ones.
There is no candy and nothing artificial on the palate whatsoever. If you’re used to your cherry lambics being sweet, look again—New Belgium has fine-tuned a tastefully dry blend here. It tastes like a cherry fruit chew; not the fake plasticky kinds like Life Savers or Gummy Bears, but rather the responsible-school-lunch varieties you never fully appreciated for their nutritional value—the ones made from 100% real fruit juice and little else. The cherry flavor is very real and unadulterated; it doesn’t taste too far off from the dark cherries we keep on the table at home.
There’s a protean maturity at play here that I really admire; somewhere this beer crosses a line and acheives wine-like complexities and flavors. I’ll go ahead call it “vinous”—but not in a heavy Port or busty Cabernet kind of way. It drinks like the dry rosés of Provence: light- to medium-bodied, fresh red fruit flavors, zero residual sugar, especially satisfying during spring and summer months. It’s satisfyingly circular that this beer has traveled all the way across the Atlantic to America, only to bring me right back across the Atlantic to the South of France.
I don’t think I can recommend this highly enough.
Pair this with a bagel & cream cheese to achieve maximum deliciousness.
Region: Kansas City, Missouri
Price: $9.99/4-pk at Total Wine
Sight: cloudy marigold, sudsy crown
Smell: white grapefruit, orange rind, ginger, coriander, nutmeg
Taste: citrus, yellow cake, herbal, ginger, cinnamon
Overall: Even with a slow pour, Tank 7 is super-easily agitated and very quickly stacks up a very loose, soapy foam. Huge carbonation happening right off the bat. The smell of a saison takes me straight back to summer—I was drinking saisons ALL the time. As cold as it is outside, I wish it were summer, so already this beer is very dear to me. On the sip, this is probably the least-herbal saison I’ve ever had—the flavor of yellow cake introduces borderline sweetness right at the center of the palate. There’s a little bit of an aromatic herbal quality that chimes in like thyme or basil, but it mostly veers towards spice-cake spices: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg. Grapefruit and orange citrus notes keep this light and airy . Surprisingly, the carbonation doesn’t scratch and claw its way across the tongue, but rather softens and rounds out quite pleasantly with little more than a reassuring tingle.
Region: Rueda, Spain
Price: $13.99 at Total Wine
Sight: pale daffodil yellow
Smell: lemon drop, pineapple, piña colada, flowers
Taste: pineapple, wet rock, green and white Smarties, flowers, mango, medium-bodied
Overall: What a success. Out of 8,000 different wines in the store where I work, this is consistently one of my top go-to recommendations for a winning bottle of white wine. Verdejo is a grape out of Spain—a lesser-known, cheerful, spring-and-summer white; one that could play the adorable little sister to the opulent, languid whites of the French Rhône. Citrusy and tropical, but not so zesty as a Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo tends to be a little fuller, slightly rounded, with only a hum of minerality.
Arindo smells like a vase of summer florals, candied lemon, and piña colada. On the palate, a wave of pineapple rolls through, steeped with daisies and lime candy. Stony minerality adds some shading and lends to a clean finish, which is basically a sun-kissed meadow of wildflowers, a hint of tart candy, and a touch of mango. The most incredible thing about this wine in its entirety is the balance. There are no sharp edges or jarring soprano notes; in fact, I would describe this wine as an alto. It sits in the same warm range as a cello. Not too deep or heavy, but still somewhat low.
As an added bonus, the rich, deep-set tropical fruits combined with the just-enough acidity of a mere suggestion of citrus actually make this wine a great partner to some surprising foods. Foods like bacon burgers, pizza, or pastas in red sauce that you might associate with red wine may actually be a spectacular companion for your Verdejo. Again I say, do not underestimate the white wine. Try it for yourself!
Region: New Zealand
Price: $18.99/4-pk at Total Wine
Style: Fruit Beer
Sight: slightly cloudy yellow-amber, steady carbonation
Smell: cherry Tums, grape juice, yeast, sunscreen
Taste: witbier, Capri Sun, cherry Tums, slightly bitter
Overall: Brewed with Nelson hops and cherry juice, this oddball little “breakfast” beer is just the style you’d want if you’re starting early. It pours with a fluffy white crown, presents understated fruit aromas, and carries itself with a light, almost creamy softness. It tastes mostly like a gourmet witbier, decorated very modestly with faint candied cherry flavors. Texturally, the yeast lends a little chalkiness, which combined with the cherry flavor, reminds me a cherry-flavored antacid. On the finish, the beachy aroma of sunscreen wafts through, which is puzzling but not undesirable. It’s an easy beer, and it especially steps up to the plate when actually paired with toast & eggs. It turns unbelievably fresh, and at only 5.5%, Moa Breakfast is careful not to ruin your day.
Region: Escondido, California
Price: $7.49 at Total Wine
Style: Imperial IPA
Sight: furious carbonation, orange amber
Smell: hay, weed, pine
Taste: resinous, biscuit, basil, pine, tangerine
Overall: Sweet baby Jesus. A giant wet haybale, bundled pine needles, and a thick haze of weed smoke shrieks out of the glass like some kind of hysterical disaster signal. (“M’aidez. M’aidez. We have been bodily crushed by a crap ton of hops.”) It’s very intimidating, and at first whiff I’m nearly stunned, and I have to take a second to get it together because now I have to go in…
I have to say, once it’s on the palate, it’s not as spiky as it smells. A squelched, buttered dinner biscuit is the only hint of malt as far as the eye can see; from there on out, it’s all hops. Super-mega-fresh hops. It hits all the big hop notes with a very heavy, very certain fist. Evergreen. Herbals. Citrus. West Coast IPAs are not normally my style, but if I get to drink one, I’m glad it’s this one. It’s a titan, and it has a good, expressive arc. Garden basil strikes first, then a grove of pine trees, and then a surprisingly fleshy and supple tangerine finish. I’m not even going to broach the subject of balance since this is clearly not the point, but I do want to say that I think this is a game-changer, and I’m really happy for all of you who got to try this, which I think is clawing its way to the top to be the emperor of the Imperial IPA category.
(I also want to mention that this is the best label design I’ve ever seen from Stone. A masterpiece in itself. Props.)
LET-DOWN OF THE MONTH: STIEGL SALZBURGER LAGER.
Tastes like stale Fig Newtons.