One of the many perks of writing a beer column is that I get to pretend I'm working as I enjoy delicious, exciting, and sometimes unusual beers. Recently, I've managed to get my hands on a number of new ones, including variations on a few favorites, as well as a tasty brew not yet available in Florida. Each of these beers was a first for me, and they truly covered a wide range of styles.
Kicking things off is the Cascade Kriek Ale from Oregon, billed as an "NW-style sour red ale." It's available at Mazzaro's Italian Market in St. Pete, which I was surprised to learn has a great craft beer selection. This was the 2010 bottling, and its label described a long aging process, including six months in oak barrels and eight months' fermentation with Bing and sour pie cherries. As with many domestic versions of "wild" ale styles, this one was extremely sour, but it was also highly drinkable, with enough of the natural cherry flavor cutting through the tartness. Overall, a very nice and fairly complex beer.
Speaking of wild beers, I noticed a new seasonal from Lagunitas at Rally's on Fourth Street in St. Pete called A Little Sumpin' Wild, a variation on A Little Sumpin' Sumpin', Lagunitas' fantastic American-style wheat beer. The term wild beer generally refers to the intentional contamination of a beer by airborne yeast strains, which introduce new and unusual flavors to the batch, usually in the form of sour and fruity flavors. This beer had little of the former but was heavy on the latter with a strong grapefruit taste and an incredible floral aroma. The "wild" in this case comes from the use of yeast harvested from another beer — the Belgian Westmalle Trappist Ale. While Lagunitas is known mostly for its IPAs and other heavily-hopped beers, this is the one I'll be keeping an eye out for.
Another Rally pick was Widmer's Nelson Imperial IPA, formerly known as Deadlift IPA, which I got a chance to try several months ago at the Dunedin House of Beer. Widmer really pushes the use of a particular hop in this one — the Nelson Sauvin hop from New Zealand. As with many hop varieties gaining in popularity lately, the Nelson Sauvin has a great citrusy character, which is handled very well in this beer. The hops don't dominate the flavor, which is incredibly rich and full-flavored, with quite a bit of the sweet maltiness that you would expect to find in a double IPA.
But you know, I miss the days when hoppy beers were first on the rise, with many breweries working hard to find new ways to assault your taste buds with increasingly high levels of hoppiness. I was reminded of these days by another double IPA — Death By Hops, from Asheville, N.C.'s Olde Hickory Brewery. I'm already a sucker for anything Asheville, but I kept an open mind for this one, which is brewed with five different West Coast hops before being dry hopped not once, but twice! The result is a wonderfully dry beer that hits you hard with its primary flavors — hops, hops, and more hops. This reminded me why I fell in love with IPAs in the first place: a simple but bold style for when you want some bite with your beer. The bad news: it's not yet available in Florida.
Death By Hops was given to me during a recent trip to the headquarters of Pepin Distributing in Tampa, a company traditionally known for being the distributor of Anheuser-Busch products in the Tampa area. Since the InBev buyout of A-B, Pepin has been able to focus heavily on quality craft beers, even going so far as to create a craft beer team, run by legitimate beer nerds.
I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking beer with J. Paul Pepin and his team while we sampled various beers distributed by Pepin, including selections from Victory, Southern Tier and Corona. Wait, Corona? That's right — I sampled a beer that I've been seeing around for a while now, Corona Familiar. This beer comes in a retro-looking large bottle with a low-contrast tan print. Corona is not exactly first choice for many beer connoisseurs, but I was surprised to find this highly drinkable, with none of the skunkiness that Corona Extra is known for. The trick here is nothing more than the use of a brown bottle, so UV light can't reach the beer inside. Try this side by side with Corona Extra — you'll be shocked to learn that they're actually the exact same beer; they're just bottled differently.
There are a few other fine brews that I've had the pleasure of sampling lately but, as usual, I've run out of space. I'm sure we could talk beer all day, but I'll have to save the others for later. Next up is a shootout between this year's pumpkin beers, which are quickly becoming plentiful at the local bars and beer shops, so stock up and you can drink along as you read the column (read slowly)!