Colorado-based New Belgium is out with a winter special called Accumulation, a seasonal, Belgian-style IPA.
This combination of pale malt and wheat offers a a malty, bready attack that fades into a chewiness that loads up some crisp apple notes, chocolate, caramel, and a hint of pineapple. The body is moderate in weight and backed by ample hops character — finishing off with a bit of a lemon kick.
All told, it’s a nice way to give IPA a bit of a kick and a seasonal spin.
B+ / $7 per six-pack / newbelgium.com
I had the good fortune of visiting the Troegs brewery, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, last summer. (You should go, too — the cafe is amazing.) Recently the company sent a couple of new releases to Drinkhacker HQ for us to formally review. Let’s give these a go!
Troegs Perpetual IPA – Initially rather dusty and mushroomy, the hefty bitterness brings this into stylistic focus after a time. The finish remains entrenched in notes of leather and tobacco, with layers of malt and even bitter chocolate and coffee on the finish. A curious spin on the IPA, but what do you expect from a brewery out of Hershey, PA? 7.5% abv. B / $10 per six-pack
Troegs Blizzard of Hops Winter IPA – What sounds like a curious combination — IPA with traditional “winter beer” spices — is in reality something a little more straightforward. Blizzard of Hops is really a fairly straightforward IPA, bringing pine and citrus notes into a core that seems just a touch scented with cloves. Perfectly palatable, winter, summer, or fall. 6.4% abv. B+ / $9 per six-pack
Two new winter brews from the tireless innovators at Starr Hill — in two wildly different styles. Let’s dig in.
Starr Hill Snow Blind Doppelbock – A burly brown monastic-style lager, toasty at first, with lots of caramel and chocolate notes coming up behind. The beer is so dense and bold it’s a little off-putting at first, but with time (and a touch of warmth) it becomes quite charming in a winter wonderland sort of way, showcasing gentle, sweet spices alongside the toasty notes. An excellent beerhall selection; pretzels are a must. 7.7% abv. B+ / $9 per six-pack of 12 oz. bottles
Starr Hill Hopfetti Triple IPA – A 16th anniversary celebration beer, featuring six types of hops (and more of them than any other Starr Hill bottling to date). IPAs don’t come much bigger than this, a syrupy, resinous, and unctuous brew that is loaded with alcohol, pine notes, and ample juicy oxidized citrus. As an IPA lover, even I find this about at the limit of my enjoyment — not because it is overly bitter (at 72 IBUs it’s almost mild in comparison to some out there) but because it is so syrupy on the palate. Is it the texture that’s throwing off maple notes or is that really a side-effect of one of these hops? The finish reminds me of carrot cake — tons of cream cheese frosting included. 10.2% abv. B+ / $10 per 22 oz. bottle
See if you can guess where Bronx Brewery is based. Not sure? Check out their website, then consider these two offerings from the company’s collection of (all canned) beers.
Bronx Brewery Belgian Style Pale Ale – A bit musty and earthy from the get go, with muddy hops and overtones of forest floor. The finish is sharp, with heavy notes of bitter herbs. The beer doesn’t much improve as it aerates, and while I could tell some sweeter, malt-driven notes were trying to break free, they could never quite hit escape velocity. Ultimately it lands with a rather lifeless thud. 6.7% abv. C+
Bronx Brewery Rye Ale – A better balanced brew, with notes of toasty, roasted grains, some cinnamon spice, and a fresh baked bread character. The finish has some of the muddy-earthy elements of the Belgian Pale Ale, but they’re kept in check by a more rounded grain bill and better-integrated bitterness. 6.3% abv. B+
each $11 per six-pack of 12 oz. cans / thebronxbrewery.com
Newcastle, in another collaboration with Caledonian, keeps hacking away at the IPA-brown ale hybrid. This time it’s a Foreign Extra, which means more hops, more alcohol, and more of pretty much everything. As with the prior experiments, this one comes across with that big nutty, malty character up front, lightly smoky at times with an element of mushroom and forest floor. The bitterness on the back end — at 65 IBUs it’s the most bitter Newcastle ever made — isn’t so much a refreshing piney character but rather an indistinct root-driven bitterness that only moderately refreshes. Fair enough on the whole, though. 6.5% abv.
B+ / $8 per six-pack / newcastlebrown.com
BridgePort’s latest is this IPA, which uses Centennial, Crystal, and the exotic Styrian Golding hops to give “CandyPeel” a “candy-orange” character. A dash of actual orange peel is added to the beer as well.
The results aren’t bad, though up front it’s less orange and more woodsy-mushroomy. The finish brings up more of those promised citrus notes, though, and though they are fun to experience they are a bit at odds with what has come before — which is all in all less bracing pine and more muddy waters. Fair enough, but not my favorite.
B / $8 per six-pack / bridgeportbrew.com
Not a lot of mystery in this one: Take apple cider, add some spicy peppers, and serve. Sweet-meets-spicy can often go horribly awry, but Woodchuck manages to keep both sides in check and turns in a capable, if unsurprising cider sipper. The up-front is a bit on the sugary side — more apple Jolly Ranchers than a crisp, fresh apple — but the zippy, lightly spicy conclusion is a good counterpoint to what’s come before. Worth a look.
B / $9 per six-pack / woodchuck.com
You won’t find his name anywhere on the bottle, but Wildcide (and Aurum Cider Co., which makes it) comes to us from Dan Gordon, founder of Gordon Biersch. His first cider, it is pressed from Fuji, Granny Smith, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious varieties.
As ciders go, Wildcide is decidedly not wild and is instead rather restrained. Very dry, it keeps the fruit in check courtesy of lots of carbonation, some quinine notes, and a very slightly salty edge. While I certainly don’t taste four kinds of apples in the mix, it does have fresh and authentic — not candylike — apple character, avoiding the heavy sugars and gingerbread-house’s-kitchen-sink approach that so many modern ciders attempt to take. If I had to pick a variety that comes across the strongest, I’ll go with the Golden Delicious.
B+ / $10 per six-pack / thewildcide.com
I absolutely love pretzels, so how could I say no to Shock Top’s latest, a simulacrum of salted pretzel in beer form. Essentially a flavored Belgian-style wheat beer, Twisted Pretzel Wheat does an amazing job of recreating that favorite of baked treats in boozy form. Wheaty-bready with that familiar pretzelly bent, it offers a touch of salt to balance the not insignificant sweetness that carries through to the finish. Twisted Pretzel Wheat is an utter gimmick (and is out only as a limited edition), but it’s a gimmick that works surprisingly well as a one-off experience.
B+ / $7 per six pack / shocktopbeer.com
You needn’t head all the way down to Mazatlan to get a Mexican beer: 21st Amendment is making a Mexican-style brew right here in San Leandro, California. One sniff of El Sully and you’ll be transported to your favorite beach — or, probably, your local sports bar — wherever it is you tend to sip on Mexibrews.
Rich with lightly sweet malt and slightly vegetal in that way that all Mexican beers are, it sure smells authentic from the get-go. The body is richer and more rounded than your typical Modelo or Corona — it comes across as almost German at times — but otherwise cuts a familiar profile — sweetness, some popcorn, a touch of mushroom, and a long, lightly bitter and mildly hoppy experience. The finish is quite lengthy for this style, but nothing if not refreshing.
A- / $8 per six-pack of 12 oz. cans / 21st-amendment.com