Lower-alcohol session IPAs are all the rage right now, but Magic Hat’s rendition, called Low Key, is a noble misfire. Decidedly watery on the attack, the beer is simply lacking across the board in flavor, character, and heft. Slight notes of pine, orange peel, and mushroom make an appearance, but they fade away quickly. What’s left behind is a rather raw essence of hops, which comes across as heavily earthy and slightly dirty, rather than crisp and cleansing.
Better session IPAs (and regular IPAs from Magic Hat) are easy to find.
B- / $10 per six-pack / magichat.net
This special edition version of Stone’s Old Guardian Barley Wine — part of its “classic” release collection — dry-hops this already intense barleywine with Pekko hops, a new variety out of Washington. (Warrior, Cascade, and Chinook are also represented.)
The results are punchy, juicy, almost chewy — intense raisin and Port-like notes kick things off and don’t let go for what seems like days. Molasses, toffee, dark chocolate, and an enveloping bitterness all push the palate around without regard for balance or elegance. The finish is almost sickly sweet at times, that Port note dominating the bitter elements.
Stone calls this a “beast of a beer,” and I’m inclined to agree. It’s a boozy blowout — a special occasion beer that merits a look on an unseasonably cool evening.
B+ / $8 per 22 oz. bottle / stonebrewing.com
Alaskan’s latest IPA in a seemingly endless procession of IPAs is Hop Turn (cute skiing-inspired name there), which is designed to be a “German-style IPA” — a style of beer that doesn’t readily exist.
It’s made with Pilsner, Vienna, and Munich malts, Magnum and Sterling hops, and is dry-hopped with Sterling — “radical” choices, none of which you’ll find in the typical IPA. It’s a funny mix of styles, starting with an undercurrent of sweetness that flows through the entire experience, backed up by a slug of earthy hops. It isn’t particularly piney, but the forest floor and mushroom notes are surprisingly natural companions with the malt.
All told it’s surprisingly enjoyable, but best (like any German beer) when consumed very cold. As it warms up, the body becomes a bit mushy and muddy.
A- / $10 per six-pack / alaskanbeer.com
San Francisco’s Speakeasy launched its limited-edition, barrel-aged Syndicate beer series in 2013. Today it’s an annually released series, “united by barrels and graceful age,” with Syndicate No. 03 now hitting the shelves and kegs.
Here’s what’s inside:
Syndicate No. 03 is a blend of seven different strong beers matured between 13-37 months in bourbon barrels. Every barrel in Speakeasy’s collection was sampled and carefully considered to create the final blend. Together they form an elegant, delicious, and complex brew, that won’t be repeated.
Scarface Imperial Stout, aged 13 months (46%)
Imperial Black Hand, aged 37 months (18%)
Experimental Stout II, aged 20 months (12%)
Experimental Stout III, aged 19 months (11%)
Imperial Payback Porter, aged 19 months (10%)
Scarface Imperial Stout with Philz Coffee, aged 13 months (2%)
Joe’s Ale of Strength, aged 18 months (1%)
Fans of barrel-aged beers will absolutely love what Speakeasy has done here. The nose is loaded with coffee and toffee notes, both lightly sweet and bitter in near-perfect balance. Loaded up with dark brown sugar, raisins, and a touch of fresh cigar notes, it’s a sultry after-dinner sipper that is amazingly compelling without being overwhelming — watch for a hint of mint on the very end, even.
Barrel aged beers aren’t for everyone, but Speakeasy Syndicate No. 03 is one that I can heartily recommend to nearly anyone.
A / $17 per 22 oz. bottle / goodbeer.com
Deschutes’ Hop Henge continues its run of being “just OK,” with this year’s special edition — well, late 2015’s special edition — of its “experimental IPA” incorporating Mandarin Bavaria and Centennial hops (among others). Bitterness is ratcheted quite a bit down from last year to just 66 IBUs, the overall impact of all this being, well, not all that much.
There’s a citrus note here that west coast IPA fans will find familiar, but a burlier character forest floor character quickly takes hold. Notes of mushroom and licorice persevere, then a familiar piney character becomes evident. Here, though, it has more of a solvent note than I’d like. The finish is clean but, unfortunately, just a bit watery.
As always, this is a fun beer to try, but it just doesn’t add much to the IPAverse.
B / $6 per 22 oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com
A 50:50 blend of Warsteiner Pilsener and “grapefruit flavored drink” is what makes up this special edition concoction — marketed, oddly, as a special edition for winter drinking.
The results are largely as expected: lightly sweetened but largely sour citrus notes come in up front, followed by malty, somewhat musty, German beer character. Both manage to endure on the finish, giving the brew a strange schizophrenia, albeit one that isn’t wholly unpleasant. Sweet, sour, earthy… it’s got everything. For better or worse.
Update: Now arriving on shelves in April 2016.
C / $9 per six-pack / warsteiner.us
“The Unofficial Beer of Montana” is actually made in Wisconsin, but I doubt anyone’s checking the fine print in the Great White North.
What we have here is a lager as pale as the folks for whom it’s made, sold in 16 oz. cans emblazoned with a white horse and pastel mountains. Inside the can is nothing particularly noteworthy, though on a hot day or after sufficient exertion it will offer sufficient refreshment to pull you through til dinnertime. Both lightly sweet and malty, it’s a breakfast cereal in beer form, just chewy enough to come across as a touch heavier than a light beer.
The finish is fairly clean but unmemorable, though a beer like this clearly doesn’t have designs on overthrowing your favorite IPA or stout in your refrigerator. It’s picnic and party beer, built for summers by the pool or lake or what-have-you, the kind of places where beer in 16 oz. cans work really well.
B- / $8 per six-pack of 16 oz. cans / montuckycoldsnacks.com