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
Alaskan’s Winter Ale is brewed with spruce tips plus a selection of specialty malts and hops. The beer is sweeter than you’d think, think less evergreen and more winter spice mix — cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Very heavy with malt, it’s quite sweet and it leaves behind a lengthy, sugary finish before fading out with the aid of a delicate dusting of hops.
Stylistically, it’s not my favorite, but considering it’s been made for 15 years running, it surely has a fan or two out there.
B- / $8 per six-pack / alaskanbeer.com