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Your Beermonger: Early Spring Releases

By Nick Anderson - ARLNow.com

Friday - 2/28/2014, 2:30pm  ET

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Well everyone, we’re getting surprise snowstorms followed by not-so surprise snowstorms and polar vortices — let the spring beer releases commence! I’m not one prone to griping about “seasonal creep,” but even I can’t help but chuckle about some of the stuff that’s coming out right now. It’s ok, though: I’m always happy to see more great options when it comes to craft beer, and this week brings a couple that I’m particularly interested in.

Abita is a brewery I’ve always had a soft spot for but after nearly 30 years, it seems it’s at an impasse. Adding an IPA to its year-round lineup seemed like a smart move, and Jockamo is a great beer — especially at its price, but still I’ve noticed an ebb of interest in Abita’s core beers. The recent addition of Andygator 6-packs to the year-round line was an especially nice touch, as I love that beer.

All the while, Abita’s seasonal and Harvest beers have become more popular, which it’s starting to take advantage of with new recipes. This week we’re seeing the return of Abita Spring IPA, which debuted last year. Spring IPA is focused on combining the resinous, citrusy flavors of the Amarillo and Centennial hops used with the unique touch Abita has with malt. At once light and unobtrusive while also adding just the slightest touch of sweetness, Spring IPA is Abita at its best and will serve well to hold me over until Strawberry Harvest Lager comes out.

The other spring beer coming back this week that I’m excited for is Victory’s Swing Session Saison. Another beer returning after a 2013 debut, Swing is in my opinion one of the smartest recipes to be found among craft beer’s seasonal releases.

Clocking in a 4.5 percent ABV, Swing not only uses a subtly spicy yeast strain, but gets a refreshing hit of orange peel and fresh lemon zest. The finishing touch on Swing is black peppercorn, which shows itself not as a heat element but serves to clip its finish, luring you back in for more. Swing is an absolute gem of a beer; one to enjoy as long as it’s on the market.

Is it a little early to be seeing spring beers? Yeah, it really is — but I’m not going to get worked up. More good IPAs are always welcome, and I’d buy Swing year-round were it available. As always, we come back around to beer rule No. 1: drink what you want. Now, the renowned weekly feature…

What I’ve Been Drinking This Week

Evil Twin Imperial Doughnut Break: I’ll offer up a censored version of my quickie review from Twitter: People love to hate Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø. They call him a hipster, say his beers are too expensive, too hard to find, and just too weird. But find me another brewer who can dump a bunch of glazed doughnuts into a massive Imperial Porter and have it come out as legitimately great as Imperial Doughnut Break is. The beer is rich, roasty, and yes — as it warms a bit the doughnut flavor really does come out but somehow is without the cloying sweetness you’d expect from a beer with sprinkle-covered doughnuts adorning its label. I need more.

Spring House Li’l Gruesome Peanut Butter & Jelly Stout: No. No…hmm,…yes? No. Wait, yes? Yes. That’s about how it went. Maybe I was just in a good mood, but it won me over. The only way I could justify it was that the fruit cuts though what would otherwise be a overly-saturated peanut butter beer. Really, I think the fat kid in me just got a kick out of it.

North Coast Class Of ’88 and Grand Cru: We got to have a tasting of North Coast’s big beers this past weekend at Arrowine, and these were two of them. Class Of ’88 is a collaboration with Deschutes and Rogue (also founded in 1988), and is a riff on the Barleywine recipe found in Fred Eckhardt’s The Essentials of Beer Style, which itself was published in 1988 and was influential for a generation of brewers. Class Of ’88 feels like a traditional Barleywine with a bit of a hoppy kick, and beautiful sweet caramel malty flavors.

Grand Cru is a beer I feel like enthusiasts are just discovering; fermented with North Coast’s Belgian yeast (used in its La Merle Saison), Grand Cru is made with 100 percent Pilsner malts and agave nectar, and is aged in bourbon barrels because reasons. Grand Cru is unique even among high-gravity American craft beers: it has a touch of boozy heat from the barrel-aging, fruitiness from the agave, and a smooth feel thanks to the richness of its Belgian yeast and easy-going nature of the malt. Drink now, cellar, it’s all good — Grand Cru is excellent.

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