By Salongo Wendland
We’re highlighting a few styles that are up-and-coming in the world of suds. They may be new to you, but they’re gaining in popularity and worth a shot. For each style I’ll recommend a couple of brews widely available (just a caveat—I’m in the Western U.S.; they may not be as easy to find on the East Coast) and one that may take some digging. A bunch of these cross over into other hot categories, but I’ve put them in the ones I think they fit best. Try one of them out tonight – or all of them, I’m not your boss!
Sour ales intentionally introduce wild yeast or bacteria during the brewing process, giving the final product a sharp, tart flavor. They’re an old style; back in the day, brewing practices weren’t as sterile, so wild yeast often came into play– but sours have seen a recent rise in popularity. If you’re a wine drinker, the vinegary flavor and frequent fruit additions in sours can bridge the gap for you. My first sour was the Duchesse De Bourgogne, a Flemish red ale from Belgium, and it was a wild ride from start to finish—not the malty, sweet red ale I was expecting, but a funky, bright, sour experience, capped off with a touch of oak. Sours can take some getting used to, but judging from the increase in American sour production (brewers entered 27 times as many sours into the Great American Beer Festival last year than they did 10 years ago), you should start developing your palate now!
La Folie Sour Brown Ale from New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, CO, for a sharp sour with green apple, cherry, and plum-skin notes.
The Meddler Oud Bruin from O’Dell Brewing Company in Fort Collins, CO, for a mildly sweet date taste with vanilla oak on the finish, and is currently my favorite sour out there.
If you can find it:
Duchesse De Bourgogne from Brouwerij Verhaeghe in Belgium for a true Flanders red, fruity and almost vinegary but with a lingering oaky sweetness.
The demand for bourbon barrels, the vehicle used by most brewers to age stouts and porters, has gotten so high that the supply has dwindled. Perhaps that’s what has led breweries to turn to rum, tequila, pinot noir, and a range of other barrels to give their beer the notes of burnt oak, vanilla, and caramel the oak can provide. Rum barrels or tequila barrels provide tropical or citrus notes, and wine barrels can add charred oak notes that you have to taste to believe. Generally, these beers cellar well, and can develop even better flavors over time. My favorites are still stouts and porters, but you can even find barrel-aged IPAs these days. They’re all worth a try. Just remember, the barrel process is expensive, time-intensive, and not necessarily efficient, so these beauties will come with a premium price tag.
Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout from Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Boonville, CA, is one of the original American barrel-aged beers, and a good standard with chocolate, toffee, and espresso and a thick stout mouthfeel.
Kentucky Breakfast Stout from Founder’s Brewing in Grand Rapids, MI, is chocolatey, with espresso, bourbon vanilla, and roasted malt.
If you can find it:
Bourbon County Stout from Goose Island Beer Company in Chicago, IL, is also one of the original American barreled stouts, but wait lines can stretch around city blocks on release date. Caramel, vanilla, cherry, and oak rounded out the 2015 version’s characteristics.
Sessionable ales are those checking in around 3-5 percent ABV. The idea is that you can drink these all day without getting tipsy. Session ales have been around forever, but recently American brewers have been upping their session game, packing tons of flavor into low-alcohol brews so your softball game or lawn mowing job doesn’t get too sloppy. Full Sail has an entire Session line, featuring only beers under 5 percent. IPAs are still the main event in this category, although sessions branch out into American Pales, Pilsners, and witbiers.
Go-To IPA from Stone Brewing in Escondido, CA, boasts “an abundance of lupulin-borne bitterness” for the hops American seem to crave but only a 4.5 percent ABV, translating to all-day fun.
Clinic ISA (India Session Ale) from Melvin Brewing in Jackson, WY, is well-balanced, with tropical notes and a malt backbone and just a 4.2 percent ABV.
If you can find it:
208 from Grand Teton Brewing in Victor, ID uses all-Idaho ingredients to craft this light and highly drinkable American pale.
My mind is still clouded with the crisp, cool taste of a limited edition cucumber beer I tried from 10 Barrel a couple years ago. Fruit and veg beers are knocking it out of the park, with pumpkin beers dominating fall and shandies and radlers taking over summer. While pumpkin beers depend on a generous addition of pumpkin (and usually a healthy dose of pie spices), shandies and radlers are beer mixed with fruit juice—almost like a beermosa! While radlers are lower in ABV (“radler” means “biker” in German, and refers to the idea that you can bike around while drinking these without any problem), shandies and pumpkin ales are all over the board.
Elysian Brewing makes the best pumpkin ales in America. Hands down. Try their Night Owl, a medium-bodied ale with seven and a half pounds of pumpkin per barrel and ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice. Or the Great Pumpkin, my personal favorite for a sinfully rich pumpkin experience clocking in at 8.1 percent. They’ve also got the Punkaccino, a pumpkin-espresso ale, and Dark O’ the Moon, a pumpkin stout.
Grapefruit Shandy from Leinenkugel’s in Chippewa Falls, WI, a weiss beer with white grapefruit juice, is my absolute favorite shandy—but Leine’s has several shandies, and everyone in my Wisconsin family claims a different one is best.
If you can find it:
Grapefruit Radler from Stiegl in Salzburg, Austria, is one of the earliest radlers. With only 2.5 percent ABV it’s barely a beer, but it is a favorite wherever it’s found.
Don’t be afraid to reach out of your comfort zone with beer (or anything else). Pick a few of these and roll back your horizons for New Beer’s Eve!