It’s Memorial Day weekend, with the summer swelter just around the corner. Maybe you’re looking for a new beer or two to try. So let’s take a look at the ones I’ve most enjoyed so far in 2015.
Many of them are available at local bars and restaurants, though when and where can be a moving target. Some you can find at bottle shops and quality grocers. A few are hard to come by but are so good you might want to put them on your wish list.
The following list is strictly personal preference, with a mix of local, regional and national breweries. As you’ll see, I’m not really into high-alcohol beers. And I’m not alone. The trend in craft beer is to make more good low-alcohol brews, a.k.a. session beers. When I see beers listed above 8 percent ABV (alcohol by volume), I usually avoid them unless I’m at home, have a designated driver or the bar supplies cots for the inevitable nap I’ll need post-pint.
Mosaic pale ale (5.4 percent ABV), Bike Dog Brewing: The aroma of this beer is just terrific. That’s the Mosaic hops doing what they do best. This is a well-made pale ale that distinguishes itself in a competitive category where there are many excellent options (as you will soon see). Despite the big nose, the drinking is very smooth with a pleasing, low-key bitterness.
Pale Ale (5.5 percent), Saint Archer Brewing: Available in cans and bottles, this is one of the great post-Sierra Nevada pale ales going. It’s got plenty of hop character, but the dry, crisp quality makes it very drinkable/sessionable. This is a beer that’s food-friendly but also stands on its own because of its complexity.
The Eagle’s Nest barrel-aged double IPA (8.7 percent ABV), Mad Fritz Brewing: Here’s a beer on the high side when it comes to alcohol, but it is so flavorful and balanced that it doesn’t run hot, in part because of its time in the chardonnay barrel. This beer is not dry hopped, so it won’t bite back with bitterness as you drink it.
Breaking Bud IPA (6.5 percent ABV), Knee Deep Brewing: This is Knee Deep’s latest bottle release. The “Breaking Bad”-esque label is fun (I assume the brewery has a good lawyer who vetted it) and the beer is fantastic. It breaks out of the cookie-cutter West Coast IPA style and has its own personality, with a wonderful Mosaic aroma and a cascading flavor effect on the palate, from bright tropical fruit to a dank piney note.
Mono dry-hopped Pilsner (5.2 percent ABV), Stillwater Artisanal Ales: Germany has long been known as the Pilsner capital of the world ... until the U.S. started taking this style to the next level. If I were looking for a food-friendly beer that works with everything from fried chicken to fiery Thai food, this would be it. It smells great, drinks beautifully and has plenty of personality thanks to its out-front hop character.
Saison Je’ Peach (6.8 percent ABV), Mraz Brewing Co.: This is an incredible beer and it’s available in bottles at your favorite beer shops and grocers. With funky “Brett” notes on the nose and front end of the palate, it features a crisp and tart peachy quality on the finish, all held together with lingering spice notes. This beer is aged in wine barrels for six months.
Broadway 51 double IPA collaboration (9.3 percent ABV), New Helvetia Brewing and Oak Park Brewing: Here are two craft breweries on Broadway that came together to make a terrific DIPA – big, bold and balanced, with lots of hoppy aroma, flavor and bitterness up front finessed with an assertive application of malt. I tasted this in March, and I hope this superb collaboration makes an encore.
Panic IPA (7 percent ABV), Track Seven Brewing: This is becoming a very Sacramento beer, a signature IPA that smacks your palate with a blend of five hops, including Amarillo and Simcoe, that provide citrus and dank aroma qualities with a pleasingly smooth body. For a beer with such West Coast boldness, I find it very drinkable, and it pairs nicely with food, especially dishes that coat the mouth with fat, such as pizza or guacamole.
Integral IPA (7 percent ABV), Device Brewing: No gimmicks here. This is a West Coast-style IPA that comes right at you with big hops. Sure, it will smack you around a little because the hops are so fresh and bold, but this is a high-quality brew with excellent balance, so there is a smoothness that makes it pleasing to drink.
Common Sense (4.5 percent ABV), Berryessa Brewing: This may be the best session beer around. In a style called California Common, this subtle beer has wondering floral aromas and is a light beer that doesn’t get there by watering down the flavor. On a hot day when I want to quench my thirst and taste a well-made brew, this is my choice.