Although the India pale ale continues to be the most popular style of craft beer, there are many signs that beer lovers are looking to expand their horizons.
Not everyone embraces the hop-forward qualities of an IPA, complete with telltale citrus and piney aromas and a sometimes bitter bite on the finish.
We recently did a private tasting with two friends to suggest some alternatives. I picked up several of these sours at the recent Hot City Pizza sour-fest. I also included some barrel-aged beers as another option for those looking for IPA alternatives, although it can be hard to come by some of these beers. Hunting them down can be part of the fun.
Joining me on the informal panel were Louie Toro and Chris Ithurburn, two serious craft beer aficionados who have visited scores of breweries throughout the United States. These beers can be tough to taste in one sitting, as the sour flavors tend to attach to the tongue and influence subsequent tastings. Our palate neutralizer of choice: Triscuit crackers.
All of these beers are highly recommended:• Up first is East Bayliner Weisse (4.5 percent alcohol by volume) by Ale Industries of Concord.
All three of us loved this funky sour, which had a buttery mouthfeel, a pale peach color and stone fruit, funk and sour aromas.
LT: This tastes like funky Fruity Pebbles. The front is sour and the back washes right off.
CI: I don’t like the front end, but it finishes nicely.
BAR: It’s an assertive, funky sour with a straightforward drinkability while being forceful and complex.• Ouede Gueuze (6 percent ABV) by Hanssens Artisanal of Belgium.
A gueuze is a style of lambic common in Belgium in which a young lambic is blended with an older lambic, allowing for a second fermentation in the bottle. This particular ale has matured in the bottle for three years.
BAR: Effervescent, mildly sour, finishes dry and clean. Just terrific, with lots of subtleties.
CI: The tartness is there. I’d like this with food.
LT: It’s pretty drinkable. It kind of tickles your tongue.• Grodziskie (4 percent ABV) by the Monarchy (Netherlands)
This unusual Polish beer style is dubbed a “historic ale,” meaning the brewery resurrected a style that was no longer being produced.
LT: It’s smoky with a light body; one of the more unique beers I’ve had.
CI: I hate smoke beers, but I don’t mind this at all.
BAR: The smoke doesn’t overwhelm; body is surprisingly light for a beer with this much flavor.
• Cantillon Kriek (5 percent ABV) by Cantillon of Belgium.
This brewery dates to 1900 makes some of the most coveted lambics going. We were lucky to nab one at Hot City before they promptly sold out. A key to this beer is drinking it at the proper temperature, about 55 degrees Fahrenheit, to let the flavors express themselves.
BAR: A bright, tart cherry flavor with a pleasing sour and dry finish that doesn’t linger.
LT: It tastes like a tart cherry turnover.
CI: I like the cherries. This is a palate cleanser.
• Audition , Barrel-aged Ruthless Rye IPA (8.9 percent ABV), by Sierra Nevada.
BAR: If you think you don’t like IPAs, try this beautiful beer, where the maltiness meets hops that have rounded out with time in the barrel. A pleasant candy caramel aroma.
CI: Sometimes hoppiness can be harsh, but barrel-aging mellows it out.
LT: I like the mellowness and the balance of the caramel notes with the hops.
• Supplication (7.75 percent ABV), a sour brown ale aged in pinot noir barrels, by Russian River.
CI: I like this because it’s smooth all the way through. There’s nothing harsh about it.
LT: It’s a definitive sour; I like the mouth feel. It has a lot of body.
BAR: Big body that drinks velvety smooth with a long finish. Notes of cherries and a distinct funk from the yeast brettanomyces, AKA brett. Smells a little like my sourdough starter.
• Ovila Quad (10.4 percent ABV), by Sierra Nevada, brewed in collaboration with the monks of the Abbey of New Clairvaux.
CI: Luxurious. It attaches to your tongue and then coats it. It has a whiskey note to me.
LT: This is like a truffle in a bottle, just the combination of flavors; maybe a burnt sugar truffle.
BAR: Spicy and fruity, with plenty of apparent alcohol, there are notes of molasses, some smoke and a gentle sweetness. A complex and beautiful beer.
Knee Deep’s Citra wins
Congratulations to Knee Deep Brewing’s brew master/founder Jeremy Warren for claiming first prize with the brewery’s Citra at last Sunday’s Bistro IPA Festival in Hayward, considered the most prestigious IPA competition on the West Coast. Knee Deep outgunned some heavy IPA hitters, including Firestone Walker, Stone and Ballast Point.
The victory brings new acclaim to Citra, which is usually overshadowed by Knee Deep’s bigger and more hop-forward Hoptologist (double IPA) and Simtra (triple IPA).
Not only was Citra picked by the panel of expert judges, it also won the People’s Choice award, the first time a beer has won that double in the event’s 17-year history.
Warren says the victory could mean Citra sales will double in the coming months and he will alter production at Knee Deep’s new 18,000-square-foot facility in Auburn to meet the demand.
For those who find IPAs too bitter, give this one a try. It has a relatively sedate 45 IBUs (international bittering units), which makes it very drinkable while still having that distinctive bright citrus note. Simtra, meanwhile, has a lip-smacking, palate-wrecking 130 IBUs.
Not to be overlooked
Serious foodies may already be familiar with Mother , the new vegetarian restaurant on K Street next to the Crest Theatre. The eatery has already distinguished itself for its cooking style and use of local ingredients.
But this Monday from 5 to 7 p.m., Mother will be transformed into a Mexican taqueria, dubbed Madre Cerveceria , and will host a “night of overlooked fine beers and vegetarian Mexican food,” according to the restaurant. The beer flight will be five 6-ounce pours.
You can only participate if you buy tickets in advance. They’re $30 and can be purchased at Eventbrite.com.