Whenever I (or anyone else) makes beer recommendations, I always add a few caveats.
We don’t all have the same taste buds. In fact, there are several kinds of palates out there, each of which tends to gravitate to certain flavors. If your spouse loves the spicy heat of cilantro and you think it tastes like soap, you’re both right. Blame your palates and your DNA for the discrepancy. Furthermore, people who like sweet things often find bitterness tough to swallow.
We don’t all have the same histories. Sure, many of us took a sip of our dad’s beer as kids and hated it. And sure, many of us came to craft beer via some kind of experience with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, whether it seemed like a godsend from the get-go or an overwhelming hop bomb that threw you for a loop. But our personal likes and dislikes have much to do with where we lived, who we hung out with, what our expectations were and, more than anything, how open we remain to new things.
Context is also important when you’re about to enjoy a beer. Did your neighbor just ask if you’ve been working out? Did the commute home get under your skin? Your mood matters. Are you stressed? Are you in a hurry? Did you just set a new PR on your 12-mile training loop? Or are you feeling bloated and rotund after gobbling up way too much pizza?
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So, now that I’ve tried to persuade you to all but disregard everything I’m about to recommend, here are some truly outstanding beers I have enjoyed recently. The first three beers, it’s worth noting, are all on tap at the moment at Nido, the new casual cafe from the owners of Magpie that replaced Magpie when it moved to 16th and P streets. Nido’s draft pints are $5, including tax.
Gold Country Pilsner (5 percent alcohol by volume), Auburn Alehouse
This is an outstanding American-style pilsner. As a quaffable lager, it is crisp and smooth on the palate. But if you want to slow down and appreciate a touch of elegance, this pilsner has that, too. While there’s an overall hoppy character, it is subtle and does not bust out of the category with an abundance of citrus and bitterness. Auburn Alehouse has emerged as one of the region’s premier craft breweries, and this beer is a good example of why.
Panic IPA (7% ABV), Track 7
It’s hard to fathom now, but when Track 7 opened nearly four years ago, it didn’t have an IPA in its lineup. While we can’t begrudge brewers for doing their own thing, we’re happy this fast-growing brewery heeded customer requests and broke out with Panic, which just might be Sacramento’s quintessential IPA of the moment. The aromas are my favorite part of this terrific beer. Are we supposed to drink it, or inhale it? If you’re new in town or new to craft beer, this is a sterling example of a West Coast IPA. And it’s available in cans, which makes it even cooler.
Milk Stout (5.5% ABV), Bike Dog
This is another signature beer for the Sacramento area, or more specifically, West Sacramento. Touted by the tastemakers at Corti Brothers, who were clamoring for this beer even before Bike Dog started bottling, this stout paints an appealing picture in the glass with its dark body and thick head. Lots of roasted coffee and cocoa on the nose with a sophisticated blend of toasty flavor notes.
Alkali Wit (5.25% ABV), Track 7
Remember when I mentioned context? I had just finished a long bike ride and I was beyond parched. At home, I was craving a beer that was light-bodied but with some complexity and elegance. This Belgian-style witbier was perfection. Very easy going down, with lingering notes of citrus, spice and a touch of Belgian funk from the yeast.
Markley Cove Pale (6.5% ABV), Berryessa Brewing
During a recent visit to the brewery in Winters, I bought this pale ale in a 32-ounce “crowler” can to take home. I did so because three days earlier I had it at University Beer (Sacramento location) and was blown away by how fresh and delicious it was. The Sacramento region is producing some incredible pale ales right now, including Mosaic by Bike Dog, the Nosegrind at Device, and the tried and true Monkey Knife Fight at venerable Rubicon. Berryessa’s take on pale ale is exceptional.
08.08.08 Vertical Epic Ale (8.9% ABV), Stone Brewing
Originally brewed in 2008 as part of Stone’s Vertical Epic Ales series, this beer returns as the first in a series of beers commemorating the San Diego brewery’s 20th anniversary. After tasting this strong Belgian-style IPA, you’ll know why Stone continues to thrive. West Coast meets Belgium in a beer that is inviting and complex in flavor.