From the Beer Writer: Beers that find their way into barrels for extended aging are typically of the higher-alcohol variety. That additional fortitude helps the base beverage endure the test that is time spent picking up the oaken and vinous or spiritual character of those oaken receptacles. But with some care and conscientiousness (proper temperature-control, monitoring and frequent quality control), lower-alcohol beers can provide a barrel-aged tasting experience unlike those provided by the boozier norm. Take for instance a new release from Benchmark Brewing Company, their flagship Belgian-style singel—which comes in at a whopping 4% alcohol-by-volume (ABV)—aged in used wine barrels for more than half a year. The fact the beer (a standout in its unaged form) is so light in body and ABV allows Benchmark Table Beer On Oak to explode on the nose and palate with an almost completely unimpeded essence of American oak. Taking a whiff matches the olfactory experience of walking through a winery’s barrel room. Vanilla, violet, earth and funk intertwine into a telltale bouquet. It’s more of the same on the palate plus spiciness from the beer’s Belgian yeast profile, a bit of tropical fruit and yuzu, followed by a lasting barrel mustiness in the finish. Benchmark’s brew crew took a significant chance with this aging project, but it pays off with every complex sip.
From the Brewery: “Barrel-aged beer is something we’ve been dabbling in for a while. This is a fun side note to Benchmark’s central mission of brewing beer we want to take home and drink every day. Starting with a small Belgian-style beer is likely unexpected for many folks, but we love this beer and believe it deserves to be celebrated. Our first offering of Table Beer on Oak is a more traditional take on this beer. It was aged for seven months in a Justin Winery red-wine barrel, then (my wife and co-owner) Rachael and I blended it back to find a tasty balance between the beer and the wood. The oak brings out the spicy, earthy notes that are already in Table Beer, and is balanced by the hint of acid and the citrus-like character of the base beer. Bottle-conditioning offers a much more traditional carbonation level for the style, a softer mouthfeel and allows the natural biscuity notes to shine. It’s a small beer and we have taken care of the aging for you, so go ahead and crack the bottle open soon and enjoy. We plan to continue to dabble with a handful of barrels, and we will release the next batch when the beer lets us know the time has come.”—Matt Akin, Owner & Brewmaster, Benchmark Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: Last month, I ventured to Sorrento Valley for a Monday-night session at New English Brewing Company, where my eyes gravitated to a beer on the board called “Hop Slap’d”. In a matter of seconds, I was lifting a full pint, but before I could take a sip, I was shocked into a neutral state by the outrageously vibrant hop aroma wafting up from the glass. Freshly zested oranges, mowed grass and a hint of lemon registered with force. When I eventually took a taste, all of those components were there along with a touch of casaba melon. As potent as it was, I figured it must be a newly tapped beer, but it had already been on-tap for a month. Just as I began wishing I’d have visited the brewery 30 days earlier, the barkeep mentioned the beer was part of a series of pale ales with rotating hop bills, the next of which, New English Hop Slap’d #5, was about to make its debut. I immediately made plans to come back to try that beer, which derives its hoppy appeal from Citra hops, coming on strong with scents and flavors of myriad citrus and tropical fruits, minus the grassy, melon-like nuances imparted by the Mosaic that gave Hop Slap’d #4 its unique characteristics. I’ll definitely be back for future editions of this pale. Consider me hop slap’d!
From the Brewer: “Hop Slap’d pale ale is designed to educate drinkers about the differences between hop varietals and also about the difference between ‘hoppiness’ and ‘bitterness’. Brewed using the same base recipe for each batch, we end up with an American pale ale weighing in at 5.5% alcohol-by-volume and 40 IBUs (international bittering units). Very crushable! The key to these rotating-hop-series beers are the late kettle-hop additions and, more specifically, the dry-hop additions. Each successive batch of Hop Slap’d features different hops, so if you try #4 alongside #5, for instance…as you can right now at the New English tasting room…you can eliminate the base beer as a variable. Any difference in taste or aroma is down to the hops alone! Batch #4 used all Mosaic for late and dry additions, while #5 used all Citra. The difference is amazing, and since the beer isn’t overwhelmingly bitter like some IPAs tend to be, the character of the hops themselves shines through. In order to accentuate the difference and literally slap you in the olfactory organs with flavor and arom,a we load up the dry hops at almost two-and-a-quarter-pounds per-barrel. That’s the same as our double IPA! Hop Slap’d #5 features big tangerine and ripe citrus aroma plus a light scent of pineapple. The taste is like fresh-squeezed OJ on the palate with a mild bitterness and light malt character. This is a thirst-quencher and perfect for the hot, dry weather we’ve been having.”—Simon Lacey, Owner & Brewmaster, New English Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: First the world wanted more hops in their India pale ales, then they wanted more alcohol in their IPAs. The brewing world happily obliged. Then the world wanted less bitterness followed by a yearning for less alcohol in their IPAs. The brewing world let out a semi-frustrated sigh, then found the pleasure in obliging. Through all of this, drinkers and brewers alike came to an unspoken understanding that seven percent alcohol-by-volume was the sweet spot for single IPAs. But at some point in the past year, imbibers, manufacturers or some combination of the two (I would venture cost-analyzing logistics professionals taking notice of current IPA fans’ crowing about “crushable” beers) decided the best ABV for an IPA is 6%. And so it has come to pass. There are a number of new IPAs hitting the market and many of them are at or hovering around this new alcohol-content standard. Of them all, the best I’ve encountered thus far comes from the hop veterans at San Marcos’ Port Brewing Company, who recently released Port Nelson the Greeter. This sixer comes in a sixer and features one of the most popular hops of present day, Nelson Sauvin. Those pelletized greens give off myriad aromas and flavors, from tropical, citrus and stone fruit to vinous taste sensations reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc grapes. All of that comes on the front end of this beer, but for me, the real beauty of Nelson the Greeter is its crisp finish and the way a clean bitterness resets one’s palate after each gulp. Translation: It is, indeed, crushable, bro.
From the Brewer: “Paying homage to a rather (in)famous surf spot/clothing optional beach in San Diego, Nelson the Greeter is the newest hoppy offering from Port Brewing. Using the brash flavors of Nelson hops to lead the charge, the Greeter has a strong hop supporting cast using Denali, Lemon Drop and Mosaic varietals to round out this pale ale. Notes of gooseberry and passionfruit dominate the nose with a clean tangerine and freshly cut stone fruit notes leading to a smooth, bitter, citrus finish. The pale ale will be quite the experience…kind of like a naked Nelson greeting you at the trail head.”—Tomme Arthur, Director of Brewery Operations, Port Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: With so many different beers on store shelves, it can be challenging for consumers to know which best fits their personal tastes. This is particularly true of India pale ales. Thanks to the ever-growing abundance of hops both Old and New World, IPAs have a broader spectrum of flavors than ever before. Many brewing companies seek to explain the palate characteristics of their beers by including descriptors on their bottles and cans. Pine, citrus and tropical are some of the most common, but some go far beyond the adjective box. This is true of Vista’s Mother Earth Brew Co., which recently released an IPA as part of its Resonator Series with the following flavor breakdown: gooseberry pie, passion fruit meringue, tea leaf. I’ve experienced earthy, tea-like nuances in beers before, particularly those made with English hop varietals, but those dessert-y assessments I have as of yet only found in certain sour ales and saisons. After thoroughly analyzing Mother Earth Say When IPA, I can’t say I picked up the tartness of gooseberries or passion fruit, but given its bounty of more common citrus flavors—Naval orange, grapefruit, lemon rind—and enjoyably balancing herbal accents (tea leaf, indeed), it in no way took away from this well-crafted beer.
From the Brewer: “Say When is a culmination of improved hop availability and experimentation over the last few years. We wanted an IPA that showcased lower IBUs (international bittering units) with tropical and juicy notes drinkers are craving these days, especially with the advent of ‘hazy’ IPAs. When we think ‘juicy’, Galaxy and Citra immediately come to mind, and after a very successful release of our 100% Idaho 7 wet-hop beer last year, which had huge papaya and guava flavor and aroma, we knew how to knock Say When out of the park. A higher-ABV (7.5% alcohol by volume), light malt backbone and heavy-handed hop additions throughout the brew process produce an easy-drinking, juicy IPA that is not only clear (not hazy) but demands you know how to ‘say when.'”—Chris Baker, Head Brewer, Mother Earth Brew Co.
From the Beer Writer: During my time working for Stone Brewing, I made many great friends. The company is packed with brilliant, fun and kind people, and one of the nicest of them all is the man in charge of brewing operations at Stone’s Liberty Station brewpub, Kris Ketcham. A champion of creativity who has indulged the desires of many novices in his brewhouse, he not only dares to try things others would avoid, but possesses the skill to pull off nearly every challenge thrown his way. In 2015, when I kicked off a charity campaign to raise money for the Lupus Foundation of Southern California through the sale of specialty beers from local breweries, I had the chance to brew with Ketcham, and it was a joyfully educational experience. This year, he let me back in the brewhouse to help conjure another charity beer: Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station Trending Travis-ty. Aside from being long as all get out, there’s significance to the name of this hazy, “Northeast-style” session IPA. At the brewery I currently work for, Societe Brewing, clarity is king. Our brewing team strives to avoid haze in our IPAs and our brewmaster, Travis Smith, finds what he calls the “muddy IPA” haze-craze to be ridiculous if not a sacrilege. So we took this raging trend and made our own little “Travis-ty”. To be fair, Ketcham and I prefer clear IPAs, too, but we thought it would be a fun challenge to create a not-overly-hazy IPA with big hop appeal and extremely low alcohol; a crushable beer that would benefit from increased body from a variety of adjuncts and provide that “juiciness” beer fans are looking for these days. It’s on tap now and a portion of proceeds help lupus patients in San Diego and Imperial Counties care of the Beer to the Rescue campaign.
From the Brewer: “There have been a lot of trends in brewing over the years. The most recent one I can remember is session IPAs, and now we have ‘the L replacement’ hazy, juicy IPAs. As someone who’s taken pride in learning and employing multiple techniques for achieving beer clarity, I find it such a travesty that we’ve shifted into this. However, as much as I love to knock them, there is a uniqueness to them that even I find enjoyable from time to time. I also need to remind myself to keep an open mind, as we’ve come a long way in the past twenty-plus years. All of us as ‘craft’ brewers have changed the perception of beer over the years and still continue to do with styles like these. Sometimes we enjoy them so much that we try our own interpretations with our own signature twists. Trending Travis-ty mixes the past and current trends brewers have been chasing. Take all the adjuncts that give you the trending haze and put them to use in a style that’s lacking in body—session IPA—and you get a win-win result. For this beer, we used a blend of two-row, oats, wheat and dextrin malt to increase body and haze levels. No hops where harmed in the boiling of the wort. Instead, all of the hops used in this beer were added at the start of fermentation and post-fermentation to really bring on the haze. The combo of Mosaic, Loral and Vic Secret hops was a fun combination that uses Brandon and I’s favorite new hops with a hop that is in damn near every single IPA on the market today. Clocking in at 4.3% alcohol-by-volume and 40 on the IBU (international bittering unit) scale—all from the dry hop—this beer fulfills those whose hipster mantras include ‘I only drink hazy IPAs’ and ‘I only drink session beers.’”—Kris Ketcham, Liberty Station Brewing Manager, Stone Brewing