Stylistically, spring can be an awkward time for beer. In a different era of beer-loving -- like Lower Saxony in the 16th century -- we'd be readying ourselves for Lent by testing Bock beers that had been lagering through the winter. As weather and religion scarcely dictate what we drink now, our moderate climate, postmodern beer world is ruled by individuality and unconventionality.
This March has seen little consistency in what kind of beers are being released: You'll find everything from late barley wines and cold-season stouts to hop bombs and wheat beers that have jumped the gun on summer. What our featured selections have in common is their specialty angle and collaborative spirit, at a time when they don't have to worry about blockbuster flagship labels. Listed from north to south.
5. Bourbon Barrel Stout; Anderson Valley Brewing Co. (Boonville)
With barrels from Wild Turkey, this Anderson Valley stout is an instant crowd-pleaser. For three months the beer leached remnants of bourbon out of the Turkey barrels, increasing the complexity of the beer and making us hanker for a shot of whiskey. It's light in alcohol for the style it represents and is a great choice for introducing craft beer neophytes to darker, more developed flavors, or for those not impressed by heavy hops.
4. Parabola; Firestone Walker Brewing Co. (Paso Robles)
Russian Imperial Stout, 13%
This April release from Firestone Walker is No. 4 in its Proprietor's Reserve Series of barrel-aged beers. It spent a year in oak barrels, and you'll find char and tobacco flavors amidst an inky black and intense matrix of beer. Not for the faint-hearted, this choice beautifully represents the dark end of the beer spectrum and would be a great host gift for a beer-loving friend. Enjoy it after a meal, in small glasses that encourage sipping.
3. The Mesa; Cismontane Brewing Co. (Rancho Santa Margarita) with Mer Soleil
Belgian-style Hybrid, 6%
If you are burnt out on searching for flavor complexity behind big, piney hops and high alcohol, this is a beer to seek out. Sweeter, more nuanced notes that pair well with food are characteristic of this new beer-wine hybrid style. With 25% riesling and 75% pilsner, The Mesa blurs the distinction between wine and beer. A local choice you can use to push wine lovers into beer or beer lovers into wine, we like it especially cold.
2. Red Tide; Left Coast Brewing Co. (San Clemente)
Belgian-style Red Ale 7.1%
Another atypical beer, this gently hopped red ale is brewed with Belgian yeast, giving it medium body with active carbonation. A good one for pairing with food, this seasonal choice isn't intense and big like the brewery's flagship beer, Hop Juice. Left Coast has been around since 2004 but has been stepping up its game of late and adding new beers, to make San Clemente a budding town for beer seekers.
1. Dayman; Stone Brewing Co. (Escondido) with Aleman and Two Brothers
Coffee IPA, 8.7%
Dayman was the winning homebrew of a competition in September 2012, when Chicago-based Aleman beat all other contestants to win a collaboration with Stone Brewing. The coffee beans were supplied by beer brewers-turned-coffee brewers Two Brothers (Warrenville, Ill.). While this may seem like an unholy union, there is a subtle resemblance in the tropical citrus of the hops used (Citra and Cascade) and the lightly roasted coffee. The only way to decide whether you love it or hate it is to get out and try it now.
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