The new California beers being released this year are so promising that our heads are spinning as fast as our notions of Lenten sobriety are dissolving. Small breweries are rising to big occasions - barrel-aging and releasing bottles - while larger craft breweries are curbing their most ambitious styles for something more accessible.
This list of three delightful, straightforward IPAs and two complex, bourbon barrel - aged beers is just a taste of the California bottle releases that make every week more exciting than the last. Spring is a time for breweries to reinvent themselves and their beers by experimenting with new ingredients - Golden Road's use of Ahtanum hops in its 2020 IPA - and a time to keep traditions alive, as Anchor Brewing does with its new IPA. Ordered by style, here are five California beers to drink now.
5. Go to IPA, Stone Brewing Co. (Escondido)
Hitting shelves at the beginning of March, this IPA is a good example of Stone Brewing Company doing what Stone does best - delivering reliably bitter, hoppy beer. The spin on this beer is that the alcohol content is sessionably low, under 5%, so you can have that big piney, resinous flavor profile without getting schnockered, as is often the case with Stone's other hop bombs. To get a full taste of Stone's lineup, try a mixed case of bottles featuring Stone IPA, Stone Ruination IPA, Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA and Arrogant Bastard Ale, also released this month.
4. 2020 IPA, Golden Road Brewing Co. (Los Angeles)
Released at the beginning of February as the spring 2014 edition of its Custom IPA series, Golden Road Brewing has teamed up with the L.A. River Revitalization Corp. to promote the Greenway 2020 Project. When completed, the public works project will connect 51 miles of the L.A. River and restore public green space. This IPA is particularly well-balanced and medium in body, with strong pine and citrus notes partly coming from the use of the uncommon Ahtanum hop varietal.
3. Anchor IPA, Anchor Brewing Co. (San Francisco)
A new addition to its year-round portfolio of beers, Anchor Brewing has revisited a traditional IPA with this straightforward brew incorporating six kinds of hops. Anchor was the first craft brewery to release a beer in this style back in 1975. It was called Liberty Ale and used only Cascade hops. Dedication to tradition is apparent in the branding; the vintage label features an elephant, a common metaphor for the promise of exotic riches out west (surely the popularity of opiates and other imported drugs had nothing to do with visions of elephants). Anchor also just released a seasonal saison that we can't wait to get our hands on.
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2. 25th Anniversary Dopplebock, Karl Strauss Brewing Co. (San Diego)
Lager aged in bourbon barrels; 9.5%
With every large-format bottle release, Karl Strauss gets better in quality and consistency. This February, the brewery marked its 25th year in business with a bourbon barrel - aged dopplebock. The effervescent body of the lager is an unusual choice for a beer tasting so strongly of booze, but its springy mouthfeel lightens up the rich, malty alcohol. Look for a nice bready finish and be sure to give the beer a chance to warm up before you finish it.
1. Batch 100 Barrel Series #1, Enegren Brewing Co. (Moorpark)
Belgian strong ale aged in bourbon barrels; 10%
Enegren Brewing Company has been quietly toiling away in its tucked-away corner of Ventura Country for almost three years. This year, as it embarks on the beginning of an expansion project that will more than quadruple its brewing capacity in 2015, Enegren also has released its first bottle from the barrel program. Batch 100 rested in Bella Mead bourbon barrels for four months before being bottled and released in early March. The complex, hearty beer is silky smooth and will improve when cellared - a promising advance for such a modest brewery.