west coast blogger kevin j. north debuts with his take on some of the best under the radar craft beers…
Even during these recessionary times, there is still room for small doses of the finer things in life, and, for beer lovers, that means great craft brews. The luxurious libations listed below all represent little respites of refinement that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Grab your finest ale glass and prepare to indulge your inner beer connoisseur with these fine brews:
Fans of Belgian brews like Hoegaarden and Leffe may be interested in trying Gulden Draak, a Belgian strong dark ale. While Gulden Draak is much darker and stronger than some of America’s more popular Belgian imports, there are certain elements that drinkers will recognize as distinctly Belgian: it is unfiltered and spiced, with just a hint of fruit flavor. This beer differs from its compatriots in the rich, dark malts that give this beer its color and sweet finish.
Stone Double Bastard
As it says on the back of Double Bastard’s label, this is not a beer for the casual beer drinker. It is very hoppy; it is very malty; it is designed to appeal to only the kind of beer snobs who have never described a beer as “a little too strong.” If you can handle the aggressive nature of this brew, prepare to be rewarded with an initial taste of toasted malt and citrus flavors followed by a hoppy finish. Since Double Bastard is a seasonal brew, you may have to wait until winter to pick up a 750ml bottle of your own, but fear not, it is worth the wait.
Brooklyn Black Ops
Some may look at the price tag on a bottle of Black Ops and think that the guys over at the Brooklyn Brewery have lost their minds. That is not the case. This beer is so dark, so rich, so decadent, and has a flavor so complex that it is more appropriate to compare this brew to an aperitif than to most other beers on the market, with its distinct notes of vanilla, oak, coffee, and dark chocolate. Ignore the price tag and pick up a bottle of this exceptional brew next time you want to treat yourself to one of the finer things in life.
Westmalle Trappist Tripel
It is no exaggeration to say that Westmalle Trappist Tripel is one of the best Belgian beers available in the United States today. As with any Belgian ale, Westmalle Trappist Tripel is best enjoyed in a fluted glass so that the drinker can enjoy the beer’s spiced floral scent. One of the best Belgian beers, hands down.
Tilburg’s Dutch Brown Ale
For anyone who likes Newcastle Brown Ale, Tilburg’s Dutch Brown Ale is a must try. This amber colored ale is smooth and slightly sweet with a light, but distinct, caramel flavor. Tilburg’s is also fairly inexpensive, making it a great choice if you want to try a new craft brew without breaking the bank.
Flying Fish Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout
One look at Flying Fish Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout should draw in any New Jersey native; not only does it have an exit sign on the bottle, it plainly states that it is proudly brewed in New Jersey. While the name may be off-putting to some, let me be clear: it does not taste fishy. The taste is primarily that of a robust, roasted stout with unique, complementary undertones that can probably be attributed to the oysters used in the brewing process. Support New Jersey’s rich brewing and maritime traditions by picking up an Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout.
Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale
While it can be found in many places in the south, Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale is fairly uncommon in the northeast. 420 Extra Pale Ale is a well balanced beer, with an initial citrusy, hoppy taste followed by (as the name implies) a rich, toasted, malty taste that is vaguely smoky. If you find 420 Extra Pale Ale at a store near you (or if you happen to have a layover in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport), I would recommend giving it a try.
New Belgium 1554 Enlightened Black Ale
Brewed from a centuries-old Belgian recipe, New Belgium 1554 is a truly unique beer. 1554 is a black ale, a style that would have remained a footnote in beer history if not for the efforts of the New Belgium research team, who traveled to Belgium to piece the recipe together from antiquated texts. The result of their labors is a dark, malty ale with pleasantly strong chocolate undertones.
River Horse Hop-a-lot-amus
While River Horse Hop-a-lot-amus may not be the strongest double IPA on market, it is an excellent introduction to the genre. This brew, crafted in Lambertville, NJ, is slightly more balanced than other DIPAs. It has a sweet, citrusy flavor to mellow its abundance of hops, while still managing to pack 8.5%abv. If you are looking to step into the world of strong beers, Hop-a-lot-amus would be a good place to start.
Founder’s Breakfast Stout
This stout is so good that you may actually want it for breakfast, which is somewhat reasonable given that it is brewed with flaked oats, two kinds of coffee, and chocolate. Founder’s Breakfast Stout is an exceptionally dark beer that is somewhat reminiscent of a Frappuchino, from the coffee and chocolate foretaste, to the rich and creamy mouth feel. Unlike a Frap, however, Founder’s Breakfast Stout has a clean, slightly bitter finish and, at 8.3% ABV, enough alcohol to keep this beer from tasting too sweet. The result is a well balanced stout that goes down smooth and packs a punch, making this a great choice for these tough times.