Wednesday, July 01, 2009

New Brews: Grand Teton Goodness

Be honest, you had the same reaction as me the first time you tried Grand Teton Brewing's Bitch Creek ESB about 10 years ago. Good beer that you'd drink on any occasion, but when you shoot the moon with a name like that, you're just never going to reach expectations.

I liked the beer and the brewery, but I never put it in the hallowed class of the top American beer czars. Then came the Cellar Reserve series six years ago, and the complexity of Grand Teton's efforts advanced. Now, after the most recent releases from the collection, I'm beginning to rethink my initial impression and starting to wonder exactly how many breweries have as diverse and daring a collection of specialties as this Victor, Idaho-based beermaker.

Take, for example, the Howling Wolf Weizenbock, the latest Cellar Reserve series member, released about a month-and-a-half ago to what I now would argue was shockingly little fan fare. Dark, spicy, tangy and evolving with every sip, this is the most interesting summer release in recent memory.

Sporting the fizzy tan hue of a double IPA, this 8% ABV bock, cellared for more than three months, hits you with very sharp and spicy wheat tones before overwhelming the mouth with a date-and-green-apple feel. Its stout caramel fruit taste (trust me, the combo works on the taste buds) mellows slightly into a clove-and-raisin combo upon warming then sweetens at the end into an almost syrup-like taste with the heavy feel of that product.

Crafted with 40 percent wheat malt, Howling Wolf is meant to emphasize the wheat aspect of the old German purity laws. But you will find in it an envelope-pushing done by few beers claiming they are classic wheats, and I promise you that you will want to try one before this seasonal rotates off shelves.

Howling Wolf is so impressive, in fact, that it overshadows the impressive Lost Continent Double IPA, a former Cellar Reserve creation released as a new seasonal beer in May.

Lost Continent, sold in four-packs, smells like a wet patch of sod and bites like the dog that lays on it, and after a few uber-hoppy sips, you begin to feel the spice on the back of your tongue. The burn dissipates, however, and is replaced by a smooth but heavy hop presence whose warmed flavor is revved by a biting bitterness.

An excellent beer at all temperature levels, Lost Continent sports a kind of roasted, slightly peppery feel that is unique among its double IPA brethren. And while it doesn't make you reconfigure your thoughts on the style like the Howling Wolf, it's not something to scoff at either.


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