Sunday, September 21, 2014

Toasting the Beers of Summer 2014

As hard as our current weather makes it seem to believe, summer officially ends Monday. And so, it is with a tear in my eye and a buzzy smile on my face that I give a last shout to the best beers of the summer of 2014 and a few bold ideas that just missed — hoping that drinkers can pick up some of the last of the offerings of this season and start lobbying brewers on what to bring back next year.

The Winners

FOCOllaboration Ale
Maybe it should come as no shock that when New Belgium and Odell combined to make an beer, their union produced a stunningly good American pale ale — one that brought a big, grassy hop taste with almost no residual bitterness. The only surprise was that I had so many people asking me which brewery's version I tasted; it was the Odell product, and that one at least was great.

Super Juice Solution
Trinity Brewing's sour session IPA was easily the most interesting beer of the summer. It was head-scratching in both its complexity and in how much flavor it could pack into so little ABV. The best news: It's still out there on liquor-store shelves.

Franklin's Belgian-Style Strong Golden
Mountain Sun's big-bodied offering was both smooth and surprisingly alcoholic, sweet and solidly clean. And it served as a reminder that a brewery known best for its stouts and IPAs can do some pretty impressive things in other styles as well.

Oats McGoats Oat Malt Rye Stout
Brewery Rickoli won a national "Brewing the American Dream" competition last year that allowed it to learn from and then make a beer with Boston Beer Co. What came from that was the young brewery's best effort yet - a thick, dark ale with a creamy center that combines both warming malt with easy drinking and resembles no gluten-reduced beer that you have tried before.

Barefoot Runaway
Odd 13's summer IPA was a great example of how to tone down the hops but make a beer smooth and light and appropriate for the weather. At 5.6% ABV, it was the right beer for the right time; if this had come out in the winter, it would have seemed too light.

As usual, Great Divide put out some seriously challenging seaonsals, including a sharp rye IPA and the always burly Oatmeal Yeti. But the summer star was a Belgian white ale that came with just a hint of orange zest and was as good a patio sipper as any new creation.

Honorable Mentions

Spontaneous Saison
Strange Craft Beer and five other breweries participated in an experiment by where they all brewed saisons with similar recipes but slightly different additives at the same time. Loved the idea. And the lemongrass backtones make Strange's offering spunky, though a bit short of spectacular.

Buddha's Hand Witbier
Breckenridge Brewery's experimentation created one of the most interesting summer beers of the past half-decade in 2011: The Cabernet-barrel-aged Summer Cab Ride. This year's new creation, made with the Buddha's Hand fruit, is mundane in comparison to that masterpiece - admittedly a high bar to reach - but zingier than most of the summertime ales on the market.

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