Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Edge

The secret to every truly great complex beer is in how far it can push your taste buds without breaking them via an overdose of alcohol, tartness or heat. Finding the best of the best can mean pushing right to the edge and then pulling back.

Over the past few months, several breweries, both local and national, have come out with offerings that take you just to that edge before stopping and letting you enjoy a melange of flavors both challenging and satisfying. And as Great American Beer Festival approaches, it is worth recalling them, both to celebrate their daring and to hope that their makers bust a leftover keg or two out in the coming week.

Great Divide showed just how far it could push things this year with its whiskey-barrel-aged Hercules Double IPA, a 12 percent ABV hop bomb that debuted originally at its 22nd anniversary party as Ye Olde World IPA then had a much longer run than could have been imagined before it ran out in the taproom. It wasn't just the flourishing bitterness that remained strong after years in the barrels that made this beer stand out. Rather, it was the fact that you felt the boozy bite even over the strong vanilla and wood tastes, leaving so much going on that it really was head-turning.

Sam Adams also pushed the envelope with its Rebel Raw Double IPA, a limited-edition floral bomb made with seven pounds of hops per barrel that had just a 35-day shelf life in both of its first two batches. The 100 IBUs scorched the tongue in some ways but also gave it an incredibly full flavor, teeming with grassy hops balanced by significant malts. The alcohol in this 10 percent ABV concoction most certainly was present, but it took a surprising back seat in the bevy of tastes.

Comrade Brewing also pushed to the edge, but the hop-forward brewery did it in a different way with its Yellow Fever, a blonde ale infused with jalapenos. The World Beer Cup gold medalist presents itself as unassuming, but the heat rises as the beer swirls in your mouth, landing squarely on the back of your tongue. Unlike poorer renditions of the style, however, it stops at a level that leaves adrenaline pumping in you without any scars on your taste buds, making you want to go back and try it repeatedly.

AC Golden produced arguably the most edge-pushing sour beer of this year so far with its Kriek Noir (pictured at top), a wine-barrel aged Belgian ale with sour cherries added. This spring offering presented itself with a sugary cherry nose, followed quickly by a sharp tartness that cut into your taste buds and took over your mouth. It too managed to stop short of making you wince, however, instead ramping up every pressure point in a way that caused you to use multiple taste sectors, leaving you awash in flavors from its yeast profile and its additives.

Beers that take you to the edge truly should be celebrated - and produced over and over again.

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