There are extraordinary, limited-batch beers. There are exceptional seasonal beers. I review many of them because I want to introduce folks to the newest and best beer out there.
But sometimes I don’t feel like going to a bar and trying the latest funked-up, $18 sour beer. There are, in fact, days when I don’t want to think about the beer I’m drinking. While that sounds like code for some sort of deep, dark depression, what I really mean is that on those days I want a beer that is, well, more straightforward. One that I know I will enjoy.
Enter Bear Republic’s Racer 5. This is one of my go-to beers. It’s a classic West Coast IPA, and it is one of the best. You can buy it almost anywhere on the East Coast for a reasonable price. That’s a very important qualification for a go-to beer.
Brewed in Sonoma County, Calif., Racer 5 is proof that this renowned wine region can also produce great beer. While this brew was one of my many gateways into craft beer, I figured out over time that is no mere entry-level beverage.
The beer pours a beautiful golden color with a nice, white head. It’s heavily hopped with Chinook, Cascade, Columbus, and Centennial, and you smell all of that in the nose. Citrus and pine are dominant.
The motto on the bottle says, “There’s a trophy in every glass,” and I can’t disagree. The beer is bitter but balanced by a bready backbone. I never find the hops overwhelming. In fact, this beer is sneaky-easy to drink for an IPA of 7 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) and a significant bitterness rating 75-plus IBUs. The finish is dry, which is just how I like it.
If you’re already a craft beer expert, I’m preaching to the choir. If you’re looking to expand your horizons, by all means try this beer. It won’t let you down.
Yams, not pumpkin
When most people think of fall beer they think of pumpkin beer. And judging by the amount of e-mail I received on my column last week about pumpkin offerings, many of you are on board.
But not all autumnal brews embrace this seasonal treasure. Witness The Bruery, an Orange County, Calif., brewery, which rejects the trend. Written right on the bottle of The Bruery’s fall beer, Autumn Maple, is a slogan that states, “We don’t need pumpkins in our beer.” No ambiguity there.
The Bruery has taken a different approach with their fall offering, and it’s a welcome one. Instead of using pumpkins, they use yams. Instead of traditional ale yeast, Belgian ale yeast. Instead of some watery, cinnamon-y mess, a thick, warming, satisfying beer.
The beer pours a thick, dark amber with an off-white head. The nose starts with the Belgian yeast, which gives off delicious banana notes. Yams and maple sugar make up the rest of the aroma.
Candied sugar, raisins, yams, and vanilla come together on first sip. The mouthfeel is somewhere between cream soda and chocolate milk. There’s a lot going on here, and you taste the various components of the beer in different ways as you take more sips. The beer is unsurprisingly sweet in the way that some of the best double-pumpkin beers out there are sweet, but the flavor profile is different. This unfiltered, bottle-conditioned ale weighs in at 10 percent ABV.
It says on the bottle you can age this beer up to five years, and I agree that a little seasoning would only enhance the flavors here. Let’s call this one a late-autumn beer. You certainly wouldn’t be wrong to share a bottle on a cold winter’s night.
Sunset Grill and Tap in Allston is hosting a “tasting and mixer” featuring Dogfish Head Brewery on Oct. 16 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The event is a buffet of tasting plates of food cooked with beer, specifically Dogfish Head Ancient Ales. The menu includes pairings such as Aztec chicken and sweet corn croquettes with spicy red pepper sauce with Dogfish Head La Tahenket; ale-steamed mussels on the half shell with baby shrimp and three-color tomato salsa with chipotle aioli drizzle with Dogfish Head Sah’tea; and grilled jalapeno buttered cornbread topped with pulled pork, cilantro aioli, and pickled okra with Dogfish Head Theobroma. To round the evening up: Dogfish Head 2011 World Wide Stout and a nightcap of Dansk Viking Blod Mead. The event is $60 per person. Call event coordinator Jake Tringali at 617-254-1331 for tickets.