Sampling Some Summer Seasonals

By Gerald Jowers
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Seasonal and special release beers are critical to the success of craft brewers; in fact, seasonals are the best sellers for many breweries. The flavor experience of fine beer is what turned beer drinkers into craft beer enthusiasts in the first place. Those who are drawn to craft beer are not content with the same flavor experience — they want new and different ones. To survive and prosper, brewers must create new brews. There are a number of new beers available now, and to help you in your search, I have sampled some of them for you.

Samuel Adams Rebel IPA (6.5 percent ABV) is an interesting departure from this brewery’s portfolio of beers based on English and European models. Rebel is fairly typical of what I consider the West Coast style of IPA —significant hop flavor from a cocktail of citrusy hops, though the hop flavors are hard to differentiate: Citrus flavors with a distinct pine note on the finish are clear with a malt presence that is substantial but remains in a secondary position. The sweet malt at midtaste is quickly subdued by refined bitterness that is not scorching like some West Coast IPA’s. Rebel is skillfully made, a complex IPA that should satisfy any enthusiast, even hopheads.

Maine’s Allagash has specialized in brewing exquisite Belgian-inspired beers. Now, the brewery has finally tried its hand at brewing a saison, and this effort is proof of its considerable brewing skill. The beer, called simply Saison, (6.1 percent ABV) is a beautiful example of this elusive style. The taste has the characteristic spicy Belgian yeast character with peppery phenolic notes and soft malt background that are the traditional flavor components of the saison style.

New York’s Brewery Ommegang is expanding its portfolio from strictly Belgian styles to include some American-Belgian hybrids, i.e., hoppy beers. The brewery’s aptly named Hop House (6 percent ABV) is one of these. The brewery calls it a dry-hopped pale ale; however, for me, it is basically a saison with a significant hop presence that is unusual for a traditional Belgian beer. The tropical hop flavors work very well with the spicy yeast character and create a fine flavor experience. A second of Ommegang’s efforts is the beautiful Fluer de Houblon Summer Ale (6 percent ABV) which features some enticing floral hop flavor.

Go To IPA (4.5 percent ABV) is Stone Brewing’s latest attempt at a low-alcohol “session” beer. Hop additions late in the boiling process are used to extract flavor and aroma from hops. By increasing the quantity of hops near the end of the brewing process, a process Stone call hop bursting, the brewery demonstrates that substantial flavor and aroma can be extracted without corresponding bitterness. Without the added bitterness, the malt component can be reduced, resulting in lower alcohol. The elaborate hop cocktail and the hop bursting technique create in this IPA a remarkable depth of citrusy and tropical hop flavors without excessive bitterness. The principal hops are reportedly Citra and Mosaic, two similar hops. There is research that suggests that some people can detect garlic and cauliflower from these hops, and candidly I noticed a hint of them in this otherwise fine beer. However, craft beer needs more session-type beers and Stone proves that big IPA flavor can be achieved without too much alcohol.

Westbrook’s Gose (4 percent ABV) and Anderson Valley Holy Gose (4.2 percent ABV) are two very good interpretations of the almost extinct German Gose style. The difference between the two is obvious when poured. The Anderson Valley version is crystal clear and surely is filtered for clarity, while Westbrook’s is cloudy with protein and yeast in suspension. All of the flavor elements of the style — sour, salty and citrusy coriander — are bigger, fresher and more vibrant in the Westbrook version; possibly the filtering stripped some of these flavor elements from Holy Gose. Both are tasty hot weather beers, but the nod goes to Westbrook. Cheers!

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