As much as I love wine in almost all of its formats, so do I love beer for all of the different incarnations that have come down the road in the last several years.
All three of my sons have their favorites, and Adam (who briefly ran an Internet beer website) seems to have the most interest in the different styles we see coming out of tiny microbreweries in remote locations.
The largest beer companies in the world have seen the work of these artisans and many have attempted to replicate them, most without much success.
Such projects are often advertised to obfuscate the hugeness of the companies making them, but only real artisans are able to offer really distinctive brews that are worth drinking. (The largest brewing companies aim to make vast amounts of such products, and the best can only be done in tiny batches.)
We tasted a dozen such micros a week ago, within a week of buying them — since freshness is a crucial element in understanding the categories. (Few beers age particularly well.)
Here are several of these, listed in the order the group of nine tasted:
Anderson Valley Brewing, Hopland, Calif., “Gose” Briney Melon, Watermelon Ale: This is a light sour brew with a soft finish, generally available only at the tasting room. It has a wheat aroma, light hops, and only 4.2 percent alcohol. Somewhat delicate and very refreshing. Because of its sour finish, probably best with sausages.
Tahoe Mountain Brewing, Truckee, Calif., “Provision,” a saison beer: A multigrain brew with a slightly rustic aroma, malty with a kind of bread dough, wild yeast character. Faintly cloudy to indicate no filtration; 6.2 percent alcohol.
Moreland Brewing, England, “Hen’s Tooth,” bottle conditioned. The yeasty, caramel-y/butterscotch aroma is hoppy and malty with a slightly sweet entry and faintly bitter aftertaste. 6.5 percent alcohol.
Sudwewrk Brewing, Davis, Calif., “Rye of the Lager”: This rather strong beer (7 percent alcohol) is an imperial lager that has an almost stout-like aroma with a slightly bitter finish, but its sweet entry makes it a lovely sipping beer that calls for soft cheeses. We had it with a slightly runny brie.
Stone Brewing, San Diego, “Belgique IPA,” Belgian Twist. This excellent brewing company with wide distribution makes numerous fascinating beers and ales. This IPA is a little less hoppy than many others. It has a malty aroma with a trace of banana and a slight taste of cream soda. 6.9 percent alcohol and one of the best-liked products we tasted.
Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa, “Pliny the Elder,” Bottled Aug. 23, stored at 40 degrees since being bought on Sept. 14: This most distinctive and classic brew has an aroma of malt and hops, with an almost floral aroma and a traditional assertive roast coffee note. Best with food, it was one of the strongest brews we tasted (8 percent alcohol), and is best consumed as young as possible. Tasting room only. Bottles can be purchased there to take home. Refrigerate until consuming.
Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa, “Blind Pig,” Bottled Aug. 25, stored at 40 degrees since being bought on Sept. 14: Malty IPA spice, but less malt than the prior brew. Smooth, slight citrusy notes, extremely clean and complete. We had a wedge of St. George Portuguese cheese from Joe Matos Cheese Co., which was perfect with the brew (6.25 percent alcohol.) Blind Pig is Adam’s choice as Russian River Brewing’s most interesting product. (I prefer Damnation.) Tasting room only. Bottles can be purchased to take home.
Barrel Bros., Fair Oaks. “Dark Sarcasm” Porter, Smells and tastes like chocolate sauce! Best with extremely assertive, aromatic cheeses; 7 percent alcohol.
Stone Brewing, San Diego, “Citricado IPA”: The use of some exotic hops and avocado flower honey gives this quite citrusy IPA a fascinating aromatic and lively taste. But its 9 percent alcohol seems a bit daunting.
The number of true artisan breweries in the country has risen significantly in the last few years, which can easily be seen by going into a fine wine shop that also carries beer. Even large supermarkets are now carrying a broad selection of microbrews that have distinctive characteristics, many of which are not exactly mainstream.
Some beers and ales from the artisan companies are made with exotic hops or fruits and other flavorings, so read labels carefully.
We will soon see many holiday ales that are made only for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. These cab be, and often are, made with herbs and spices, some from old Sumerian recipes.
Our tasting last week was just a tiny view of what is happening in the beer world today.
And keep in mind that although light beer has its place in the market, brews like the above are really intended to go with good foods and to be savored as you would a fine wine, reflecting on nuances of flavor.
As such probably will be more expensive the light beers.
Wine of the Week
Bieler Père et Fils Rosé, Coteau d’Aix-en-Provence ($12): A nearly perfect pink wine, based on 40 percent Grenache from the south of France. The aroma has a hint of strawberries and the overall weight is relatively light, but with perfect fruit and no sugar to confuse the issue. An absolute bargain since the wine competes for the best rosé in the world. (I have tasted a few others that are marginally better, but cost more.) A handful of $6 to $8 rosés can be found that are excellent, but since this wine is often discounted to about $10, I wouldn’t settle for anything else.