The Hop Reviews Vol. 24: A May Beer Review
Each month, we share a handful of beers that we think you should know a little more about, through the perspective of our collective palate.
We tasted through the following 24 beers for May (our 24th iteration of "The Hop Reviews") and rated them according to our very own interpretation of the BJCP scoring guidelines, on a scale of 100, listed in alphabetical order. We considered aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, overall impression and trueness to style. It's not an exact science–we know this. We just don't like to pass on the opportunity to drink more beer.
This month we explore a few uses of Brettanomyces, plenty of tropical pale ales, a couple barleywines, and a showcase of beers from the UK.
PORTLAND, ME - 6.7% ABV
One of the first beers we've seen distributed from the Allagash Coolship series, Belfius is a blend of their wild fermented beer and their saison. The result is a herbal, almost spicy aroma, as well as a significant funk. The taste is certainly sour and acidic, but not so much that drinking this 375 mL bottle yourself isn't out of the question. Overall, a well crafted sour that has a lot going on without going overboard on any front.
San José del Cabo, MEX - 6.0% ABV
Baja will soon be bringing their flagship beers to Chicago and our first taste is of their Schwarzbier. This is about as approachable as the style gets. Near-zero bitterness with a roasty, medium body mouthfeel throughout. Malt forward beer may not always be your first choice when it's hot out, but there's a reason this has become one of the brewery's staples. Balance is the key here and it's a solid alternative for warm summer days.
HEALDSBURG, CA - 6.0% ABV
Originally brewed to celebrate 'the greatest spectacle in racing', the Indianapolis 500, this beer is now finally available in Indiana just in time for the big race. In a time where hazy is king, this was one welcome reminder of how beers used to taste. It highlights Amarillo, Citra and Galaxy with a tropical hop boost and a dry malty finish. It's not void of 'juiciness', still, providing a fruity nose. It's just that it finishes dry with approachable bitterness, the way APAs were meant to be.
TORONTO, CAN - 6.5% ABV
"Double Dry Hopped IPA" can mean a lot of things these days and Toronto's Blood Brothers wins points for creativity here. Brewed with Riesling grape juice, the white wine character comes through in big peach and passionfruit flavor, thankfully rather than in the any kind of sweet after taste. At only 6.5%, it's a balanced bomber you could easily finish yourself and while you likely won't be blown away, it's a beer we'd gladly drink again.
CANAL WINCHESTER, OH - 8.8% ABV
When we first had this beer, it was just five days old—the only time we've had anything remotely fresh from the Scottish brewery state side. This is the benefit of Brewdog's Ohio production facility and, if this is a sign of things to come, they might be worth a second look. Juggernaut is a huge, dank, boozy, sweet, Imperial IPA that doesn't hold back on the "Imperial." You get exactly what it says on the can and that's a good thing. One to start or finish your night.
BUXTON x CROMARTY
BUXTON/CROMARTY, UK - 9.5% ABV
Another UK beer in the lineup, this one is a product of collaboration from Buxton and Cromarty Breweries. And while a Scotch ale doesn't scream 'May', we found it a welcome take on the style, for those chillier spring nightfalls. A hefty dose of butterscotch on the nose gives way to raspberry jam and sweet strawberry hard candies (the ones your grandma used to have). It's two years in whisky barrels is nearly unnoticeable, but it hardly matters. This is as 'spring' a wee heavy as could be.
A Tool For Conviviality
MANCHESTER, UK - 10.0% ABV
This collab between the UK's most hyped brewery and our hometown heroes is trendy in a can. Pouring a deep opaque orange, you know what you're getting at first sight. A huge tropical and slightly peppery nose and a big tropical flavor are the dominating traits right off the bat. There is a lot of sweetness and the 10% ABV is pretty obvious which would make it a tough one to drink more than one. But if you're going to fly the Atlantic for a collaboration, might as well go all in.
CHICAGO, IL - 6.8%
Another can release from Chicago's Corridor, and another showcase of their shift toward juice-forward. Juicebox doesn't shy away from these characteristics either: it's a smoothie blend of pineapple, papaya, and orange citrus. And maybe even a tinge of...banana? Banana, is that you? Tropical through and through, many folks will clamor for this. Still, it finishes a bit more bitter than expected and shows it's becoming harder and harder to distinguish between all the hazy out there.
Just Tapped Series:
Passion Fruit IPA
BEND, OR - 6.8% ABV
A new release in their new 'Just Tapped Series' that highlights pub brews that 'graduate to bottle', Passion Fruit is a throwback Northwest IPA. It's a piney-meets-juicy-meets-fruity without any of the haze, and a maltier finish. The addition of Azacca and Vic's Secret hops accentuate the passion fruit characteristics and leave just enough bitterness to round out all the sweetness. At times, it almost drinks as tart, before mellowing out.
SAN LEANDRO, CA - 4.3% ABV
We sometimes cringe at the use of the word 'crushable', not being able to help picturing a backwards visor wearing dudebro who is describing his Natty Light, rather than a flavorful pale ale. But...this beer is crushable. Kick Back is everything a sessionable IPA was meant to be: light, straw-yellow colored pale ale that showcases a single fruit flavor (in this case, tangerine), while not wrecking your palate. This is a beer we could add to our rotation of go-to summer drinkers with flavor.
SAN DIEGO, CA - 7.0% ABV
Named as an ode to the brewing process of breaking down alpha acids into hops during the boil, Isomerizer is a showcase of the Mosaic hop. Big passion fruit, grapefruit, and guava tropical aromas carry right through to the last last sip. The bitterness is moderate and we'd call it a pretty classic example of a west coast IPA. This is a simple beer that does exactly what it advertises.
OAK PARK, IL - 4.6% ABV
We were admittedly a bit thrown off by the style of this one being called a wheat ale, given it drank a bit more cereal-grainy than expected. Still, it was a flavorful take on the lager, that proved more complex than your average version of the German style. It's breadiness is front and center, while it's rounded out by slight fruity- and bitterness of the Noble hops.
LONGMONT, CO - 5.5% ABV
We'd be lying if we said we weren't expecting much, merely based on the Austin-Powers-esque can aesthetic. We'd also be lying if we said we weren't impressed by its contents. One of our favorite spins on an otherwise modest style, this dry-hopped golden ale packs a flavorful punch. Like many others in our May lineup, this one is tropical and citrusy, with a surprisingly dry finish, despite its name.
ATLANTA, GA - 13.5% ABV
Holy cow, there's a lot going on here... a bourbon barrel-aged imperial brown ale, with coffee, vanilla beans, and maple syrup. Busy beers sometimes risk losing the nuances of each ingredient but that's not the case with Ante Meridiem. The barrel character is subtle and every ingredient is perfectly balanced, leaving each flavor identifiable from first to last sip. Oh, and there's a sloth on the label.
Dragon's Milk Reserve: Cherry Chocolate
HOLLAND, MI - 11.0% ABV
The Dragon's Milk Reserve series from New Holland always serves up surprises and Cherry Chocolate is no different. This is a dessert beer through and through, though the barrel and cherry are subtle compared to the huge chocolate aroma and taste. Despite what the ingredients might suggest, we like how it's not so sweet that you can't finish a bottle yourself. Pair with a chocolate cake for the full experience.
The Trilogy MMXVII - MALT
LEEDS, UK - 11.0% ABV
Our experiences with Northern Monk have been conflicted ones. Styled as a "black barleywine," this is far from what we're used to seeing from the English version of this style. The sweetness is dialed way back and there isn't the familiar hoppy backbone at the end. It is, however, incredibly well balanced and we'd never guess it hides an 11% ABV. Well worth sampling, if you can get your hands on it and ignore the labeled style.
OLD NATION x FOUNDATION
MICHIGAN/MAINE - 10.3% ABV
If there ever was a palate-wrecker disguised as a New England IPA, this just might be it. After pouring a distinctly Old Nation yellowy-orange haze, it gives off obvious pineapple notes on the nose and more-so on the tongue. We can understand the draw to a beer like this, if anything for it's impressive "this is a beer?" factor via appearance and taste, coupled with a dense yet pillowy tropicalia of flavors. Still, it leaves so much lingering pineapple must, that you'll need a dozen pretzels to cleanse your palate afterwards.
SEATTLE, WA - 6.5% ABV
"We wanted so much to like this more than we did," is not a great way to start a beer review. And deceptive it just may be, given we really didn't dislike this beer; it just came across as fairly unmemorable. What you might be expecting as a berry-forward or tart take on a pale ale proved to be hardly either of those things. The 'tart' descriptor is a bit of a stretch, since it's hoppy bitterness was far more prominent, drinking like a true IPA. And the berry quality barely showed through in the end, like a mild take on Cap'n Crunch Berries.
CINCINNATI, OH - 6.5% ABV
After years of experimentation, Rhinegeist is finally ready to release their sours to the world. Part of the Outer Reaches line, Infinite Dawn is a sour blonde ale that is impressively simple in its approach. Upon first pour, you're met with a noticeably pillowy white head and a crackery aroma, which is then followed by notes of pear, melon and a tinge of citrus on the tongue. It's carbonation and dry finish even give off hints of champagne.
St. louis, mo - 8.0% ABV
Like Bear Republic's Racer 500, this is a beer made for May's change of pace. We've been fawning over the St. Louis brewery's limited releases as of late, and we just can't seem to get enough. Kentucky Mule is no exception. It's not exactly what you expect in a boozey Mint Julep, for derby day. Instead, it's a more ginger-forward spin, with a tinge of mintiness and an obvious lime finish. Much like the brewery itself, this beer is eclectic and fun.
SIREN x WIPER & TRUE
FINCHAMPSTEAD, UK - 8.9% ABV
When the UK's Siren Craft Brew and Wiper & True teamed up to push the limits of Brettanomyces, they concocted this wild IPA. It's a showcase of enough fruitiness you'd expect from Citra and Simcoe hops, with very little bitterness. Instead, you're left with a light and airy Brett IPA that has just the right amount of funk to it. The addition of Hallertau Blanc push this profile more towards that of a dry wine, which is a pleasant spin as well.
Helles Golden Lager
POTTSTOWN, PA - 4.9% ABV
A good Helles should be easy drinking... easy to forget but always a first thought when looking for that next beer. That's what you have here from Pennsylvania's Sly Fox. Crisp and clean throughout, with a light bready flavor and just the right carbonation. Oh, and the can is of the pull-top variety, which suites the all day drinking style of this beer perfectly. One for the warm summer days ahead.
DOWNINGTOWN, PA - 5.2% ABV
Another Pennsylvania brewery, another example of a summer crusher, perfect for the warm weather that's suddenly upon us. This is a golden ale that we've had several times before, but this year's edition, whether from a change of recipe or just being fresh, is far more citrus forward than previous years. There's a little bitterness up front that may come as a surprise for the style, but the easy balanced finish and citrus aroma are what you'll remember.
The Hop Review's monthly beer reviews are collected from beers gathered at the discretion of our team. They include beers collected from travels, local brewers, as well as shared samples.