We've lost a lot and gained a lot since I drank my first beer some 40 years ago. Back in the day, different bigger breweries tasted different. I loved the smoothness of a Ballantine Ale, the in-your-face flavors of a Rainier Not-So-Light, the resiny hops that added character to a Hamm's. Those offerings are either gone or have been homogenized, but in their place we have so much more, so there's no real reason to mourn. This week's lineup reminds me just how diverse and wonderful today's American craft brews are, with more great choices than the '60s ever offered.
Grand Teton Lost Continent Double IPA
With three pounds of hops per barrel and another pound of dry hops added after fermentation, it's no surprise that this one weighs in at 90-plus International Bitterness Units. But what is surprising is how well integrated, almost reserved, those hops are. The brew offers pine and citrus on the nose and lots of fruit flavors in the mouth (peach, orange, grapefruit). Smooth, creamy malt shows up throughout with a citrus zest bitterness on the clean, dry finish. Another big winner from this Idaho brewery.
Pike Monk's Uncle Tripel Ale
This golden-hued brew with a light head recedes quickly but leaves some lovely lacing. The aromas are soft and yeasty with a subtle fruit component and an even more subtle touch of pepper and spice. On the palate it really shines, with tropical fruit blending nicely with the sweet caramel malt. The hops are reserved but present, adding a pleasant, citrus-hued balance. Spicy clove comes through as well. It weighs in at nine percent alcohol, which you don't really taste, but I'm guessing you will feel it if you drink all 24 ounces.
Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Fresh Hop Ale
Pours a ruby tinted amber with a lithe and lacy tan froth that persists nicely. Smooth fruity hops come through on the nose marked by a light touch of mineral. This one is dangerously drinkable with bright, well rounded hops up front, nice citrus and light malt in the middle, all backed up by an ample hop bite on the finish. The fresh hops come from New Zealand where they are dried, then rushed to California, hitting the beer vat within a week of harvest. Fresh hop ales offer something immediately refreshing, and this one is a real standout.