American Standards 

No, we're not talking the playlist from the latest CD by lounge singer wannabe Rod Stewart (who knew?). This is about American craft beer and three different landmark brews that set the tone for three different styles. Served up are an IPA, a pale ale and a hefeweizen. You may or may not agree that my picks are the best available, but they are readily available and serve as something of a benchmark for most beer lovers. Let the drinking begin.

Anchor Brewing Liberty Ale

Anchor has a history in San Francisco dating back to 1896. It's gone through a lot of changes and a lot of openings and closings, but in 1965, appliance heir Fritz Maytag rescued the operation. He brought out Liberty Ale in 1975 to commemorate the ride of Paul Revere. Though it's not labeled as an IPA, with its dry hopping and bitterness profile, it certainly qualifies. We're not talking the Northwest uber-hop style here, but more an homage to the legendary--gone but not forgotten--Ballantine IPA. It's all about balance, and this one has it in spades with complex hops that range from pine resin to citrus. Smooth malt and apricot tea flavors mark the mid-palate with an nice hit of oily bitterness on the finish. This is an old favorite you shouldn't neglect.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Pours a pale amber with a thick and frothy light-beige head that crashes fairly quickly but leaves a nice lacing. Light, lovely hop aromas mingle with citrus and malt. At its coldest, sweet biscuit and caramel malt are backed by citrus and spice with a good hop grip on the finish. As it warms up the pine-colored hops move forward, and you pick up notes of berry and deeper spice. After 30 years this is still Sierra Nevada's flagship brew. Its balance and easy drinkability make it a hallmark for the style.

Widmer Hefeweizen

This hazy, golden-hued brew is the perfect fit for the lazy days of summer. OK, it's not the most complex brew, but who wants complexity when the scorching sun is beating down on you? Widmer is the original, introducing their version of hefeweizen to America in 1986. The aromas are light and marked by soft hops and wheat. It's a completely refreshing quaff with sweet citrus playing against yeasty bread dough and very subdued malt. If it finishes a bit short, adding the traditional lemon wedge fixes that nicely. Lighten up and enjoy.

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