And Now for Something Completely Different 

Three somethings actually—a trio of very different beers from a select group of breweries in different states: one from Washington, one from California and one from Sandpoint. The two things these unique brews have in common are that each is a special release, and each is bottled in the big 22-ounce format. They are all worth seeking out, being some of the most interesting offerings I've tasted in recent memory. Here's the lineup:

Hale's 25th Anniversary Belgian Style Dubbel

Washington's Hale's Ales is celebrating 25 years in the business with this rather subdued take on the Belgian theme. Yes, there's some of that sweet spice flavor typical of the genre, but it's nicely restrained. It pours a soft brown with a thin tan head, while the aromas are filled with caramel and spice, along with just a light hint of coriander. Creamy malt flavors dominate the palate backed by nice touches of blood orange, dark chocolate and lemon zest. You have to look for the hops, but they are there, adding balance to this surprisingly refreshing brew.

Laughing Dog Brewing Dogzilla Black IPA

One of a handful of Idaho breweries who bottle, Laughing Dog's special releases are always quite good, and this one is no exception. The ebony hue of this brew makes you think stout, but the pine-laced hops on the nose are pure IPA. Those hops are nicely balanced by a briny minerality that carries through on the palate. With its aggressive hop bite up front playing against a smooth malt middle, this could be a somewhat schizophrenic effort, but Dogzilla pulls it off nicely. The toasted malt flavors are on the dry side and blend well with the bitter bite that runs throughout, making for a smoother finish than you might otherwise expect. It's definitely worthy and probably my favorite of the three, but that's a tough call.

Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout

Nothing this California brewery does could be called subtle, but this stout is almost reserved for them. Faced with a hop shortage that has driven prices up tenfold, Stone decided to turn to chocolate to help increase the bitterness quotient. The result pours an opaque espresso color with a dark mocha head. It's a bit closed in on the nose, but there's an explosion of flavor in the mouth. You can definitely taste the bitter chocolate, and it blends beautifully with the just-sweet caramel malt. As intriguing as it is delicious, this is another winner from Stone Brewing.

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