The end of the year, in part, is about looking back and taking a moment to reflect. While the origins of Thanksgiving are mostly tragic and terrible, that doesn’t mean we can’t reflect on both what we are thankful for and what we need to improve on. And, for the sake of this piece, I wanted to take a moment and look back — with a smile — at the beer trends I’m thankful for in 2016.
Fresh hop beers
It’s the saving grace of every September. Farmers and brewers alike have just plucked their hop fields and rushed the oily little green pinecones that are hop flowers to their breweries and, instead of drying them, use them immediately for lighter, brighter — yes, fresh! — IPAs and pale ales. It’s like taking a summer sunset, balling it up in your hand, and juicing it like an orange into a pint glass. Floral, citrusy and exhilarating.
Similar to their cousin fresh hop, session IPAs are light and bright. But session IPAs often take it one step further. If you like beer, it’s fair to assume you’ve had an IPA or two. And you know how thick and heavy and often malty their bodies can be. But you also know you like their sharpness and edge. Well, with session IPAs you get the floral sharp qualities and a bit of the hops without the big body and heaviness. It’s like a pilsner had a beer child with an IPA. It’s practically the perfect pint.
I admit it. I’m a sucker for a red ale. Something about the color and duration the grain is roasted for makes my palate joyous. But I’ll also admit this: often the problem with red ales is they have no backbone and their have a sweet front end. It can be off-putting and deterring. But hopped reds have that important spine, that bite. And the hop either takes the place of or offsets all that malt.
As craft beer becomes more and more ubiquitous, palates (and the eyes with which we first eat and drink) are no longer scared of dark beers. Call it the Guinness effect if you will, but stouts and porters and even Cascadian Dark Ales (I.e. Black IPAs) are becoming more and more available. And, as I wrote recently, now is the perfect time to jump into dark beers like winter warmers and Christmas Ales, those spicy-sweet, perfect-for-a-fireplace-type brew.
Most of the big domestic beer companies focus on pilsners and lagers. But that’s a business decision and less a love for the style and craft. While they may have perfected a type of lighter beer, they haven’t perfected brewing light beer, in general. But there are breweries who do focus on this primarily and they are yielding excellent, crisp results. To name one, Bellingham, WA’s Chuckanut Brewery makes German-style Helles lagers, Vienna lagers, Czech pilsners and other varieties. They difference between each beer is nuanced and slim but also historic and important to the origins of beer, itself. Czech pilsners use different grains and hops than do Vienna lagers. Want to know more? Chuckanut knows.
Eight words: Goodbye bad ciders and hello mind-blowing new ones! Maybe that was nine words. Either way, we’re full speed ahead on cider production in this country and the dregs of the thick, sugary apple juice-like ciders we were introduced to five or 10 years ago are finally being replaced by deep, nuanced, berry-infused ciders today. Cranberry ciders, ginger ciders, black current and lavender ciders. Yes please!