Winter break is a fine time to drink some amazing beer. Without any class work, and being forced to watch Tarvaris Jackson quarterback the Vikings, there were plenty of reasons to pour a cold one. I was able to revisit some of my favorites as well as explore some new ones. Although I typically write about beers that are available in Galesburg or at least central Illinois, this week has many hard-to-find beers, but all are worth the hunt.
Surly Wet (American IPA, 7.5 percent abv): Located in Minnesota, Surly is known for canning their beers in 16 ounce cans. Wet is their fresh hop ale, meaning they harvest the hops and brew the beer as quickly as possible, as opposed to drying the hops before brewing. According to the can, Wet is brewed only four days after harvest. This IPA pours fairly predictably—light copper color and an impressive head that leaves lacing down the glass. It is a surprise how faint the smell is, as fresh hop beers typically have a huge hop aroma. The lackluster smell is no doubt made up for with a huge, pungent hop character. Not especially bitter, it is almost as if one is biting into a fresh hop while drinking the beer. The hop character has strong clementine and tangerine flavors with slight grapefruit and pine. As typical of the west coast IPA style, the malt backbone, which provides a pleasant sweetness, takes a backseat and allows the hops to dominate the palate. Surly yet again does not disappoint, as Wet is my favorite fresh-hop IPA.
Russian River Pliny the Elder: One of my three favorite beers in the world. Just pouring this beer releases the freshest orange citrus aroma. The smell goes well with the bright orange color of the beer. Just looking at and smelling the beer is a pleasure.The taste is also heavenly. Pliny is the perfect blend of citrus hops, piney hops and sweet malt. Its drinkability is off the charts; after every sip my mouth demands more and more. Pliny the Elder is the definition of a perfectly balanced west coast IPA.
Troegs Mad Elf (Belgian Strong Dark Ale, 11 percent abv): This beer, brewed with honey and cherries, looks like the perfect holiday beer; a bold ruby-red Christmas ornament. It is perfectly clear and absolutely delicious looking. In the nose I get a lot of dark cherries along with chocolate and caramel malt. The taste continues to impress. The first flavor in the taste is the dark cherries. Unlike other fruit beers this does not taste like fake fruit flavor or cough syrup but fresh dark cherries. After the cherries, the malt comes forward, providing chocolaty sweetness with a hint of the honey. Hops finish the taste, providing the perfect amount of bitterness to balance the sweetness from the malt. A light alcohol taste is present throughout the beer, which is disappointing but understandable for an 11 percent beer. I also wish the honey came through a bit more. These are minor complaints because this is a fantastic beer. Even though it is 11 percent, it is extremely drinkable as it is perfectly balanced and only medium bodied. I wish Troegs distributed to the Midwest, because I would get Mad Elf every year, as it is probably the best holiday beer I’ve had.
Russian River Consecration (American Wild Ale, 10 percent abv): This ale is brewed with wild yeasts and bacteria to provide a tart, sour flavor. It is then aged 9 months on cherries in American oak Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. The resulting beer is dark, muddy red with a quickly disappearing head. It smells almost of red wine with strong cherries, barrel aging with a touch of sweet malt and alcohol. The taste nearly blows my mind. It starts with sweet, dark cherries with sourness, but finishes with a dry caramel oak barrel taste. Afterwards, it feels like I just drank wine. The beer is not overly sweet like other sour ales, which is very good. My only complaint is that it may finish a bit too dryly. The mouthfeel is light to medium body with a plethora of fine carbonation.