A sour ale, an IPA and a Pilsner walk into a bar

Drink these beers now

When it comes to beer, sometimes you just need someone to steer the ship for you, a trustworthy friend who can serve as your guide when it comes to choosing a brew — because let’s be honest, there are just so many to choose from. Even if you can narrow down your style, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Look, I don’t mean to suggest you can’t make a decision for yourself, but you already have to make so many decisions each and every day. Should you shower before your first Zoom call of the day? Which shirt should you wear for that Zoom call? And, then, once the Zoom call starts, should you even keep your camera on?

It’s stressful.

Obviously, if you can navigate that battlefield, you can surely pick out a beer. But your brain might appreciate it if I do it for you just this once.

So here goes. Here are three beers I’ve had recently that I have thoroughly enjoyed and that I think you will too.

Rainbow Dome by Grimm Artisanal Ales (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

I don’t want to be too dramatic but this one kind of blew me away. Sours, as I’ve said many times, can be hit or miss for me personally, but this was a resounding hit. This is a dry-hopped sour ale “brewed with apricots and conditioned on oak,” and the result is a bright, fresh, tart, juicy sour ale that absolutely delighted my taste buds.

This brew, which pours pretty close to the color of an orange creamsicle, features a pronounced hop character, making this an excellent choice for the IPA lover who has thus far steered away from sour ales. There is some light oakiness and some lingering, pleasing bitterness. Just a wonderful brew for a hot summer day.

Your only problem might be tracking this one down. I found this one in a Craft Beer Cellar in Westford, Mass. Good luck in your quest.

Baby Seal Pool Party IPA by Shebeen Brewing Co. (Wolcott, Conn.)

The label features baby seals enjoying a pool party with a puffin serving as lifeguard — absolutely zero chance I wasn’t giving this one a shot. And I’m glad I did.

Shebeen dubs itself “Connecticut’s only Irish brewery,” and, hey, that may be true but by my count only one of the 20 beers listed on their website was in any way Irish, but who cares? Not me. Literally all of their beers sound amazing with very creative labels and names, such as “Puffin Puffin Pass” and “Alpaca Blanca.”

Baby Seal Pool Party is a New England-style IPA brewed with lactose, which might sound a little scary, but really, the resulting brew is hazy, juicy, and also kind of sweet and creamy, and that’s kind of the point of the lactose. You get the big citrus hop character you’d expect, alongside an extra sweet and juicy package.

Is my stomach still trying to digest the lactose nearly two weeks later? Yes. But was it worth it? Yes.

Mountain Time Premium Lager by New Belgium Brewing Co. (Fort Collins, Colo.)

It’s just a beer — a crisp, refreshing, flavorful beer that makes your taste buds say thank you as you drink it way too fast on a hot day. But seriously, this was light and refreshing but also really satisfying and when I say that, I mean it has a lot of flavor. It has more sweetness than you normally get from a Pilsner but it’s still in that same light, bright package you expect.

I would want a few of these by my side when I’m sitting at the beach.

What’s in My Fridge
Citra Brau by Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers. (Framingham, Mass.)
Nice and hoppy but extremely light, this is just an excellent all-around, anytime brew that you will probably want to keep a steady supply of. Cheers!

Sour power

Summer is the perfect time to explore sours

I often talk about sour beer as if it’s simply its own category of beers, just like IPAs or stouts or Pilsners. But that’s not really accurate. The category, if we can even call it that, is much, much broader.

Sour beers run across styles. They vary greatly in both flavor and color. Some are so bright and tart that you have to pucker up. Others are much, much more mellow, featuring more earthy tones and layers upon layers of complexity — and everything in between.

Lambics, Gose, Berliner weisse and wild ales are all styles that can qualify as sours.

Regardless of the style, sours are unified, in my mind, by an extremely vague standard that I will describe as: they taste funky. See, not a whole lot of science behind that analysis.

Bacteria creates the tart acidity most have become accustomed to with sours, and wild yeast adds the earthiness; admittedly, this is a pretty dramatic oversimplification, but that’s what we’re going with.

On a hot day, a tart, crisp, salty Gose is perfect and a Berliner weisse, which is a variant of a wheat beer, is a perfect summer brew, thanks in part to its super-low alcohol level. A lambic can be heavier and and downright syrupy and wild ales can sprint across the spectrum.

In the summer I want brews that are crisp, refreshing and on the lighter side but still have plenty of flavor. What I’ve really started to enjoy about lighter sours, particularly Goses and Berliner weisses, are the unique combinations of flavors sours can bring together.

The SeaQuench Ale by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, for example, is “a session sour mash-up of a crisp Kölsch, a salty Gose and a tart Berliner weiss brewed in sequence with black limes, sour lime juice and sea salt.” I don’t know what black limes are and I’m scared to ask, but the resulting brew is super light and refreshing, extremely tart and crisp, but still overflowing with big flavor.

Ballast Point Brewing Co. features a Citrus Cove Gose that boasts a similar salty-lime profile.

Both of these brews are approachable and eminently drinkable but the tart acidity coupled with fruity flavors adds a new dimension to the drinking experience.

Here in New Hampshire, breweries are not ceasing to experiment. Throwback Brewery in North Hampton currently features a Plum Luck Sour, a Gose brewed with salt and plums. Stoneface Brewing Co. in Newington offers All the Raspberries & Blackberries, a Berliner weisse brewed with “copious” amounts of blackberries and raspberries and which “strikes the perfect balance of sweet and tart,” says the brewery.

603 Brewery produces its own take on a refreshing lime-flavored sour with its Margarita Gose, pairing the flavors of lime, salt and bit of orange. Henniker Brewing Co.’s Sour Flour is an exciting dry-hopped brew boasting bright, tropical fruit flavors with the flavor of tart lemon.

Poppy’s Moonship, a brew by Schilling Beer Co., is another interesting Gose featuring a “gentle salinity” and which is brewed with Schilling’s own house culture.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is if a brewery wants to toss a bunch of fruit, some salt and some crazy bacteria and yeast into a brew, don’t sprint in the opposite direction. Dive in face first.

What’s in My Fridge
Evil 3 Triple IPA by Heretic Brewing Co. (Fairfield, Calif.)
Full disclosure: This beer was just too much for me. I’m not ashamed to admit it. This ultra-aggressive triple IPA comes in at 11.5 percent ABV — full stop. I woke up the next morning after having a single beer wondering what exactly happened the previous evening. I think others will probably disagree but I just felt like the alcohol made it hard for me to fully appreciate the other characteristics of this beer. But I could also be a big baby. I do look forward to trying this again to see if I feel any different about it. Cheers!

Featured photo: Light-bodied sours are perfect for summer. Courtesy photo.

Grilling with beer

Beer can be a marinade too

I love the complexity, texture and flavor that a rich, dark beer can bring to a big pot of slow-cooked, braised beef stew. And I love how a crisp, lighter brew adds another dimension of flavor to a big pot of chili. And what’s not to love about a pint of Guinness-flavored ice cream?

But what about marinating a steak in beer? That I wasn’t so sure about. But really, why not?

It’s summer and nobody wants to braise a big hunk of meat on the stovetop when it’s 90 degrees outside. But lots and lots of people do want to stand outside (probably with a beer in hand) as they man their respective grills — especially with the Fourth of July upon us.

First, marinating meat with beer isn’t a new concept, even if it wasn’t something I’d attempted previously. Beer adds flavor and it helps tenderize the meat as well, so all good things. But I struggled more with what kind of beer to use and what meat to use it with.

Based on my research and experimentation, there really aren’t any hard and fast rules. It really depends on what type of flavor you’re trying to impart to your meat.

A lighter beer like a Pilsner or lemony wheat beer would be a nice choice to marinate chicken breasts or maybe even fish filets, like salmon. But a pale ale or an IPA would also add some flavor and complexity to those same chicken breasts or some pork chops or pork tenderloin.

I tend to think darker beers like dry stouts or German dunkels work well when marinating steaks or even just mixed into a burger.

But really, it’s your call, and it’s honestly going to be kind of hard for you to mess it up so don’t stress.

Here’s just one recipe to consider — think of it as a baseline more than anything.

Featured Photo: Try using beer in your next marinade. Photo by Jeff Mucciarone.

Beer-marinated pork chops
12 ounces of beer
2 cloves of minced garlic
1/4 cup of minced onion or shallot
2 bone-in pork chops
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in a zip-close bag and refrigerate for a few hours. Give the pork chops an hour or so to come up to room temperature. Pat the chops dry. Turn on your grill and when hot, toss on the pork chops. Cook them over medium heat for 5 to 6 minutes per side, depending on thickness, until they develop a nice crust on each side. Take them off and let them rest for 5 to 10 minutes. If you have a significant amount of excess marinade, you could simmer it on the stovetop for 5 to 10 minutes and use it as a delicious sauce. Of note, I used a pale ale in this marinade but I think you could use just about anything. Enjoy.

What’s in My Fridge
Sluice Juice New England IPA by Bent Water Brewing Co. (Lynn, MA)
This New England-style IPA has big citrus aroma — a breathtaking amount of citrus actually, mainly orange flavors. The beer itself is delicious, very smooth, mild bitterness. This is what you’re looking for when you choose a New England-style IPA. I had it straight out of the can at first and that was great, but I actually preferred it out of a glass as I felt like I picked up more of the aromas. Cheers!

Need to try
The Portsmouth Brewery is offering a Citrus Vanilla Sour that both scares me and intrigues me. This is “a light bodied beer with the addition of orange peel and vanilla beans … [and] a touch of caramel malt is balanced by the tart pithy-ness of the citrus,” according to the brewery. I’ve got to get my taste buds on that.

IPA is still king

There is no getting around it

We can talk about stouts and sours and Belgian-style brews and Pilsners and barrel-aging and so on and so forth, but at the end of the day the IPA is still driving the bus. So, let’s get right into it.

I’ve been fortunate to have a series of excellent IPAs recently — not all at once, mind you — and even as I find myself overwhelmed or even burnt out with the style at times, I can’t help myself from going back time and time again.

Simply put, IPAs remain delicious and brewers seem to continually find ways to create exciting brews that delight the palate.

Here are three IPAs I’ve recently enjoyed and one I look forward to enjoying.

Angelica Hazy Orange IPA by Lord Hobo Brewing Co. (Woburn, Massachusetts)

I love the citrusy, sweet burst of a New England-style IPA that gives it that “juicy” characteristic. The combination of hops can provide an array of tropical flavors like papaya, mango, pineapple, grapefruit and orange. So all of that said, I was intrigued but also scared of this beer. Like I said, I like the citrusy burst but I get scared when a beer is labeled with the name of a fruit. It just screams “too sweet” to me. I need not have been afraid. On a blistering hot and humid day, this beer was refreshing, drinkable and extremely tasty. There is big orange flavor but I never got the over-the-top sweetness I feared. Lord Hobo also produces a non-orange version that is also delicious.

Trading Tales Dry Hopped Lager by Collective Arts Brewing Co. (Waunakee, Wisconsin) in collaboration with Dancing Gnome Brewery (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

I know, I know this is technically a lager but take a sip and you’ll slot this into the IPA category too. This brew hits you in the face with hops, specifically strata and citra hops but it comes in at an eminently drinkable 5.1-percent ABV. This was an absolute pleasure to drink, and, as with all Collective Arts brews, the can artwork, is, well, interesting.

Rise Double IPA by Breakaway Beerworks (Manchester)

I recently stumbled upon this brewery and grabbed this beer thinking I was grabbing something from an entirely different brewery. Now that it’s clear that I might not be all that detail-oriented these days, I’m glad I did mistakenly choose this brewery, which actually brews its beers at Great North Aleworks in Manchester. Rise is an aggressive brew that is, I think, best described as “amped up.” The hops are amped up, the flavor is amped up, the bitterness is amped up and the alcohol is amped up. But these are all good things. I’m just giving you a heads up. It’s a bold IPA that brings huge citrus and pine flavor. This is a terrific double IPA and I look forward to trying more brews from this brewery.

Playlist 07:01 IPA by Throwback Brewery (North Hampton)

Many breweries are offering ever-evolving versions of their IPAs, keeping the recipe the same but switching up the hop combination or some other aspect of the brew to create a new and interesting concoction with each batch. Throwback’s Playlist beer series features the same “base IPA recipe,” of oats and malts, but they switch up the yeast or the hops with each batch. This iteration, made with dragon, wolf, fox and citra hops and kveik yeast, features flavors of citrus, strawberry and light honey, along with light herbal tea and pine notes, according to the brewery. I’ll be tracking this one down.

What’s in My Fridge
Rise A.P.A. by Whalers Brewing Co. (Wakefield, Rhode Island) I love the can design here featuring a big ol’ whale, of all things, on the front. Their flagship brew, this is a pretty easy-drinking, dry-hopped American Pale Ale that paired quite well with watching my kids run through sprinklers on a hot day. Cheers!

Beer and fire pits

Fire pits are having their moment

“Want to walk over and have a beer by the fire? The kids can have some s’mores. We’ll keep our distance.”

My wife and I texted our neighbors with a version of this invitation a few weeks ago. The answer was, “yes,” so, no big deal, I have friends, but we were more than a little hesitant about the offer. Was it appropriate? Was it safe? Were we putting our friends in a tough spot where they would have to say, “No, thank you, duh, we’re in the middle of a pandemic that requires social distancing.”

I’m not trying to make light of a very real, very scary global situation, but as I walk up and down my neighborhood in the evenings, it’s very clear that if I’d somehow invested in backyard fire pits, I’d be very wealthy right now.

It makes sense. The ability to get together inside is pretty limited these days, so why not get together around the fire? I do think the current circumstances have reminded all of us of some simple pleasures we might otherwise take for granted. And there is nothing quite so simple, yet satisfying, as letting your mind go while the flames lick at a few seasoned logs.

It’s a campfire, except that when you’re ready to go to bed you can just walk into your own house.

And there is absolutely no reason why you can’t enjoy a beer with a friend sitting on the opposite side of the fire — or maybe even a couple friends, but let’s not get carried away.

The best news of all is that beer has always been perhaps the single greatest accompaniment to a fire. I don’t know that I ever appreciate a beer as much as I do alongside a fire. There is something about the flames and the smoke and the cool evening air that just pairs perfectly with a can or a bottle or a plastic cup of ice-cold beer.

Any beer that suits you works in this instance. You want a rich, dark coffee stout? Perfect fit! What about something light, like a simple Pilsner? Excellent choice! Thinking about trying out that bottle of raspberry wheat ale? You don’t need to bring me one but by all means go for it.

Unless it’s a blazing hot summer night, in which case I might be likely to decline the fire altogether, I tend to lean toward beers with a bit more substance, like a brown ale, such as Kelsen Brewing Co.’s Paradigm Brown Ale, or perhaps something like Throwback Brewery’s Oma’s Tribute, which is a black lager boasting big roasted malt flavor.

Able Ebenezer Brewing Co.’s Burn the Ships smoked IPA would be an obvious and perfect fireside brew.

I think the fire is the time to bust out, and presumably share, some barrel-aged brews, like Stoneface Brewing Co.’s barrel-aged Mistadoppelina, which is a “malt-forward lager with notes of toffee, caramel and dates,” according to the brewery, or Stoneface’s 2020 bourbon barrel-aged Russian imperial stout that “is dominated by bourbon and barrel characteristics like sweet oak and vanilla.” Maybe you wouldn’t normally go to a big stout in summer, but the fire helps you relax and appreciate the nuances and complexities of barrel-aged brews.

The point is, there’s a lot we can’t or maybe shouldn’t do right now, but one thing we can do is enjoy a beer by the fire, so go do it, and consider setting up a couple chairs for friends — six feet apart.

Photo: Any beer pairs well with a fire, including Henniker Brewing Company’s Kolsch Style Ale. Courtesy photo.

What’s in My Fridge
Juliette by Amherst Brewing Co. (Amherst, Mass.) Wow. I’ve come to love this brewery over the past few months. This IPA, in particular, might be my favorite. It’s brewed with flaked oats and “local Valley Malt Warthog Wheat,” and brewed with Summit, Eureka! and Citra hops. This is a brewery and a beer you should seek out. Cheers!

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