Beers of the Week: Mid-Marching

Filling in the gaps on a few more brews of note, including a pair for this past week despite my ESPN El Paso radio spot — the raison d’etre of these lists in the first place — being postponed.

• February 25: Smuttynose Durty Mud Season Hoppy Brown Ale

Though they don’t get a ton of fanfare, I’ve long been a fan of Smuttynose Brewing Company, a New Hampshire concern that’s been around since 1994. Their year-round beers have been pretty easy to find at my local grocery store and deli for the past several years, and between their Finestkind IPA, Shoals Pale Ale, Old Brown Dog Ale and Robust Porter, they’re always dependable and generally underrated, a fine mid-priced option to have in the rotation. Peruse their rankings at Beer Advocate and you’ll see a lot of scores in the high 90s, especially from the Alstrom Brothers, who gave the aforementioned IPA a 100. They deserve more attention than they get.

I’ve particularly been a fan of Smutty’s darker beers; their porter is a go-to for me, and I liked the Noonan Black IPA that I tried awhile back. Having enjoyed their Mud Season last time around, without hesitation I picked up a six-pack of their 2015 edition when it showed up at my local. This one is a high-ABV (8.4%) and IBU (97) brown ale where the hops —  Bravo, Nugget and Rakao according to their website, of which I’m really familiar with only the Nugget — are definitely up front as advertised, and at Double IPA strength to boot, with pine the predominant aroma. That gives way to citrus notes that are quickly elbowed out by the more typically malty caramel and toffee characteristics of a brown ale and a fairly bitter finish.

If you’re a fan of Stone Arrogant Bastard, this is in that league, with more alcohol but better portion control, as it comes in 12-ounce bottles instead of 22-ounce bombers. Good stuff.

• March 4: Sierra Nevada Harvest Wild Hop IPA

I stumbled across this at Top Hops, the great specialty shop on the Lower East Side, and at $4.99 for a 24-ounce bottle, I figured it was worth a flyer even if it was probably a few weeks past its prime, having been released in December. It was positioned as the fifth in a five-beer series that explored hopping methods with rare hops, with two single-hop IPAs, plus a fresh hop IPA, a wet hop IPA and this wild child — all of which made me bummed that I had failed to catch up with the series before, particularly since I don’t think this one’s coming to Netflix anytime soon.

Anyway, this beer was made with Neomexicanus hops from New Mexico, of which the Sierra site says, “These bizarre, multi-headed, native U.S. cones have a flavor like nothing we’ve tasted.” Indeed, the predominant up-front tastes and aromas made for a fruity combination of melon and citrus — maybe cantaloupe and tangerine? I need another to be sure. Despite the wild hops’ reputation for excessive bitterness, this wasn’t overwhelming at all at 55 IBU, nor was it particularly high in alcohol (6.5% ABV). It may not have been the best of the limited Sierras I’ve had over the years — the Estate Homegrown Ale and 30th Anniversary Fritz and Ken’s Ale come to mind and OMG I WANT TO GO TO THERE — but it was certainly a nice change of pace. I was more than happy to pick up a second bottle when it showed up closer to home.

• March 11: Other Half IPA and Other Half Superfun! Pale Ale

With my radio spot postponed, I figured it’s a good time to write about some beers that my Texas listeners wouldn’t have a shot at tracking down anyway, so here’s to perhaps the hottest local brewery. Located at the southern tip of Carroll Gardens near the Gowanus Expressway, Other Half is within walking distance of my home, at least when the weather is warm enough. Last summer, I got into the habit of picking up a growler at their tasting room on the way back from eating tacos and pupusas at the Red Hook Ball Fields. The brewery, which debuted in November 2013, has quickly become one of the most popular among craft aficionados, not only in New York City but beyond. They specialize in big West Coast-style IPAs, but they have an experimental bent that led them to brew 45 different beers within their first 12 months, with all kind of saisons and other varieties that are outside my wheelhouse, but that I respect nonetheless.

Their flagship IPA is a fine West Coaster, with Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and Simcoe hops. Heavy on the citrus with grapefruit and orange notes as well as pine, delivered via a light body that belied its 7.1% ABV and 70 IBU, it’s far from their most adventurous beer, and it probably isn’t their best IPA. I prefer their Citra-based Hop Showers IPA, not to mention their Green Diamonds DIPA, which has drawn comparisons to Heady Topper (which alas, I’ve never had). On this Friday night, I had set out for Bierkraft in search of their Not My Jam Black IPA, only to find that the keg was kicked, replaced by one of the IPA; I wasn’t in much mood to complain. My fiancée and I polished that thing off over the course of an Altman movie, so it was an evening well spent.

On that same Bierkraft run, I picked up a 16-ounce can of their Superfun!, the first of their efforts in conjunction with the mobile Iron Heart Canning service, which makes it possible for smaller outfits to can without the capital cost of building their own lines (see this article in Brooklyn Magazine for more). This one came from a batch of 7,500 whose labels were hand-applied, sold at the brewery for $4 a pop and marked up to $5.95 at Park Slope’s notorious gougemart — though I guess it was a fair premium given that I’m not big on standing in line for beer.

Superfun! isn’t an IPA, it’s a session pale ale that comes in at 4.2% ABV, but crack open that can and you’ll think you’ve got a Double IPA under your nose given the intensity of the Simcoe, Galaxy, and El Dorado hops. Tropical fruit (mango?) notes up front, with some orange and tangerine in there as well, with a dry finish but not overwhelming bitterness (the IBU is unknown, in part because Other Half’s website is less than half-assed). Though released in February, this would make for a great warm-weather beer, though it’s beyond impossible that it ever shows up at, say, Yankee Stadium, a.k.a The House That AB InBev Runs. I’d love to have more of this, but until the run gets larger and the price point drops, a growler is probably the way to go. Still, I can’t begrudge their canning runs given the way they can spread the word farther and wider about what a great brewery this is, and I look forward to paying a similarly steep price for a can of Green Diamonds soon.

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