Beer of the Week: Happy Anniversary
As craft beer continues to grow, you might say it's entering its awkward teenaged years. Well, not so much awkward as experimental. American craft brewers in particular have become fanatical about pushing the boundaries and limits of traditional beer styles. It started with Imperial IPAs, a ridiculously strong take on hoppy pale ales. But from there, brewers began hopping everything aggressively. Hop-laden pilsners, porters, ambers, and stouts began showing up all over. Brewers started taking beers that were traditionally fermented with ale yeasts and using natural or wild fermentation processes instead. Not every crazy idea worked -- some tasted downright unbalanced, making you long for a pure, true-to-form beer style. But other combos were truly magical, like a new beer style was born overnight.
One of the places these experimental brews show up most often is in brewers' anniversary series. These once-per-year beers allow brewers to let loose and create something out of the ordinary.
Boulder, Colorado, brewer Avery began making and labeling a beer after its anniversary in 2003. The first of that series, Avery Ten, was a strong double IPA. This summer, the company debuted Avery Seventeen. It's a strong black lager in the tradition of German schwarzbier or dopplebocks. But instead of just doing a normal German-style lager, Avery decided to increase the alcohol content from the traditional 4 to 6 percent up to a whopping 9 percent. Then it used spicy German hops to dry-hop the beer, adding the kind of bittering you'd usually see only in a pale ale.
Avery's not the only brewer with an anniversary series out at the moment, though. California's Stone Brewing is celebrating its 14th anniversary this summer with Stone 14 Emperial IPA. Unlike Avery's entry, Stone 14 is not really a combination of styles. Rather, it's a seriously strong IPA using English malt and hops (thus the pun "Emperial" instead of "Imperial"). With white malt and Kent-style hops, Stone 14 is peppery, citrusy, and deeply bitter.
|Avery Seventeen in action.|
The Avery beer is a rewarding find. Its dark malt makes it taste of chocolate, bread, and coffee. Meanwhile, Avery's use of lager yeast imparts a certain clarity that calms the normal fruitiness a strong beer like this would have. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Stone beer is harsh, aggressive, and in-your-face despite being a clear, almost honey-like color. Its bitter hops are way over-the-top, and they don't relent on your palate.
If I had to choose one anniversary brew to buy, I'd lean toward the Avery. It just tastes more balanced to me, and I feel its starting point (German dark lagers) feels more accurate than that of the Stone 14 (English IPA). What I love about Avery Seventeen is its depth. It has a range of flavors and textures -- the spicy hops and bitter cocoa malt; the thick head, chewy body, and dry finish -- that really complement each other.
The Stone, on the other hand, does feel less refined. Creating this really aggressive English-style IPA was a cool idea, but it feels like Stone overthought the concept. The overly piney, citrusy flavors make it a tough beer for all but the most hopcentric to enjoy. Still special, no doubt. But like that awkward teenager, it's just not a finished product yet.
Find both beers at Total Wine & More and Crown Wine & Spirits.