Unrepentant beer drinkers, rejoice! Each week, Clean Plate Charlie
will select one craft or import beer and give you the lowdown on it:
How does it taste? What should you drink it with? Where can you find
it? But mostly, it's all about the love of the brew. If you have a beer
you'd like featured in Beer of the Week, let us know via a comment.
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.
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
Comparing the two anniversary brews isn't
really easy. They're two vastly different styles, with the
connecting factors being that both employ an aggressive use of hops and
that both hover around 9 percent alcohol by volume.
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
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.