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Saturday, December 09, 2023

The best and the brightest of fall microbrews

While the macrobrew industry has been churning out nearly identical products for the past few decades, investing their innovative efforts in new advertising campaigns and branding gimmicks, the craft beer community has thrived in pursuing the untested and unknown.

With bigger and more daring beers, hybrid or entirely novel styles and the use of unique, diverse ingredients, creativity has been snatched from the hands of the execs and given to the brewer. For these reasons, I have always believed that the best beer I’ll ever taste, whatever that may be, likely hasn’t even been invented yet.

It may be hard for us as college students to realize, but the American craft beer scene really isn’t much older than we are—it isn’t hard to predict that the best is yet to come. With that said, this week’s column focuses on the very latest in craft beer, with this season’s new beer releases.

Hinterland Bourbon Barrel Doppelbock:

I’ll start with a beer that’s already on liquor store shelves, Hinterland’s ambitious doppelbock aged in bourbon barrels. Just looking at the name, this beer already embodies what craft beer is all about right now: taking a classic German style and doing something crazy with it.

There is perhaps no more popular trend in American brewing right now than bourbon-barrel aging, imparting a rich, buttery and boozy bourbon flavor on the base beer. The technique is risky, as overwhelming alcohol notes can ruin the beer if the aging isn’t carefully done. Thankfully, Hinterland does it right, and the result is an incredibly balanced and flavorful beer. Thinner than expected, the beer stays drinkable with buttery, rich cream, vanilla, raisin, molasses and plum.

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Founders Bolt-Cutter Barleywine:

Founders’ “back-stage” series of limited, one-time-release brews is maybe the most sought-after line of beers in the country. The next installment is Bolt-Cutter, a 15 percent barleywine to celebrate the brewery’s 15th anniversary. A portion of the beer was aged in bourbon barrels and a portion in maple syrup barrels, demanding an immediate comparison to their legendary Canadian Breakfast Stout.

Goose Island Bourbon County Cherry Rye Stout:

If bourbon aging is the trend, Bourbon County Stout was the trendsetter. The massive 15 percent ABV was perhaps the most influential beer in popularizing bourbon aging and still stands today as one of the best examples of the style. However, since its invention, Goose Island hasn’t stopped experimenting with the base beer, resulting in a line up of bold and interesting brews. The latest is Cherry Rye, which ages Bourbon County in rye whiskey barrels and adds whole Michigan cherries. Goose Island Madame Rose attests to the brewery’s skill in brewing with cherries, so it’s safe to have high expectations for this one.

New Glarus Serendipity:

New Glarus calls this beer a “happy accident fruit ale,” because in reality they had no intention of brewing it before the Wisconsin cherry harvest failed, preventing the brewery from making as much Belgian Red as usual. To make up for it, New Glarus is releasing Serendipity, a fruit beer with cranberries, cherries and apples.

The Bruery Rueuze Oak Aged Sour Blonde Ale:

The California-based Bruery may come out with more unique new beers every year than anyone else in craft beer. Only having opened in 2008, these guys are new to the craft beer scene and have already accumulated an incredible reputation. I was lucky enough to actually meet Patrick Rue, CEO and founder of The Bruery, when he came to Star Liquor on Willy Street this past August. He was giving out several samples including Oude Tart and Tart of Darkness, both phenomenal sour ales. Given their prior successes in the style, Rueuze could be another great new beer.

Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout:

Along with perhaps Anchor Brewery in San Francisco, Sierra Nevada is one of the founders of American craft beer. Several decades later they’re still making incredible beer. The next brew in their “High Altitude” series of intense four pack offerings is Narwhal, a 10.2 percent ABV imperial stout.

Given the quality of their previous High Altitude beers like Bigfoot Barleywine and Hoptimium Imperial IPA, Narwhal gives us reason to be excited.

Have questions, comments or suggestions for Niko? Email him at ivanovic@wisc.edu.

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