Spring is here—well, sort of—and with it a new crop of local brews. So far, 2014 looks to be the year of the citrus IPA, with a host of new fruit-forward pale ales landing on local taps and shelves. We found a few good ones in our tasting of 10 new or unfamiliar seasonal beers now in bottles. But, as we learned, it's not yet time to set aside coffee or good old Crystal hops.
Rating: 87 points (out of 100)
Gigantic starts spring with a big, Belgian-style coffee beer. The style is listed as an Imperial Black Saison—a double oxymoron—and has a light body that smells of cold-pressed Coava coffee. It's 8.2-percent ABV but smells and sips like a cup of roasty joe. The only complaints our tasters had were that it didn't taste enough like beer. And, yes, the label was drawn by local man-made-good Shannon Wheeler.
Tasting notes: "I've had six cups of coffee today, and this feels right." "The coffee just clobbers the saison base beer, like the buzz just missed the beer.
Oregon's oldest craft brewery, celebrating its 30th year, scores a direct hit with this pale ale, which comes in both bombers and sixers. The Crystal hops give a pleasant, fruity tang and smell to this sweet brew.
Tasting notes: "I could drink it all spring, summer and fall." "It's like one of those hop candies you get at a homebrew shop."
Radlers are already big this year, with many breweries rolling out their fruity shandies long before Memorial Day. If citrus IPA is the new IPA, Coalition has a head start on the competition with this sweet, fruit-forward brew that uses a heavy dose of juice and zest from five mysterious citrus fruits.
Tasting notes: "It's citrusy without the bite of the Citrus Mistress." "Very fruit-forward."
Considering it's an India Red Ale with a relatively complex bill of three malts and five hops, Ninkasi's Dawn of the Red sure has a lot of fruity flavor. The label tells you to expect mango, papaya and pineapple, and we got all three.
Tasting notes: "Hello, tropical fruit!" "Smoothly transitions into fruity nose and bitter finish." "Mango madness!"
Just like Coalition's Space Fruit, Citrus Mistress is an attempt to spotlight the citrus flavors in an IPA by adding a little fruit peel. This beer is a real IPA, too, with 80 IBUs from five hops. It smells great, but there's not enough fresh fruitiness from the added grapefruit to overcome a slight ammonia flavor.
Tasting notes:"#Grapefruit4Life." "Ammoniac." "Love the smell—but tastes a little cat-pissy."
The second bottling of the Commons Bière de Garde, which previously appeared in the spring of 2012, finds one of our favorite Portland breweries dry-hopping with French Strisselspalt hops. It still seemed overly sweet and malty to us.
Tasting notes: "Great to pair with cheese." "Sweet with a yeasty, greasy note to counteract." "Finish disappears quickly."
Bend's 10 Barrel tried to bottle a nitro red ale. It didn't work, since the bottles kept exploding. Released in January, this "spring seasonal" was pretty tasty this time in February, but it hasn't matured well.
Tasting notes: "Lives up to its name: failed." "Brassy, ruddy taste." "Sweet pennies."
Gigantic's only regular beer is its IPA, with the brewery rolling out a new one-off seasonal every few months. This one was sandwiched between Most Premium Imperial Russian Stout (our No. 10 beer of 2013) and Too Much Coffee Man (which won this tasting) but didn't impress us.
Tasting notes: "Smells like a musty laundry room." "Mostly just tepid."
This seasonal beer is a blend of German rye, coriander and super-bitter Bullion hops. The coriander was nice on the nose but not in the mouth, and the bitterness of the high-alpha Bullion wasn't the right counterpoint.
Tasting notes: "Smells like a Bath & Body Works. Tastes like it too." "Breakside threatened to make a beer that tasted like freshly cut grass—but Burnside did it." "Soapy salsa and sandwich bread."
This beer by John Harris' newish Ecliptic Brewing is a Cascadian Dark Ale that's named for the darkest nebula in the Milky Way. The beer doesn't match. This brew is far lighter in color than expected, and less balanced than a drunk cosmonaut floating in his sleep.
Tasting notes: "So smoky it makes you cough." "Hint of wood pulp." "Burned hop field."