America’s best beer comes from the West Coast. Whether or not that’s actually true, residents of the west coast know with absolute metaphysical certainty that America’s best suds come from west of the Rocky Mountains, and not the ones that turn blue when your Coors Light is so cold that you can’t taste how bad it is. The West Coast knows beer, and nobody else could possibly say otherwise.
Whenever you travel, do you make sure to try the local beer? Sure it might be tempting to order one of your local standby brews when you see it on the menu, but did you really travel from San Diego to Baltimore just to order a Sculpin IPA? Sure, Sculpin is great, but there’s a great big beautiful beer world out there. Don’t forget to stop and smell the hops.
A recent trip to the East Coast offered a perfect trip to try some things that you just don’t see in California, and each one of them were excellent in their own unique ways. This is hardly an exhaustive list, just a few random beers that are well worth trying.
Cluster Double India Pale Ale by Harvest Moon Brewery & Café
Sometimes good things come out of less than ideal situations. Sometimes you’re stuck on the campus of Rutgers University at midnight after getting back to the hotel from WrestleMania 29, and there’s only one bar open within walking distance. This was one of those times.
You’re not going to find this beer anywhere except for their restaurant in New Brunswick, NJ. With a few notable exceptions – some of which will be mentioned later – the mention of an East Coast brewery trying to make a West Coast-style IPA can make the skin crawl. For whatever reason, East Coast IPA just isn’t up to the standards set by the California IPA trailblazers.
Cluster double IPA was a pleasant surprise. The initial aroma had a good amount of citrus and grapefruit hops. The taste backed up the aroma with a pleasant amount of malty flavor. This is a solid double IPA.
Closest West Coast equivalent: Firestone Walker Double Jack
Below Decks Barleywine aged in cabernet barrels by Heavy Seas
There are two opinions about barleywine. You either love it or you can’t stand it. If for some reason someone set out to make a barleywine with a weak flavor, they’d be the first.
This offering from Baltimore’s Heavy Seas brewing is a heavy, dark elixir with a boozy aroma and sweet flavor. The cabernet barrel-aging also gives it an extra layer of flavor.
Unfortunately you’d be hard-pressed to find an equivalent on the West Coast, but if you’re looking for good barleywine you can’t go wrong with Stone’s Old Guardian and Firestone Walker’s Sucaba.
75 Minute IPA by Dogfish Head
A lot of Dogfish Head beers make it to California. You can find their 60 and 90 minute IPAs at most grocery stores, and a trip to a good bottle shop yields treats like Palo Santo Marron (a must-have) and Punkin Ale. Dogfish 75 is one that you just don’t see in California, and that’s a shame.
Dogfish 75 is a bottle-conditioned blend of their 60 and 90 minute IPAs with a hint of maple syrup. The result is an IPA with a medium amount of bitterness, and just the slightest aftertaste of maple sweetness. This is another beer that doesn’t have a West Coast rival.
Heady Topper by The Alchemist
This is the top beer on Beer Advocate’s 250. The Alchemist’s operation is so small that you can only buy cans of this beer in a few New England states. Many Bothans died to bring two cans to be reviewed. Why two cans? Other than the obvious answer of “that’s better than one can,” the real reason for two cans is because there is a recommended way to drink this beer.
The Heady Topper can very clearly says that you should drink this beer from the can. That’s a hard pill to swallow for those of us who aren’t savages. Beer, especially hoppy beers like Heady Topper, needs to breathe. Two cans allow you to taste it both ways.
Upon opening the can, you’re immediately slapped in the face by a heavy dose of hoppy goodness. The Alchemist should partner up with the nearby Yankee Candle company to make a candle that any hophead would love to have in their house. This beer smells that good.
The big question is “why do they want you to drink it out of the can?” A side-by-side taste test between the can and the glass goes to the glass for flavor. A glass just allows the hop bouquet to blossom more than the constricted air flow of the can. The flavor is just as hoppy as the aroma, but it’s a surprisingly drinkable beer with just the right amount of bitterness.
One reason for their instructions might be the appearance of the beer. Heady Topper is an unfiltered beer, which is a fancy way of saying “there’s stuff floating in it.” Could they be asking you to drink it out of the can so you’re not put off by the appearance? If that’s the real reason, it’s not a good one. The appearance isn’t a turn-off. If anything, it resembles a wheat beer with pulp floating in it from the orange you squeezed in.
Craft beer fans have taken to calling Heady Topper “East Coast Pliny.” The real question is whether they’re comparing it to Pliny the Elder or Pliny the Younger. As a double IPA, it’s closer to Pliny the Elder. As a beer that benefits from the mystique of being extremely hard to get, it’s closer to Pliny the Younger. You’ll have to be the judge…if you can ever get your paws on a can or two.
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