Brew Review: Craft Beer Spring Releases

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Despite weather and groundhog reports to the contrary, one of these days, it will be spring.

My PennLive colleague, Julianne Mattera, recently unveiled a new beer-focused column sharing a dozen new beer releases. She explains them well, and since I’ve already tried four of them, I’ve shared my reviews below — plus thrown in a few other late winter/spring releases worth trying.

Split Shot Espresso Milk Stout, Elysian Brewing Company (5.6% ABV)

Elysian Split Shot Espresso Stout at The Speakeasy.
Elysian Split Shot Espresso Stout at The Speakeasy.

From Julianne: “This medium-bodied stout combines coffee notes with a touch of sweetness from milk sugar. Magnum hops also add some bitterness to the brew, which uses coffee malt, black, roasted and chocolate malts and flaked oats, according to the brewery.”

My take: Tried this with brunch at The Sturges Speakeasy a few weeks ago. With a low ABV, it’s perfect for day-drinking and its likeness to coffee pairs it perfectly with brunch. Delicious and oh-so-easy drinking. Be sure to check out the “Bomb” version Tierney writes about on Stouts and Stilettos.

Citra Mantra, Otter Creek Brewing (5.75% ABV)

Julianne says: “This “India-style pils lager” is unfiltered and uses Citra hops with a lager yeast — allowing Pilsner, Munich and Vienna malts to create a crisp, bready foundation, according to Otter Creek. Citra hops also add a citrus and tropical fruit character.”

My take: Tastes like a session IPA, refreshing and hoppy. Al Kominski told me he never would’ve known it was a lager; and my turning-into-a-hophead husband hogged much of the bottle for himself.

Cultivator Helles Bock, Troegs Brewing Company (6.9% ABV)

Troegs Cultivator, on tap at Ted's Midtown.
Troegs Cultivator, on tap at Ted’s Midtown.

From Julianne: “Coming out the second week of February, Troegs new seasonal will be around through April, said Jeff Herb, Troegs’ spokesman. The German-style beer is fermented with a lager yeast. Its flavor profile features a combination of toasted grains, fresh baked bread and floral hops.”

My take: Does Troegs do anything wrong? More perfection out of Hershey. This is a great everyman’s beer, not too much of anything – delicate hoppiness balanced by grain flavor. Gorgeous golden color, medium body.  My husband loved it too.

Cocoa Fuego, DuClaw Brewing Co. (7.5% ABV)

From Julianne: “Spicy and sweet combine in this stout, which is brewed with chocolate and Chipotle peppers. This jet-black beer has a lightly sweet and malty flavor with notes of roasted malts, chocolate, espresso and spicy Chipotle pepper, according to the brewery.”

My take: Ugh, this has so much potential. DuClaw has great concepts, but I find nearly all of their beers to lack body, this included. It’s too thin and doesn’t have near enough heat — or chocolate. It’s not a terrible beer, but it didn’t meet my expectations. Instead, I’ll be trying Pizza Boy Azazel, the imperial stout aged on guajillo chili peppers and cocoa nibs, on my next visit.

Sara’s Spring Picks

LBC's new Hop Buggy Amish Four Grain Ale
LBC’s new Hop Buggy Amish Four Grain Ale

Lancaster Brewing Co. Hop Buggy – So new to LBC that it’s not on their beer menu or website, I tried Hop Buggy (amber ale? IPA? who cares?) last weekend and loved it. Turns out this is a refreshed version of the Amish Four Grain Ale, with completely different hops and hop schedule to showcase Apollo, Bravo and Cascade. It also uses Lancaster Amish-grown Redeemer Winter Wheat, Heritage Rye and Heritage Oats.

Great body and full head (seeing so little proper carbonation from craft breweries lately), this was pleasingly hoppy but not blow-your-face-off bitter, balanced well by the grain.

Find it: LBC, LBC Harrisburg

Pizza Boy Azazel (Mint Chocolate) – If you were disappointed by Spring House Satan’s Bake Sale (some were; I didn’t try it), you’ll want to make a trip to Al’s of Hampden for this. One friend calls it “The Panty Dropper,” because the chocolate-y minty flavor masks the uber-potent 13% ABV. Yes, be careful with this one. I thought it was pure Thin Mint Cookie, but others liken it to Andes candies, and that actually may be more accurate.

Find it: Al’s of Hampden only.

Stone Brewing Co./Koochenvagner’s Brewing Stochasticity Project: Grapefruit Slam IPA – Unlike many grapefruit-infused IPAs, this collaboration from the west coast uses the whole grapefruit peel, not just the zest, for a more mouth-pleasing taste. Consider: true fruit taste rather than “flavor.” However, I found that fresh grapefruit flavor seemed to wear off about halfway through my pint. I’m not sure if that was the hops taking over my palate — or even that my senses were overwhelmed since I consumed this in a smokey bar.

Find it: Shady McGrady’s, Al’s of Hampden, more

RavenBeer Tell Tale Heart(y) Ale – I’m not sure how this landed on my UnTappd wishlist, but I obviously found it somewhere and deemed it worth a shot — nice, too, since I just found it at The Garlic Poet. This was delightfully hoppy and easy to drink.

Find it: The Garlic Poet — Not to be overlooked for craft beer. Their draft list is well curated by Chef Kurt Wewer, himself a homebrewer, and is heavy on local and regional brews.

My Wishlist:

Pizza Boy Honeycrisp – Al warns that ob/gyns will be busy in about 9 months because of the potency of this 13% Farmhouse Triple I’m told tastes “just like apple juice.” Get a 1-L growler and take that baby home to share.

Find it: Al’s of Hampden exclusive

Saranac Legacy IPADRAFT mag rates it a 91 and sells me with this description: “Firm bitterness trails lightly toasted bread notes, while tangerine, pine and grassy hop flavors weave through the delicious swallow.” OK, sign me up.

Find it: In cans!

Madtree Gnarly Brown – Not sure I’ll be able to locate this without a road trip to Cincinnati, OH, but I’m always looking for quality brown ales, which when good are so easy-drinking and not at all boring. This was the pick of the month from DRAFT magazine, and as someone who is always trying to identify and articulate beer styles, I love this “back to basics” tribute.

Find it: Eh, don’t know that we can.

What else should I try this season? 

Sara Bozich
Author: Sara Bozich

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