I've been trying a lot of new brews this week (at least new to me). Some have been worthy, some not so worthy. Here are three very different offerings that left me wanting more: a classic California barley wine from one of the best brewers of that style, an unusual take on a wheat beer from a German-inspired Northwest master of hefeweizen and a very traditional IPA in a cork-sealed, large-format bottle from across the water.
Widmer Brothers W '08 Crimson Wheat (Brewmasters' Release)
This Portland brewery has a way with wheat, crafting a classic hefeweizen that serves as a benchmark for the style. This one is a triple blend of red, caramelized and dark wheat that pours an iridescent red with a nice head. The aromas are like a cross between toasted whole wheat and sourdough bread. It offers rich flavors of roasted grain and sweet malt on the palate with rich hits of chocolate, caramel and spice. It's definitely on the sweet side of the flavor spectrum, but somehow it manages to maintain a surprisingly refreshing balance with a light touch of citrus on the finish.
This one is from a new British brewery (less than a decade old) dedicated to resurrecting classic British brew styles. India Pale Ales originated in the late 18th century, packed with hops and relatively high alcohol to help survive long voyages. This one pours a hazy gold with orange accents all topped with a creamy and persistent froth. It has nicely assertive pine- and citrus-laced hops on the nose, but it's not as aggressively bitter as most Northwest IPAs. It has a depth of flavor and complexity many of those often lack. The rich flavors are marked by smooth malt and bright hops backed by fresh garden greens, orange zest and a touch of anise. It's a delicious and worthy brew that begs to be paired with a meal.
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barley wine Style Ale
This is the 25th edition of this California brewery's biggest and boldest ale. It pours a burnt amber color that foreshadows the burnt toffee and lightly bitter coffee aromas backed by nice hints of fruit and spice. Remarkably lithe on the palate for a brew weighing in at 9.6 percent alcohol. There's ample mocha-laced malt, but it's well-balanced by a big dose of nicely bitter hops. This is one of the best barley wines brewed, but use caution when consuming.