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Big Bottles, Big Brews

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We are a nation of excess, enamored by the current big thing. When I was young, every other TV show was a Western. Then they went the way of autumn leaves. Today, every other show is a reality program. I can only hope they fade away as well. American wine producers seem to be taken with how much oak and fruit extract they can cram into a bottle. American brewers are no less immune to excess, which often climbs to new levels in their reserve bottlings. That said, here's my take on three recent special releases:

Lagunitus Brewing Kill Ugly Radio Ale

This brew is a follow-up to last year's Freak Out celebrating the 40th anniversary of Frank Zappa's debut album. The first few sips left me unimpressed, but to paraphrase the "turned into a newt" retort from M. Python's Holy Grail, it got better. It's unapologetically loaded with hops, but they are remarkably smooth despite their obvious assertiveness. The result is an utterly refreshing brew with a light malt influence that adds body more than flavor. Good stuff here.

Pyramid Breweries Imperial Hefeweizen Ale

It was Hefeweizen that put Pyramid on the beer world map, so it's no surprise they chose to make a Brewer's Reserve version. Make no mistake—this is not just an amped-up version of their regular hefe. Sure, it has a bit more of everything: more sweet malt, more grainy wheat, more bitter hops. But what makes it work is the exceptionally refreshing balance. I could drink it all day (or night), and it goes beautifully with the hearty foods of autumn.

Stone Brewing 11th Anniversary Ale

A brew too far? I like Stone's IPA a lot, even though it pushes things to the limit. But I would have to agree with their own catchphrase when it comes to this one: "I'm not worthy." If you like muscular brews packed with rich malt flavors that butt heads against extremely aggressive hops, give this impressively stout ale a try. Like all Stone products, it is very well-made, but definitely leans toward the style of excess. This one should be hugely popular—it just wears me out after a few sips.