I feel the same way about flavored brews as I do about dessert martinis: just say no. Beer should have hops, malt and yeast—martinis: gin and/or vodka, vermouth and olives. A simple man with simple tastes, but two things happened to cause a mild conversion. First, I tried Bardenay's award-wining Chaitini, and it was damned tasty. Not sure it should be called a martini, but a very good cocktail just the same. Second, the people voted Idaho's own Laughing Dog Brewery Huckleberry Cream Ale as their favorite at the recent Old Boise Brewer's Fest. While I'm firmly in the De Tocqueville camp about the tyranny of the majority, when people talk, I still listen.
Ever skeptical, I scored a bottle of the Laughing Dog. Talk about an effervescent beer. Poured it straight into my favorite pilsner glass and the frothy head exploded, filling the glass to the rim. The brew itself was lightly hazy, and once things settled down, it offered an intriguing flavor profile. There's just a light touch of huckleberry flavor, and it's very well-integrated with the creamy malt and the light hops. Very clean and refreshing on a hot summer day, and definitely worthy.
Since I liked the Laughing Dog, I figured I might as well try Kona Brewing's special release, the Wailua, a wheat ale that's brewed with passion fruit. This one had a double hurdle to overcome as I'm also not a big fan of wheat brews. That said, I absolutely loved the Wailua. Richly carbonated, light on the hops, the smooth malt is fresh and fruity, balanced by a lovely citrus quality. I have no idea what passion fruit should taste like, but if this wheat ale is any indication, I like it.
Figuring I was on a roll, I scored a bottle of Stone 07.07.07 Vertical Epic. Part of an annual special release that began in 2002, the last in the series is scheduled for 12.12.12. The 07 is the sixth chapter, a bottle-conditioned Belgian-style brew flavored with ginger, cardamom, grapefruit, lemon and orange peel. Sounds absolutely disgusting, about as far from real beer as you can get, but it's the best brew you shouldn't drink now. Rich and remarkably inviting, it needs time for all the elements to come together. Just put this one away in a dark closet somewhere and pull it out at Christmas a few years from now. It will have been worth the effort.