In keeping with year-end tradition, last week I looked back on a few of my favorite wines from 2013. The common thread was restraint and balance. Now it's beer's turn, and the same criteria apply to my top picks. Too many craft breweries seem to revel in pushing the envelope, with painfully bitter IPAs or high-octane efforts sporting dangerous alcohol levels. I'm done with those after a swallow or two. Here are three very drinkable favorites:
Petrus Aged Pale, $3.49-$4.49
This Belgian brew is aged in oak casks--which is not usually my thing, but it works here, with the oak coming through more on the nose than the palate. Along with the oak, you get ripe apple aromas, sour citrus and a touch of herb. Crisp apple flavors are backed by lemon zest; the beer finishes smooth and dry. This one begs to be paired with food.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, $1.39-$1.79
Year in and year out, this is my favorite winter brew. While many holiday releases put the emphasis on sweet malt, Celebration is more about the hops. Pine-laced hops dominate the nose, with just enough sweet malt to keep things in balance. The flavors are fresh and lively, and a nice hop bite backs ripe citrus and malt. Bet you can't drink just one.
Stone Enjoy By IPA, $5.99-$7.79
Stone Brewing's Greg Koch makes no apologies for preferring challenging brews. Despite that philosophy, the Enjoy By is a remarkably fresh brew, with a floral nose that's the perfect mix of hops and malt. On the palate, there's an ever-present bitterness, but it never overwhelms the smooth, fruity malt flavors. Stone releases this 22-ouncer on a monthly basis. Unfortunately, the Boise market only saw three of those in 2013, the last being the 12.13.13. Keep on the lookout; it's worth the search.