I have beer columnist guilt.
I know what happens when I can’t file a column every week — apologies to fans of Zima and artichoke liqueur — and I don’t like it.
But, you know, the day job is tough sometimes, and I have vacations too. (Florida was great! Drink Cigar City Jai Alai IPA if you can, like I did.)
Because of my guilt you’re getting three columns in one this week, featuring a whopping six beers I’ve been digging lately. (You may want to ration some for future Baronless weeks.)
Ale Asylum 12 oz. Curl
Man, I’m sorry if I’m sounding like a broken record, but I just can’t get enough pilsner lately.
A flight through Chicago last month allowed me my first Pivo Pils from Firestone Walker in a very long time, and it was even better than I remembered it — or nearly any beer. It seems like every brewery is releasing a pils these days, and the way Pivo smells, tastes and drinks is what they’re all chasing. Balance, subtlety, assertiveness, drinkability — Pivo has it all.
That American take on the pils was the direction I figured the hop-headed Ale Asylum would take when it announced 12 oz. Curl, its second bottled lager and first pilsner.
So imagine my surprise when I poured my first glass of 12 oz. Curl.
It’s pale-pale yellow, with a sumptuous aroma that has just a touch of cereal-like sweetness alongside the orchid-delicate hop character. The flavor that follows is a study in simple but delicate balance, the hops providing more of a gentle crispness than bitterness, and that pleasant grain character showing up a little on the back end of the quaff. Even for a pils, 12 oz. Curl is feather-light and goes down so easy you’ll swear the 12-ounce bottle was just one of those little pony bottles that chases your bloody Mary.
It’s a beer that I could see pleasing old-line traditionalists just as much as the newer wave of pilsner fans.
The team at Ale Asylum says they’ve long wanted to make a pilsner and this year were finally able to free up the extra time and tank space needed to brew the slower-fermenting lager. Those tanks and time were not wasted on this home run of a beer.
Unfortunately, 12 oz. Curl — introduced in March for what was supposed to be a two-month availability — is just about at the end of its run. Here’s a plea to bring it back soon so it can assume its rightful place on the summertime patios of Wisconsin.
Update: Ale Asylum reports 12 oz. Curl will be continued on draft at least through the summer, as well as in a limited release of cans around the Fourth of July.
Sprecher Belgian Progression Pack
If you know a little about Belgian beer, even if you don’t speak Dutch, you’ve probably noticed the numerical slotting system running through its style names.
The dubbel, tripel and quad are the best known of these, but, of course, the pattern would indicate there’s a starting point you usually don’t see on beer menus. There is a “singel,” but it’s not called that but rather patersbier or enkel, a lower-ABV style that the American Homebrewers Association describes as “the lawnmower beer of Trappist monks.”
It’s a fun family of often-overlooked styles, ripe for exploration, and Glendale’s Sprecher last month released a really neat vehicle to try them all in one package.
The Belgian Progression Pack features one of each style in the first mixed four-pack released by a brewery I can recall.
While these styles have their own attributes, the numerical progression does tend to track the beers’ alcohol content. It’s primarily the yeast used to ferment these beers that makes them Belgian, imparting fruity and spicy characteristics along the way.
It’s the first time Sprecher has released an enkel, while the dubbel, tripel and quad have been in and out of Sprecher’s portfolio in recent years.
Likely the least familiar of these styles is the enkel, a medium-bodied amber ale that Wisconsin beer fans might compare to 3 Sheeps Brewing’s Rebel Kent, which was enkel-inspired. Sprecher’s version (5.3 percent ABV) is more overtly Belgian, with just enough of that banana and pepper-clove character to impress but not overwhelm the smooth-drinking, nicely balanced beer.
The beautifully deep brown dubbel begins in earnest the malt parade, with sticky caramel melding with notes of raisin, plum and even a little date. The alcohol character is assertive, reading higher than its actual 6.5 percent ABV.
Sprecher’s Abbey Triple — here, known as Belgian Tripel — has been a year-round offering for quite some time, and it’s a nice version of the style. It pours a deep gold and brings an almost honey-like grain character accented with banana and other fruit. Full bodied, it drinks every bit its 8.4 percent ABV.
The quad is even more of a mouthful at 10.5 percent and follows the darker profile of the dubbel. The complex aroma and flavor speak of a bowl full of fruit — I picked up most on cherry, plum and banana — and a brown sugar-like sweetness, though it stays plenty drinkable by drying up on the finish.
Complexity, depth and range are among the reasons the Belgian styles are among the most revered in the world, and all of that is on display in this cool little project by Sprecher.
Half Acre Vallejo
Remember that guilt I mentioned earlier? It’s not just about leaving you hanging out with artichoke liqueur while I dug my toes into white sand.
I’m an unapologetic fan of Wisconsin beer, so it’s with some reservation that I plug this utterly fantastic IPA so soon after my Half Acre curtain-raiser when the Chicago brewery opened sales in Wisconsin in February.
I mentioned Vallejo then, as the spring-summer seasonal opposite the then-current Gone Away IPA. Vallejo — and its gorgeous can art — dropped in Wisconsin at the end of April and immediately became my go-to IPA.
It starts out as a golden citrus bomb, bursting with bright grapefruit and orange aroma before revealing a resinous underbelly with each sip. It’s only modestly bitter for an IPA, but that resin note carries long into the finish, lending it a mean streak that’s a nice extra dimension lacking from a lot of super-citrusy IPAs.
Since February’s deep dive the only Half Acre beer I’ve re-upped on had been Pony (a pilsner, of course), but until Vallejo’s run ends in September I’m expecting to down a lot of this IPA. Especially if Ale Asylum doesn’t grant my appeal on 12 oz. Curl.