If you live in Central PA and have even the slightest interest in beer, you’ve probably heard that Colorado brewery New Belgium has finally brought its products to Pennsylvania.
Honestly, you’d have to be living in a cave – on the moon, with your eyes closed, wearing earplugs – to have missed this news. I can’t recall the last time a new beer coming to the area was met with such fanfare and enthusiasm. Oregon’s legendary Deschutes arrived not too long ago, and the hype was nothing like this. New Belgium has been all over my Twitter feed for at least a week, thanks to beer distributors, beer enthusiasts and bar owners.
I’m not complaining – I’m always happy to see new beers available in the area, and New Belgium is worth celebrating. America’s fourth-largest craft brewery has been growing its distribution footprint in a big way – Pennsylvania is the 40th state in which its products are sold – and New Belgium has earned a reputation for consistent quality as well as a progressive corporate culture.
The vast majority of the local hype is focused on New Belgium’s flagship product, Fat Tire. Fair enough – it is the flagship after all, and it’s immediately recognizable. (The famed red retro bike of the label became so well known that in 2006 the brewery adopted it as the official New Belgium logo.) Plus, it’s earned a truly massive fan base over the years.
But with everybody else in the area talking about Fat Tire’s arrival, I thought I’d point you toward some other great New Belgium products that are riding into the Keystone State on the flagship brew’s coattails. Thanks to the good folks at New Belgium – and York-based distributor The Beer Ace – I got to try out a range of New Belgium beers last night at the Candy Factory in Lancaster.
Below are five you should look for if you’d like to move beyond Fat Tire. (And, to be fair, I’m not trying to talk you out of Fat Tire. If you’ve never tried it, you should. There’s a reason for its colossal following – it’s a solid amber ale that’s entirely pleasant. We’re just not talking about it today.)
Perfect for warm weather, Snapshot is a pale wheat beer – but don’t expect the standard hefeweizen taste profile. It packs an outstanding mix of flavors – sweet, sour, bready – into a package that’s overall very light and quenching. The key factor is the use of Lactobacillus bacteria in a portion of the wort, lending just a hint of sourness to the finished product. If your taste buds haven’t come around to the sour side of the brewing world, no worries. This isn’t a hardcore sour – it’s just a great summer wheat beer with a touch of tang.
Here’s where we begin a tour of three New Belgium IPAs, starting with the lightest. Slow Ride is everything a session IPA should be – low alcohol, big taste, completely crushable. The hop flavors are surprisingly big for such a light brew. (Although, as this beer is dry-hopped and features a whopping eight varietals in the mix, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.) This is as good a session IPA as I’ve had – tons of juicy, fruity hops up front with a great finish that’s crisp and dry.
This is the midpoint of New Belgium’s IPA road. Ranger is a top-notch, beautifully balanced IPA. There’s plenty of citrus and piney notes here, but the big hops somehow don’t overpower the malt – I think there’s even a touch of sweetness there. The finish is nice and bitter, but I’d say this is still sessionable. (Y’know, if you don’t mind a big-hops, 6.5-percent-ABV beer for your session.)
Finally, the IPA tour ends with Rampant – an imperial IPA that’s as balanced as Ranger but with a bit more booze. As imperial IPAs go, this one is mild – it’s not abusively hopped like many West Coast examples and, like Ranger, it packs in a hint of malty sweetness to cut the bitterness. If you usually avoid imperial IPAs because you don’t relish being punched in the mouth by your hops, give Rampant a try. It might be exactly what you didn’t know you wanted.
Speaking of unwanted things, I really didn’t want Pumpkick. I very rarely care for pumpkin beers, and I tried this one with the lowest of expectations. Turns out I was wrong. Apparently, the one thing that most other pumpkin beers are lacking (for my palate, anyway) is cranberry. That addition lends a wonderful tartness to the beer and prevents the flavor from being dominated by the usual squash, cinnamon and nutmeg. I generally dread the tidal wave of pumpkin beers every year around this time, but Pumpkick is one that I not only enjoyed, but actually wanted more of.
Trying New Belgium for the first time? Been a fan for ages? Tell us what you think in the comments.