THERE WAS a time, maybe five or six years ago, that I could walk into a package store and honestly say I’d tasted everything on the shelves. And anything I hadn’t, I could catch up with in a weekend.
Today, forget about it.
In an average visit, I’ll find at least a dozen beer labels I don’t recognize: one-offs from established American microbrewers, unusual ales from obscure European villages, countless collaborations by competing breweries.
It’s not surprising: There are three breweries opening every week, and that doesn’t include all of these new nanobreweries that will be cropping up by the end of the year.
The supply of new beers seems bottomless. There are 3,878 brands for sale in Pennsylvania alone.
How to keep up?
Thank God for the Internet – and more specifically, thank you, Adam Nason.
He’s the beer freak behind BeerNews.org, a widely read website that devotes much of its content on new releases. In an average month, Nason posts notes on about 300 new, federally approved beer labels.
“It’s pretty wild,” said Nason, 26, of Massachusetts. “I don’t know if it’s sheer volume or a perfect storm, but it’s all about new products these days.”
Nason said he draws an average of 100,000 visitors a month to his website, which he believes is the nation’s most popular online beer publication. He started the site as a hobby three years ago, then quit his job as an auditor to work on it full time. He posts new content at least three times a day.
Why so many brands?
“I would attribute it to all of these new breweries coming on line,” he said. “And a lot of them, they’re not just doing a pale ale, a porter, and an IPA to start with. They’re breaking right out with lots of 22-ounce limited editions.”
Reading BeerNews.org, you can’t help but dream (and drool) over all of these new brews, many of which may never reach your hometown.
Nonetheless, here’s a few newbies I’m looking for in the Summer of ’11.
Acer Quercus. Brewed with maple syrup and maplewood-smoked malt, it’s a collaboration from California’s The Bruery and Lawson’s Finest Liquids of Vermont.
Apricot Au Poivre Saison. Nebraska Brewing aged this peppery fruit ale in Chardonnay barrels.
Cape of Good Hope. Previously available on draft only, Yards’ (Philadelphia) imperial IPA will make its way into bottles this August.
Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA. No, this extremely hoppy triple IPA from Delaware is not a new one. But beer geeks are rejoicing because it had been in extremely short supply following that televised debacle on the Discovery Channel’s “Brew Masters” in which an entire batch had to be dumped because of poor quality.
Elevation. An imperial IPA from Full Sail (Oregon) in 22-ounce bombers.
Epic Beers. The tiny New Zealand brewery is finally making some headway in U.S. markets, and that distribution will get a boost with its Dogfish Head collaboration Portamarillo (also the subject of a “Brew Masters” episode). The ale is made with roasted tamarillo fruit.
New stuff in cans. Breweries are continuing to ramp up canned versions of premium brands, including Sun King Johan the Barleywine (Indiana), Mother Earth Sunny Haze (North Carolina), 21st Amendment Hop Crisis Imperial IPA (California), and four 16-ounce tall boys from Brooklyn, N.Y.’s beloved Sixpoint Craft Ales, including Sweet Action, Bengali Tiger, The Crisp and Righteous Ale.
Palate Wrecker. Green Flash (California) made this by first brewing a very hoppy wort, then rebrewing it with even more hops. This strong ale (9.2 percent alcohol) sounds like it’ll live up to its name.