Trying new beers: Let’s not go to the hops

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THE CRAFT-BEER world’s fixation with India Pale Ale shows no sign of fading. Just last month, for example, Philadelphia welcomed a new portfolio from California’s Knee Deep Brewing that includes no fewer than five different IPAs, including a double, a triple and a heretofore unknown “Quad IPA. ”

Which is all perfectly fine if you’re a hop addict, craving your next big fix of Simcoe, Citra or some other variety of the famously bitter, aromatic plant.

But what if you’re after something malty, or sweet or just plain different?

I went shopping the other day for new beers and, despite the abundance of IPAs that stared back at me from the shelves, I found that it wasn’t that hard to fill a sixpack with brews that aren’t all about the hops.

Deep Six (Heavy Seas, Baltimore). These days, many breweries avoid porters, believing that dark beer fans prefer a heavy-duty stout. So, when Cole Woodson, the beer guy at the Loft at Iron Abbey, in Horsham, handed me this one, which entered the Philly market at the start of the year, he said, “It’s nothing exotic. It’s what you’d call your ‘basic’ porter. “

To which I would add: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

There are no smoke and mirrors with this superb dark ale, just well-balanced, deep-roasted malt flavor complemented by classic British hops.

Exit 3 (Flying Fish, Somerdale, N.J.). I was starting to wonder what had happened to the Jersey brewery’s famous series of one-offs named after exits along the New Jersey Turnpike. The series had featured the likes of a hoppy Belgian tripel (Exit 4) and the mangolike wild-rice double IPA (Exit 16) that became part of the brewery’s ongoing portfolio.

This one is a blueberry-flavored braggot, a type of ale blended with honey. It might be a bit of a challenge for some because of its strength (15 percent alcohol) and meadlike sweetness.

I’d pair it with strong cheese (Birchrun Blue, Keswick Creamery Tomme), or cellar it a few months to allow the punch of honey to fade a notch.

Victory Helles (Downingtown, Pa.). All you people tweeting that hop bombs and weird flavors have overwhelmed the beer scene, it’s time to put your money where your hashtag is.

This classic, German-style lager was formally known as Victory Lager, one of the Chester County brewery’s original recipes. By slapping on a new label and expanding distribution to 35 states, Victory is showing it has faith that beer lovers can embrace the simplicity of a clean, perfectly made golden lager.

Tanilla (Knee Deep, Auburn, Calif.). Yep, this is the West Coast brewery I mentioned above that entered the Philly market with a boatload of IPAs. I’ll get around to trying them eventually; first, I reached for this vanilla-flavored porter. Instead of the sweet, candylike dessert beer I was expecting, I enjoyed a satisfying, smooth-bodied dark beer whose vanilla never overwhelmed its firm, roasted malt flavor.

Renart’s Triple (The Other Farm, Boyertown). Founded a little over a year ago in rural Berks County, this small farmhouse brewery only recently has begun to send its bottles toward the city. One of its first is this unique blend of ale and cider – a daring hybrid that tells me it’s going to be fun watching this brewery grow.

Beer and cider? Usually, you’d call that a Snakebite and pop two aspirin in the morning. But here the cider’s sugar kicks off a second round of fermentation that both strengthens this Belgian-style tripel (10 percent alcohol by volume) and produces a lightly sweet, yet dry finish.

Reviver IPA (Starr Hill, Crozet, Va.). I knew you couldn’t get through this list without bumping into an IPA. This one, though, is part of a growing breed of red IPAs that offer a more thoughtful flavor profile than the typical, bitterness-fixated hop zombie.

The ruby color isn’t just some marketing shtick, a la black IPAs, whose inky appearance has little to do with its actual flavor. Here, the red is the product of a fine balance of crystal and chocolate malts that produce a richer, fuller flavor and a beefier body than your typical IPA.

Which is not to say that hop heads won’t like this one. Its blend of Mosaic, Citra and Amarillo hops is at once fruity and floral, making it a fine complement to some of this sixpack’s sweeter flavors.


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