Magic Hat #9

In the last of my series for National Beer Drinking Day, I am highlighting one of my all-time favorite beers.  My friend Kelly introduced me to Magic Hat #9 on a July afternoon about 9 years ago.  I had just started a new job and the happy hour crew was out to celebrate.  My love of IPA’s was immediately transformed when I took my first sip of this “not quite pale ale” – and what an awakening it was!

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Rather than a shin-kick of hops and bitterness, #9 is a beautiful ale made with 2 kinds of malt, Cascade and Apollo hops and a hint of apricot.  That’s right, I said apricot – if you don’t have a well-developed palate, you’ll be searching your mind and tongue for that ingredient with every sip.  This beer is light and refreshing, but heavy on flavor.  You almost get the mouth feel of a heady pale ale, but it goes down smooth like a light beer or wheat.  It’s crisp and slightly fruity, but not at all sweet.  If someone doesn’t like hoppy beer, chances are they’ll fall in love with #9 – sounds like the love story from a James Bond movie, right?!

While it used to be hard to find, you can now get Magic Hat at many grocery stores and bars and restaurants.  Imagine my delight when I found #9 in 16-ounce cans at a local golf course and at our concert venue – jackpot!!  Pair this beer with just about anything, but it goes amazingly well with a charcuterie platter and cheese assortment.  You’ll think you’re drinking wine the way the flavor is enhanced by different foods.  Try a little crusty bread with camembert and dried apricot and listen to #9 sing with that one.  Check them out in your area or find out more online at magichat.net.

Curious Traveler Lemon Shandy

Traveler Beer Company was first introduced to us 4 years ago while we were living in Minneapolis.  Being in the backyard of Leinenkugel’s, I was plenty familiar with a shandy. While I enjoy a great number of the lemon varieties on the market today, most breweries make these a little sweet for my taste.  Ever take frozen lemonade concentrate and mix it in a pitcher with 6 light or wheat beers?  There, I just taught you how to make your own shandy year-round!  Seriously though, I need a little more depth of flavor and less sweetness.

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Curious Traveler Lemon Shandy is a great brew with a melody of flavors in a lighter beer.  Pour this one in a glass to get a look at it’s beautiful light amber hue, cloudy enough to know you have some hefty malted barley and wheat.  The aroma gives you a good sense of the wheat, but also a hint of the citrus.  Lightly hopped, the citrus flavor of lemon and lime stand on their own and lend a a crispy taste without being sweet – thank you!!  With 4.4% ABV, you can enjoy a few with dinner or plow through a Saturday of golf without getting actually plowed!

Lemon Shandy goes with almost any food, but I love it paired with peel-and-eat shrimp or a great BBQ chicken thigh.  You won’t go wrong with cheese doodles as far as I’m concerned.  Enjoy this at home or tailgating and camping as you can usually find it in both bottles and cans for easy cooler packing.  You can find out more about their great beers and Vermont-cool beer gear at travelerbeer.com.

Schlafly Grapefruit IPA

I know it’s a shocker that I write about an IPA with citrus notes since that’s one of my favorite beer combinations.  However, this tasty brew from St. Louis has a ton of character and offers a good punch of grapefruit without being “fruity”.

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Schlafly brews their Grapefruit IPA with the pulp of the fruit mixed in with the wort (early stages of beer when grains are steeped and malt added).  The result is a great floral aroma and a good dose of flavor.  With the addition of Cascade and Citra hops, there is a great blend of hops and citrus to really let the beer shine without punching you in the mouth with bitterness from either the hops or fruit.  The end result is a an all-day IPA that you can enjoy at a game, cookout or watching your favorite sports.  At 5.0% ABV and 40 IBU it’s not going to render you useless after a couple – or a bunch!

Pair these suds with all kinds of foods, but I’m going with a cajun snapper and corn salad combo this evening.  You can pick up Schlafly in your local store or at their two restaurant/taproom locations.  With five year-round beers and some great seasonal selections, there’s a taste for everyone.  To learn more, visit their website at schlafly.com.

Double Haul IPA – KettleHouse Brewing

The last of my “tour of beers” out west was an outstanding IPA from another Missoula brewer, KettleHouse Brewing.  How can you not love a big full-bodied IPA that’s available in tall boys?!  Available in several restaurants and in stores, people recommended this beer to me multiple times throughout our trip.  It did NOT disappoint!

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If you love a rich hoppy aroma on top of a gorgeous amber ale, then you’ll want to pour this heady brew in a tall pint to fully enjoy it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not always an aristocrat – I’ll tip back tall boys any day.  For the purposes of fully appreciating a new beer though, I grabbed a glass.  Brewed with local barley and cascade hops from the northwest, the brewers take special care to bring out the best of their local ingredients.  There’s a great mouthfeel with a decent amount of hop finish.  I really appreciate that these guys don’t go for the “hop bomb” that you get from a lot of craft brewers.  6.5% ABV will catch up with you quickly when you’re downing 16-ounce cans, but these suds are heavy or boozy at all.

I can think of all kinds of traditional pairings for Double Haul, but it was perfect with some fried pickles and a huge burger.  My only regret is that I didn’t try some of their others or get to the taproom.  I heard the Brick & Mortar Imperial Belgian Porter will knock your socks off!  Their biggest hit, Cold Smoke Scotch Ale, would have been awesome to try as well.  Alas, I now have an excuse to get back that way and indulge.  Check out their website kettlehouse.com for all the details.  Well done gentlemen, well done!

Fireweed Whiskey – Glacier Distilling

Ten years ago, you would never have imagined that you would be able to sample craft spirits along with craft beers on your travels.  The movement has exploded though and we are all benefiting from thoughtful and creative distillers making some excellent locally-produced spirits.  On our trip to Montana, I had the chance to taste Fireweed Whiskey and was pretty impressed with it.

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Back in 2009, some local wannabe moonshiners came up with an awesome idea to take up distilling in Coram, MT.  Thank God the founder has a North Carolina soul that had a taste for shine and decided to make whiskey!  Fireweed is a blend of locally produced whiskey aged in charred oak barrels and mixed with local Montana Cherry Brandy.  The result is a glorious blend of spicy, sweet, rich and smokey.  Now, this is not the smooth undertone of a typical bourbon.  It has the bite of moonshine, but a great mouthfeel and smooth finish.

I had both an Old Fashioned and a splash of coke in two cocktails and both were excellent.  I sure would have liked to try their gin and rye, but we ran out of time!  I definitely recommend getting your hands on some of the Fireweed though – these guys are really onto something.  Check out more at glacierdistilling.com.

Full Sail Brewing – Session Lager

When we lived in the Twin Cities, we had all kinds of fantastic local beers.  We also took advantage of great distribution of beers from the northwest that don’t make it to Ohio.  One of my favorites was Session Lager from Full Sail Brewing.  From the throwback label to the chubby bottles, this beer had me from hello.

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I know Session is a weird name for a beer considering it’s a genre, but let’s look past that.  The Session family is quite large now with varieties like Black, IPA, Wheat and Cream Ale.  The beer that started it all though was the red-labeled Lager.  It’s a great pilsner with a pedigree to match – it’s won more than 20 gold medals!  Imagine yourself on a hot day in the yard or at a summer clam bake, you want a cold refreshing beer to cool your palate and still taste like something.  Session is ridiculously light, but full of flavor.  You get great aroma from the start, rich malt in the middle and a crisp finish.  At 5.1% ABV, I don’t know why you’d drink any pedestrian “whatever light”.

Now, I nearly cried when they stopped distributing in Ohio.  However, I took full advantage of access while I was in Montana.  Ask your local merchant if it’s available or check out their website at fullsailbrewing.com.  If you’re lucky, you’ll find a dozen you can cover in ice and relish a warm summer afternoon – dig in!!

Great Northern Brewing Wild Huckleberry Wheat

One of the best parts of traveling is tasting local beers.  And when you’re in Montana in summer, huckleberry everything is available.  What a find to stumble on Great Northern’s Wild Huckleberry Wheat Lager!  I’ll admit, we bought it because my wife likes this genre of fruity wheat beers.  It’s didn’t take much to convince me though once I tried it!

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Brewed in Whitefish, MT with pure glacier water, Great Northern brews some fantastic beers.  This light and refreshing lager is made with northwest hops and local huckleberry juice.  Now, while we thought huckleberries sounded exotic, they’re really just wild blueberries.  Nevertheless, they’re delicious in everything – including this beer.  Just a hint of hops gives some body not overwhelming the flavor.  You get a good dose of wheat, the perfume of huckleberries and a slightly sweet finish.  It’s fruity without being dessert-y, if you get my drift.  It’s only 4.7% ABV and proved to be a perfect after-hike sipper.

If you’re in the northwest or can find it locally, give this one a try.  It pairs well with chicken, fish, pasta, sunshine and fresh air!  These brewers hit a home run though.  Check out their website for more details and availability at greatnorthernbrewing.com.

Hop Nosh Tangerine IPA

The Great Salt Lake and Mormons aren’t the only things that put Salt Lake City on the map.  Uinta Brewing definitely puts a gold star on the city with a great variety of craft brews.  If you’re an IPA lover, you’ve probably had the Hop Nosh before.  However, the “cousin visiting for the summer” in the Hop Nosh family is Tangerine IPA.  Amber in color with a thick head, you want to pour this one in a glass to take full advantage of the aroma and flavor.  With the addition of tangerine, the beer has a light citrusy aroma and taste up front.  Don’t let that fool you though as this baby is still boozy at 7.3% ABV and plenty hoppy as well.  It’s kind of like a sweet kiss followed by a punch in the mouth with a bitter finish.  Man, do I love that scenario…for beer.

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You’re not going to sit down with a dozen of these, but two or three with a ribeye or smokey-sweet BBQ makes for a perfect summer dinner.  You’ll find at least some of these varieties available widely, check them out and sample a few.  You can learn more on their website at uintabrewing.com.  I’m a fan enough of this one to give a couple more from this brewer a try.  Pucker up and enjoy!!

Tyskie

When I think of my favorite beers, or even those great by reputation, Polish beers do not usually come to mind!  On our trip to Milwaukee this summer though, we had a taste of one that will change your mind.  The largest Polish festival in the U.S. is held in Milwaukee each summer and I highly recommend you go.  Among the festive polka bands, cultural displays, pierogi and sausage vendors you’ll find a variety of beers.  The big names and other usual suspects were there, but only one Polish gem was available.  And EVERYONE was drinking one!  Tyskie is a smooth golden lager that’s perfect for warm summer days or frankly even cool football Sundays.  The #1 in Poland has been a mystery to me until now.  Strange, considering they’ve been brewing it for nearly 400 years!

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Try finding this great alternative to American lagers in your local grocery store.  They are a partner brewery with MolsonCoors so their distribution is increasing.  I don’t know how they’re packaged in the store, but the 16 ounce tall boys were perfect for taking in a few renditions of “Roll Out The Barrel”.  You can find out more at molsoncoors.com.  Drink up – swietowac!!

Goose Island Four Star Pils

I’ve been broadening my horizons with lighter beers lately.  Be it this crazy warm summer or the fact that IPA’s give me heartburn now that I’m over 40, I have had a lot of great varieties of beer lately.  A great pilsner isn’t always easy to find so I was pretty excited to try the new Four Star Pils from Goose Island Brewery.  This golden brew is light, crisp and still taste like a real beer!  You can dress it up in a glass, but it’s perfect for shoving a six pack into a bucket of ice and spending an evening on the patio.  What I love is that they’ve used a combination of American and German hops to give it a depth of flavor beyond your typical pilsner.

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Try this great one with your favorite chicken or fish cooked on the grill.  I’ll wager that your favorite white wine drinker (AKA wife) will actually find this a great alternative to the vino.  I could go on and on about the other beers I love from Goose Island, but you can check out their website for the full list at gooseisland.com.  Crack open a little taste of Chicago and enjoy the last month of summer!