Photographs by Ryan Kurtz
Not sure where to start with Queen City brews? Here’s a handy guide—from left to right—to a few good ales (yes, we know, we left out the lagers.)
1. Moerlein Seven Hefeweizen Ale
The Style: Hefeweizen
In this distinctly German style, at least half of the grain in the recipe is malted wheat (weizen). The in-your-face banana and clove aromas aren’t the product of fruits and spices, but a special ale yeast that also gives it a hazy look. It’s highly carbonated, and the meringue-like head comes from the wheat, which is higher in protein than barley.
There’s practically no bitterness here (the IBU is 17), only a yeasty first whiff, followed by rich banana and clove aromas. Light and sweet, it finishes clean, with a tart dryness that Moerlein attributes to “balanced hop character.”
Fifty West Wire to Wire Wheat is an American wheat beer with low bitterness and no hints of clove (a different yeast is used), while Blank Slate Out and About goes a different direction. It’s a Gose, a more sour wheat style, with an IBU of 26, as well as flavors of caraway and coriander.
2. Rivertown Lil SIPA
The Style: IPA
If there’s a signature beer of this country’s craft beer resurgence, this is it. A distinctly American IPA is all about the hops and the flavor they impart, be it über-bitter, citrusy, herbal, floral, or tropical. The style’s latest offshoot, Session IPA, is just as aggressively hopped, but has a lower ABV than your standard IPA.
Rivertown brews this 4.5 percent ABV session IPA with American two-row Barley and Citra, Galaxy, Columbus, and Cascade hops. That’s a ton of hops, which makes this lean to the bitter side, but it’s still very drinkable if you like this style. That clear straw color is so pretty, and it’s very crisp, with a piney bitterness that lingers.
Rhinegeist Truth is dry, balanced, and reasonably drinkable at a 7.2 percent ABV. For the hardcore hopheads, there’s Mt. Carmel’s Imperial IPA. Brewed with heaps of Amarillo and Citrus hops, it’s dank with ripe mango and clementine aromas, but also super smooth, almost creamy.
3. MadTree Happy Amber
The Style: American Amber Ale
This cousin of the American Pale Ales was born in the USA (one of the first craft beer styles, it got its name around 1990). Most examples of this style (also known as red ale) balance toasty malt flavors with light fruitiness from hops. And there’s that gorgeous amber color.
MadTree’s Happy Amber uses three kinds of hops—Galena, Chinook, and Cascade—and you’ll taste them in your first sip. The toastyness of the malts balance that out—the flavors are not as herbal as an IPA. Since Happy Amber is dry-hopped (meaning hops are added after the fermenting process), you’ll get some of the Cascade’s spicy citrus scent in the aroma.
Blank Slate’s Fork in the Road, an India Amber Ale, has the maltiness and color of an amber ale, and the hop bitterness of an IPA. Ei8ht Ball’s Red Drink, brewed with only Centennial hops, is bittersweet and big on the floral and citrus flavors.
4. Mt. Carmel Nut Brown Ale
The Style: Brown Ale
Thank your local homebrewer for the American version of this style. Brown ales existed in England as far back as the early 1700s, but they weren’t nearly as hoppy, malty, or alcoholic as the versions developed here in the 1980s. Expect a bit of citrus hop bite, but you might miss it in all the caramel, chocolate, and toasty flavors.
Mt. Carmel’s Nut Brown is more of a traditional English brown ale. It isn’t too thick, and even at an IBU of 38 manages not to taste super-bitter. There’s a slightly nutty flavor, and lots of toasty malt.
Big fans of this style have a big beer they can love: Triple Digit’s Chickow! This higher-alcohol brown (10.5 percent ABV) has plenty of hazelnut flavor and a potent punch. MadTree’s Gnarly Brown is more subdued (7 percent ABV) but still so roasty and robust some would call it a porter.
5. Listermann Nutcase Peanut Butter Porter
The Style: Porter
Another style that traces its roots back to England, this one is supposedly named for its popularity with porters and other laborers. It’s a darker, malty beer, which means you’ll describe it as nutty, chocolatey, or toffee-like. Since it already tastes a bit like dessert, it’s not uncommon for brewers to accent that with other ingredients.
This is thicker than the other beers here, but still relatively light. You’ll want to try this when it’s a little warmer than ice-cold—you’ll get a stronger hit of the peanut butter flavor that way. It’s a relatively drinkable 6.7 percent ABV, but you probably won’t want more than two of these.
Rivertown’s Roebling Porter tastes like spice cake in a glass, and it’s brewed with cold pressed espresso from La Terza. Another flavored porter is Great Crescent’s Coconut Porter, which is rich, nutty, and a little sweet.