Away with your pumpkin ales and other portents of doom (or at least, of winter)! Temperatures are still in the 80s, most squash and gourds aren’t in season yet, and the leaves are barely starting to change.
Munich will hold their Oktoberfest later this month, so I accept that it is an appropriate time for Märzen and related styles. But on a sweltering early September day, something that is “…medium-bodied and rich with bready and toffee-like malt flavor…”† isn’t quite the thing, no matter how tasty.
It’s been a while since we did a roundup, so in defiance of all the small gods of commercialism and pumpkin spice lattes, Ben and I decided that the appropriate way to mourn the fading Summer is with a libation (or five) to evoke the spirit of the passing season.
For this roundup, only hoppy, sessionable ales would do. We enforced upon ourselves a maximum ABV of 5%, and—the better to transport for your holiday BBQ, camping trip, weekend at the lake, or afternoon on the porch—we stipulated that entries had to be available in cans. This is what we came up with.
Evil Twin Brewing Citra Sunshine Slacker
4.5% ABV, 16 oz. can.
Lightly grainy nose with hints of Citra and some spicy, almost savory notes. Strangely (but not unpleasantly) cumin-like. Appearance is a perfectly clear, straw yellow, with a lightly foamy head.
The flavor is not as fruity as you’d expect from Citra; very sharp. It still has some tropical fruit, and a hint of something like 2-row. It’s very much a hop-forward example.
Upstate Brewing Company X.P.A
4.6% ABV, 16 oz. can
The color is like raw ginger, slightly darker than the Citra Sunshine Slacker. Not quite what you’d expect from a Pale Ale or IPA. The head’s pretty good. It poured with a one and a half finger head at the top of a two ounce sample.
For a 4.6% beer, it has some solventy notes in the nose, indicating a problem with their fermentation. Dry, with a bit of cider in the flavor. Not a lot of hop flavor. There’s a hint of citrus, and something sage-like, herbal and grassy. Almost like lemon grass, or, to be more accurate, marijuana. Skunky. A bit disappointing, really.
Baxter Brewing Co. Pamola Xtra Pale Ale
Darker appearance; clearer than the Upstate X.P.A., with a similar shade. The head is about one fat finger on top of a two-ounce pour. The nose is very caramelly, and it follows through in the flavor, too. It has a very Crystal, Caramel, toasty flavor; a malt-forward pale. There are enough hops in there to balance it out. It finishes tasting kind of like flaked barley, some sort of Malt-O-Meal-ish notes. Because of the maltiness, it’s almost reminiscent of a British Pale. It’s pleasant to drink.
These guys can all their brews, which does make them quite packable.
Heavy Seas Cross Bones
4.5%, 12 oz. can
A minty, woodsy hop nose, like Northern Brewer. Clear, classic pale ale color. Clean malt character, good strong hops. This one tastes like a big Pale. Not quite like a full IPA, but there’s a lot of flavor and a good hop character. Judging from the flavor, you wouldn’t think it was only four and a half percent.
Tastes almost like a mix between a decent pale and a California Common, because of that rustic hop essence. Very refreshing, with a flavor similar to caramel or 2-row in there, and a hint of Noble hops. Some resinous notes.
Firestone Walker Easy Jack IPA
A blended hop aroma, slightly dry, somewhat unidentifiable. Resinous, a little bit piney. Faint citrus notes, but not hugely fruity like Citra. Possibly Cascade or another ‘C’ hop. It’s a nice golden yellow color, very clear. This is another one with a lot of good hop and malt flavor, despite being low alcohol. Very clean malt character in the flavor, fair amount of hops. Well-balanced; not as malty as Cross Bones, not as clean as Citra Sunshine Slacker. At the same time, it’s very pleasant.
Of the five, Ben’s favorites were Cross Bones, for the flavor, and Citra Sunshine Slacker, for drinkability. Citra Sunshine Slacker is a favorite of mine as well. I also quite liked the malt character of Pamola Xtra Pale Ale, though that makes it a bit less hop-refreshing than some of the others.
We wanted to include Ballast Point Even Keel, which, at 3.8% ABV, would have made it the lowest alcohol brew of the lot. But AJ’s Beer Warehouse had sold out of it.
At 4.65% ABV, Lagunitas DayTime would have been another good entry, but it doesn’t come in cans.
Or instead of that, you could enjoy a session Pale or two.
Photos by Benjamin Wilson
“Even Keel.” Ballast Point Even Keel. Accessed September 3, 2015.
†”Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest | Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.” BeerAdvocate. 2015. Accessed September 3, 2015.
Thomas, Dylan. “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” Poets.org. 1937. Accessed September 3, 2015.