With the exception of German maibock, there aren't any real official spring beer styles. Here's what we thought would be good: beers transitional enough to drink between the icy winter and hot summer, "something light, but with a little bit of heft in there," said Josh Bernstein, author of Brewed Awakening, when we called to get his opinion. So we focused on saisons, white IPAs (see below for what a white IPA is), heartier lagers, and a handful of new seasonal spring releases. CHOW staff tried 20 beers in a blind tasting, and these were our favorites.
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Bruery Saison de Lente
A complex, slightly sweet seasonal from Southern California, this beer smelled yeasty and sour, tasted creamy, and finished dry. The 6.5 percent ABV beer is brewed with Brettanomyces, a wild yeast, which tasters noticed gave it a lot of interesting flavors, ranging from "grassy" to "pencil lead, but in a good way," and a touch of sourness.
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New Belgium Dig
This 5.6 percent ABV pale ale is a brand-new spring seasonal from Fort Collins, Colorado's New Belgium Brewing Company. It's brewed using two trendy hop varieties, Nelson Sauvin and Sorachi Ace, which give it a tropical fruit and punchy sour lemon flavor, respectively. Tasters found it balanced, with a fruity/floral aroma, and thought it would be "sessionable for a colder day."
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Fort George 1811 Lager
This Astoria, Oregon, brewery cans its beer in 16-ounce tallboys that're good for outdoor adventure. Its pre-Prohibition-style lager includes corn and is fermented at a warmer temperature than most lagers, a nod to the fact that many 19th-century brewers on the West Coast didn't have a lot of ice to work with. Tasters liked the 5.1 percent ABV beer's malty flavor, hoppy bitter edge, and light, smooth body.
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Stillwater Artisanal Premium
This crisp and refreshing 4.5 percent ABV American blonde ale is a bit of a departure for the Baltimore brewery typically known for its saisons. Nonetheless, it's still fermented with farmhouse ale yeast and two strains of Brettanomyces, which give it a "Belgian," "sweet," "farm-yardy manure" smell.
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Dupont Posca Rustica
This 8 percent ABV beer from Belgium is a gruit: an ancient style made before hops became brewers' go-to bittering ingredient. It tastes fresh and clean, yeasty and effervescent, and pairs well with jams.
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This 4.9 percent ABV spring seasonal from Brooklyn is a nicely balanced, crisp saison, with a frothy head and an extremely malty finish. A friendly, solid beer to enjoy when you're stuck inside on rainy spring days.
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Anchorage Brewing Galaxy White IPA
Trend alert! White IPAs, which are hoppy wheat beers, are showing up on several breweries' rosters this spring. This version from an Alaska newcomer is brewed with kumquats, coriander, and pepper. It's tangy and a little musky (thanks to Brettanomyces yeast), light in body despite its 7 percent ABV, with floral hop aromas. If you can't find it, try the Deschutes Chainbreaker, another great white IPA.