Given the opportunity to write about craft beer every month in Decibel has been eye-opening. The idea that our "Brewtal Truth" column would have lasted more than four years (and counting) and even spawn a book—The Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers, out in November—is pretty amazing. Now it's time to bring a little "Brewtal Truth" to the Deciblog. Each week we're featuring a different craft beer that you should drink now. These aren't so much reviews as recommendations. We won't post anything here that we haven't happily poured down our own gullet. There'll be a new one every week at noon Eastern time, a little something to get you thinking about your imbibing options for the weekend. Just as music fans like to ask each other about favorite genres, beer geeks frequently inquire about our favorite beer style. The easy answer is we don't have one, but if you're keeping track of our Untappd tally, you'll see a lot of IPAs (and double and imperial IPAs) and Belgian or Belgian-style beers. Both are particularly flavorful and can be challenging, but in totally different ways. IPAs generally have a big hop component and high IBUs (and, as a result, a big bitter component). Whereas, typically Belgian beers don't emphasize the hops much, instead they spotlight the malt and other sugar sources such as candi sugar and the incredibly flavor-producing yeasts that love them. Many Belgian styles, though certainly not all, tend to be higher in alcohol, as well. Though there are a growing number of U.S. craft brewers who are doing their take on Belgian beers, the O.C.'s The Bruery are particularly good and clever. They not only brew interesting beers, they do it expertly. We have yet to taste one that isn't superlative.
MISCHIEF Belgian-Style Strong Golden Ale The Bruery Placentia, CA 8.5% ABV
We say this only somewhat facetiously that the American interpretation of most Euro beer styles usually involves a lot of hops. Which, of course, we're partial to. In fact a well-brewed traditional strong Belgian pale (or golden) ale that has been aggressively hopped is one of our latest obsessions. We've recently been drinking those stubbly little bottles of Houblon Chouffe in alarming quantities. The brewery apparently calls it a "double IPA tripel," but we just call it delicious.
Back to The Bruery's Mischief. This strikes an incredible balance between the typically sweeter/fruitier notes of a strong golden ale and the fruit-spice-and-bitterness mix of brash American hops. So, while there is a decent sweetness up front it's extinguished quite subtly to a pleasant dry finish by the hops. And at 8.5% ABV, it is dangerously drinkable. A 750 ml bottle of this went down all too easily, certainly aided by the by big, palate-cleansing carbonation caused by the bottle conditioning (a secondary fermentation done in the bottle to create natural carbonation).
Were it not for the Belgian yeast used to brew this, which imparts classic pear/pineapple/banana notes, this would have been an Imperial IPA or pale ale. The hops would likely need to nudged up a notch or two and perhaps slightly different malts would be used, but my point is that it's close to an IPA, yet tastes virtually nothing like it, largely due to the yeast. Anyone who's had anything from a witbier to a Trappist abbey ale will understand. Belgian yeasts offer a whole other world of flavor. And for those who find them a little on the sweet side (which they do tend toward), a beer like Mischief (or Houblon Chouffe) is a good gateway.
And the description on the label is perfect for the beer and for this column: "Not quite evil, yet not too be trusted... You'll want to keep an eye out." Go try a Belgian beer. Try a hoppy Belgian beer. Maybe you'll discover your own new favorite style.