SUNDAY SIPS: 5 Sudsy Gems From California

This week, it’s five brews from what is arguably the best brewing state in the U.S., California. You can’t throw a stone without hitting a good brewery there. Here are five good beers from Cali worth checking out.

Firestone Walker Easy Jack

Few states can match Pennsylvania when it comes to having fantastic brewers, but among those that can is California, arguably the top brewing state in the U.S. That’s thanks to folks like Firestone Walker. All the attention goes to their anniversary beers and monsters like Sucaba, but they are masters of the little beer, too. Take Easy Jack session IPA, for example. Easy Jack is

Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean

the smaller sibling of Union Jack IPA, but being smaller is no knock. The body is light and crisp and easily drinkable, but you won’t want to chug this. Not when it’s awash with potent aromas of melon, grapefruit and orange peel. The hop flavor is prominent yet lacks blistering bitterness, making this beer supremely flavorful without sacrificing easy drinkability.

Alpine Captain Stout

Big brewing states like California may be, well, big, but that doesn’t mean all their breweries are. Take Alpine Beer Company, for instance. Located a little outside the brewing Mecca that is San Diego, they’ve been quietly making beers for a lot of years but have generally stayed pretty small. Doesn’t mean beers like Captain Stout aren’t worth drinking, though. Pouring a deep brown with little head, this roasty stout gives off enticing aromas of fresh coffee, chocolate bars, and scorched malt. It’s a creamy, chewy beer that goes down with the smoothness of chocolate milk. Balanced by a touch of bitterness, it has a surprisingly clean finish for its richness. Captain Stout is proof positive that a beer doesn’t have to be rare or driven by hype to be worth drinking.

Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Beans

Take an already wonderful smoked porter – rich, chocolaty, and just a little smoky –add some rich vanilla beans, and you’ve got yourself something special. That’s what the folks at one of California’s top breweries, Stone, did, and it’s as yummy as it sounds … not that that should come as a surprise. As beers like Enjoy By show, Stone has been on a roll the last few years. With this version of their smoked porter, the velvet sweetness of the vanilla perfectly complements the rich chocolate and hints of coffee, while peat-smoked malts add a hazy hint of wildness. This beer’s full body makes it a perfect one to finish off a meal or to pair with a good cigar. If you like your beers with some Earthy, leathery richness, give this one a try.

Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter

If the topic is California beers, you really can’t have a conversation without bringing Sierra Nevada into the mix. These pioneers are one of the nation’s oldest craft brewers, yet they’ve never fallen into complacency or irrelevancy. From sprawling experiments like their Beer Camp packs to rock solid mainstays like their pale ale, these guys are a model for how to do it right. Their latest is Hop Hunter, a crisp, aromatic IPA made with a pioneering (there’s that word again) new method of capturing hop flavor. Lots of pine and a touch of citrus rise from the glass. The sip reveals grassy, almost “green” hops and assertive bitterness, balanced by a touch (but only a touch) of Wonder Bread sweetness. The body is thin, surprisingly so, and the finish is as dry as they come. Quality as always, Hop Hunter is widely available.

Russian River Pliny the Elder

When it comes to California beer, you have a long list of very good stuff, and then you have a short list of bonafide legends. Pliny the Elder is in the latter category. This elusive beer has an almost mythic status among beer geeks, driven in part by the fact that it’s generally not available east of the Rockies. Philadelphia, however, is the one exception. Pliny is easily among the nation’s top double IPAs. No surprise there, as Russian River owner and brewer Vinnie Cilurzo is credited with inventing the style. This beer’s snow-white head gives off wafts of pine resin and faint hints of citrus. The taste is the very definition of balance. Wonderful caramel malts, a medium body and a crisp, dry finish help the bitter grapefruit and pine of the hops shine throughout without overpowering the beer. Hard to find, but on the East Coast it pops up from time to time at Monk’s Café in Philadelphia.