Spring officially arrived yesterday. No, really, it did. It was an unusually cold winter for most of us in America, even those of us living down South (New Englanders are playing us tiny violins right now). But no matter the temperatures, it’s time to celebrate the coming warmth with some good spring seasonal beers.
Unlike summer wheats, fall Oktoberfests and dark winter stouts, spring inspires breweries to release countless different styles. Our tasting of more than two dozen spring beers this week included IPAs, doppelbocks, stouts, fruit beers, pilsners, rye ales, Belgian-style ales, saisons and barleywine. We only considered beers that are annual releases (no one-offs or occasional releases) and that were widely enough available for us to find. Here are our 12 favorite spring beers.
12. Founders Curmudgeon Old Ale
Brewery: Founders Brewing Company
City: Grand Rapids, Mich.
Style: Old Ale
The verdict: We’re not sure how this dark barrel-aged says “spring,” but then again, as I type this, the current temperature in Grand Rapids is 29 degrees. At nearly 10% ABV, Curmudgeon might help warm your bones into thinking winter is finally over. Malty and sweet, the old ale is an unusual style will appeal to anyone who enjoys imperial stouts and barleywine.
11. Dogfish Head Aprihop
City: Milton, Del.
Style: Fruit Beer
The verdict: Fruit beer can sometimes be a little too sugary sweet, but Dogfish Head’s Aprihop is based on an IPA, and the Willamette and Cascade hops blend wonderfully with the apricots. It’s an unusual beer, but we’d expect nothing less from the Delaware brewery.
10. New Belgium Spring Blonde
City: Fort Collins, Colo.
Style: Belgian-style Golden Ale
The verdict: This crisp golden ale tastes like new beginnings. Light and refreshing with citrusy sour and bitter notes, it’s a Belgian-style spring, and we look forward to one day learning first-hand exactly what that’s like.
9. Green Flash Palate Wrecker
City: San Diego
Style: Double IPA
The verdict: Double IPA doesn’t usually mean twice the hops. The higher percentage of alcohol comes from an abundance of malts, whose sweetness usually balances out the bitter. But thanks to nearly six pounds of Columbus and Centennial hops per barrel, the well-named palate wrecker comes in at a whopping 149 IBU—that’s a tastebud destroying level of bitterness for you non-beer-geeks. And heaven for you hop heads.
8. Flying Dog Horn Dog
Brewery: Flying Dog Brewery
City: Frederick, Md.
The verdict: As a huge fan of England’s J.W. Lees, it’s been hard to find American barleywines that get me excited. But Flying Dog has created something special. Aged in Stranahan’s Whiskey barrels, Horn Dog has that Old World flavor—powerful caramel and sweet dark fruits that aren’t for the faint of heart.
7. Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA
City: Bend, Ore.
The verdict: There’s no fruit in this beer, but the hop profile is so citrusy that you might find it hard to believe. Citra and Mosaic hops call to mind a tangerine orchard that makes Fresh Squeezed IPA go down dangerously easy.
6. Bear Republic Apex
Brewery: Bear Republic Brewing Company
City: Healdsburg, Calif.
Style: Double IPA
The verdict: Another especially hoppy double IPA, Apex is still wonderfully complex. Mosaic, Simcoe, Citra, Cascade, Columbus, Centennial and Chinook hops stand out from the plentiful malts for a 100+ IBU drinking experience.
5. Bell’s Consecrator Doppelbock
Brewery: Bell’s Brewery
City: Galesburg, Mich.
The verdict: Spring in Michigan apparently means dark, sweet beers, but we’re okay with that. This traditional dopplebock is overflowing with molasses, caramel and plum flavors. Drink it for dessert.
4. Westbrook Shane’s Big DIPA
Brewery: Westbrook Brewing
City: Mt. Pleasant, S.C.
Style: Double IPA
The verdict: Westbrook continues to impress—from the packaging to what’s inside. This big ol’ beer is well balanced and full of flavor—piney and citrus hops, rich and sweet malts. Springtime in the south is tasty.
3. Stone Imperial Russian Stout
Stone Brewing Co.
City: Escondido, Calif.
Style: Imperial Stout
The verdict: Stone’s Imperial Russian Stout is one of the most anticipated spring releases for beer lovers each year. It’s an incredibly dry Russian imperial stout, with roasted coffee and anise flavors coming through in a style where dark fruits and caramel usually dominate. It also pours so dark and thick that you feel like you should be pouring it into your car. It’s available in 750ml bombers, but you might want to share.
2. The Bruery Saison de Lente
Brewery: The Bruery
City: Placentia, Calif.
The verdict: Saisons feel so spring-like that I was shocked not to find the style dominating the spring seasonal line-up of the majority of breweries. But you don’t need any others if you can find a bottle of Saison de Lente. A near-perfect example of the style, the sour notes from wild Brettanomyces yeast is balanced with bright hops.
1. Great Divide Orabelle
Brewery: Great Divide Brewing Company
Style: Belgian Abbey-Style Trippel
The verdict: Great Divide’s Orabelle stood out among the spring beers we tried with lovely banana notes from plentiful esthers and the Belgian yeast flavors. Brewed with barley, wheat and rye, it’s as complex as it is delicious.