The Spectacle Blog

The Beer Spectator Welcomes Spring With Four Ales

By on 3.30.14 | 7:04PM

Yes, the rain has arrived in D.C., and that means it's springtime. Which, for me and many other beer drinkers, gives us an opportunity to dive into sessions and farmhouses. 

Conventionally, I'm an IPA drinker. However, last night I made the conscious decision to drink fewer of those palette-blasting beers, in favor of sweeter stouts and malty pale ales. You know what that means: more choices and more varieties to explore.

Over the next two weeks, I will explore these types. 

Springs at Villanova University on the Main Line in Pennsylvania were the most beautiful I've ever experienced. San Francisco doesn't have seasons, so it doesn't compare. Washington attempts to compete with its cherry blossoms, but Villanova will always hold a place in my heart for its arboretum-esque atmosphere. When spring came, everybody knew: The blossoms sprang out, the grass grew green, and co-eds returned to the fields to throw frisbees and baseballs. 

At that time, I drank what everybody else drank: the conventional light beers that quenched my thirst. Your Natty Lights and Bud Lights, and Yuengling when I was sick of those. 

In that vein, session beers attempt to refresh while also providing balanced and clean flavors. I ranked four different beers this week that exhibited some of these qualities. Some failed, while some returned me to college. One even reminded me of my mother spreading marmalade on toast. Enjoy.

4. Shiner FM 966 Farmhouse Ale—Spoetzl Brewery, Shiner, Texas

Spoetzl's spring release is a strange beer.

Every one of their brews has a German influence. That's probably why I wasn't familiar with the complex nature of this ale. To be a "farmhouse ale" means to be brewed from an amalgamation of ingredients available on the farm. In Germany and Belgium, many farmers used to brew in the winter with whatever crops they had left. When spring arrived, they drank it. As Beer Advocate explains, "This is a very complex style; many are very fruity in the aroma and flavor. Look for earthy yeast tones, mild to moderate tartness. Lots of spice and with a medium bitterness."

FM 966 is a very pale gold ale. I found the earthy yeast tones and the spice in the aroma, but the taste yielded a savory flavor. I want to describe it as "meaty," but I couldn't identify the exact flavor.

If you enjoy Shiner Bock, give this a try. 

3. Founders All Day IPA—Founders Brewing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.

The session beer is back in style. These are under 5 percent alcohol by volume to allow the consumption of many in one sitting. That's really all you need for a "session." 

Yet the session IPA is a big tease. I don’t like it when brewers tease me. When aroma hops give a peachy, floral, sweet bouquet, that’s what I expect to drink.

No dice in the All Day. It definitely lives up to its name; you can drink these all day. Just don’t expect to savor anything besides the scent.

Its dark gold color was even more deceptive! At 42 IBUs, the typical IPA bitterness is missing. This is a diet IPA. 

2. Stoudts Double IPA—Stoudts Brewing Co., Adamstown, Penn.

There’s a caveat to this beer. It is not necessarily a spring seasonal. It’s rotational, so we’re going to assume it’s a seasonal.

If you know more about this beer or the brewery, please let me know in the comments.

Stoudts is the biggest beer in this article at 9.43 percent ABV. After one of these, you will have to sit down just to ponder how big it actually is. It has a pale amber color.

This beer takes you on a four-step tasting tour. First, the sweetness of the malts. The roller coaster on the front of your tongue descends slightly for a hop slide right into the back of your throat. That’s where it falls apart, as the excessive bitterness almost eliminates the harmony. 

Overall, I give great kudos to Stoudts for the balance and the unique flavor.

Definitely try this beer as a night cap on a day at the lake.

1. Schlafly’s Sessions IPA—Schlafly Brewing Co., St. Louis, Mo.

After trying the All Day, I was skeptical about session IPAs. I'd describe the Sessions as a pale ale. 

The aroma and taste of marmalade intrigues the mind almost as much as the orange haze in the glass. The Sessions had ten times more body than the All Day—I credit that to the dry hopping.

Drink this beer on your porch as the sun sets this spring. At 4.5 percent ABV, you should have three or four to make it worthwhile. You won’t regret it. 

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