Adding lactose to beer isn’t new, but it has some polarizing effects on fans. Initially, hardcore beer enthusiasts would turn their noses up at anything brewed with lactose sugar, claiming it was “barely recognizable as beer” and that it was more akin to an alcoholic milkshake than an IPA. Initially, this may have been true, but as brewers have tested out and played with proportions, beers like Secret Island IPA from Barebottle Brewing Company are becoming more mainstream.
Lactose is just another kind of sugar, but it’s less strongly sweet than traditional sugar and adds a rich, pillowy mouthfeel to beer. When lactose is added to beer, initially it was categorized as a milkshake IPA. These days, that designation is reserved for a very specific type of lactose IPA. When used sparingly and without a lot of fruit additions, we get a beer like Secret Island.
Rich without being heavy and still crisp and refreshing, Secret Island IPA is a citrus-forward IPA thanks to the Citra hop used in the brewing process. Citra is backed by Mosaic and Amarillo that results in a lightly bitter brew that isn’t overwhelmingly juicy, but certainly has juice-forward characteristics. If you’re a fan of New England style IPA, you’ll definitely enjoy Secret Island.
Jaron here, co-founder of BottleHop, and I have a story to tell you all. My father loves Pilsner. His favorite beer is Kronenbourg 1664, and I have to agree it’s one of my favorite Pilsers ever made. My dad has also been drinking beer primarily in western Europe and the United States for his entire life, and for a majority of that time Pilsner has been pretty much the only option. It’s only in recent years that the American IPA craze has resulted in the bitter brew being more popular, and as a result craft breweries trying their hands at styles perhaps unknown to the American palate.
Previously unknown styles like the sour beer.
When I first gave my dad a sour to try, he looked at me in horror. “This is beer made for kids who were raised on soda pop!” he exclaimed indignantly. It took some serious convincing to explain to him that sour beer is one of the oldest styles of beer on earth, and that just because those who favor sweeter, tarter beverages prefer it over the more bitter beers doesn’t mean it should be looked down upon.
One particular style of sour beer, the Lambic, is first mentioned as early as 1794 in the Pajottenland region of Belgium southwest of Brussels. The name is thought to come from “alembic,” leading beer historians to think that the beer originally had more in common with spirits than what we now know as beer.
So why am I talking about Lambic? Well, the Lambic hop, the main hop used in Barebottle’s Fields of Funk, is a very low bitter hop cultivated in the Aalst-Asse area near Brussels in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century. Because of the low bitterness the Coigneau was originally a favorite hop used for Lambic beer. These days, it’s cultivated en masse out of Oregon and Washington and plays a large role in flavoring sour beers like Fields of Funk.
Fields of Funk has a Lambic history, with a sour, tart bite that wakes up your mouth before quickly falling off and finishing crisp and lightly peppery. The result is a very easy beer to drink that satisfies immensely on a hot summer’s day.
Fields of Funk gets that lightly peppery finish from the Saison yeast strain used in the brewing process along with those aforementioned Lambic hops. Saison yeast originates from Belgium, and is known for adding a spiced, spicy or peppery note to beer. In this particular beer, it rounds out the initial sharp bite of sour into a drink that keeps you coming back for more. With a relatively low alcohol of just 4.8%, there is no shame in having that second glass either.
Or maybe third.
Fields of Funk is a delicious sour saison that we highly recommend to those who enjoy either style. As a saison fan myself (and lover of the mouth-puckering sour beers as well), this is a really lovely, crushable beer that I very much enjoyed sharing with my friends. Sure, maybe my dad was right in that it’s got pretty much no bitter in it at all and is more akin to soda pop than typical beer… but who said that’s a bad thing? Celebrate sour beer, one of the oldest styles of beer, with a glass of this lightly golden beer. You won’t regret it!
Sour IPA started to become “a thing” around 2016, but even still the style hasn’t picked up so much steam that it’s found on every taphouse’s list. Being that it’s an unusual style, it’s pretty likely that many folks out there, even avid beer drinkers, haven’t tasted a sour IPA before. Reading up on the style, we found that brewers were discovering that, as paradoxical as it may seem, the best way to add fruit flavor to beer wasn’t to add fruit to the beer… but to do their best to highlight the fruit character of the hops instead.
Using the same technique used to produce a kettle sour beer, sour IPAs get a punch of acidity that highlights fruit flavors without actually adding any whole fruit. In kettle sours like Lean Mean Tangerine, Barebottle Brewing Company adds actual tangerines into the beer during fermentation. But that’s not the case, for example, with Barebottle’s Mosaic Sour Drip IPA. Hopped with Centennial, Mosaic and Citra, you would expect a solidly bitter, floral, citrusy beer in the West Coast IPA family. Even the color of Mosaic Sour Drip, a deep clear amber, is reminiscent of the West Coast style.
But this beer’s flavor is something else entirely.
Immediately sour, and to the point of even giving you that back-of-the-jaw pinch, it brings none of the strong floral and bitter flavors usually associated with the three hops used to create the brew. Even as it warms, Mosaic Sour Drip is fruity, light, refreshing and only just slightly bitter.
Though there is some zest from grapefruit and oranges added at terminal, there is no whole fruit in Mosaic Sour Drip. And yet… it tastes tantalizingly fruity. If you’re a fan of sour and IPA, this is a marriage you just have to try.
Double IPA is a popular style among hardcore beer fans because of the powerhouse of flavor it can deliver. Though you can’t sit on your back porch and drink three or four of them like you can a Pilsner or a Pale Ale, the Double IPA is instead a beer you use to see what kinds of hop flavors and aromas a brewery can produce.
Just as much as you might judge a brewery based on how clean of a Pilsner they can make, you can also use the Double IPA as a litmus test of what a brewer can do when given free rein to chart a course to Flavor Town.
Barebottle Brewing Company’s Giant’s Grove is their take on the Double IPA with the heritage of their excellent and probably most famous single IPA, Muir Woods. As the name suggests, the beer is strong with a pine needle, Sequoia sap flavor and aroma with a sticky consistency against the glass. It, like other Barebottle Double IPAs, is a thicker brew that goes down smooth in an almost silky fashion.
The primary hop that we taste is Simcoe, but it’s not the only hop used in the blend. A dose of Simcoe is added before the whirlpool and is the final hop added during dry hopping, but it’s backed by Warrior, Centennial, Azacca, Amarillo, and Citra. The latter two in that list join Simcoe in dry hopping. The result is a beer with a strong bitter backbone, likely thanks to Warrior and Centennial, that’s rounded well by the aforementioned smooth piney flavor profile.
As it warms, Giant’s Grove doesn’t grow in bitterness or maltiness, instead staying clean and lightly sweet. It’s by no means a “crisp” beer, but that subtle sweetness and pleasant bitter notes play well together and make for an overall extremely easy drink. Though it may be a challenge to drink multiple Giant’s Groves in one sitting, the alluring flavor of this beer will keep you coming back for more. It has many characteristics of both modern Double New England IPAs and Double West Coast IPAs, but rides the line between the two styles. Giant’s Grove does lean more towards the former, but those who crave a strongly bitter brew will find a lot to love about this beer.
Pilsner gets a bad rap from many of today’s craft beer drinkers. With the current wave of enthusiasm for an abundance of flavor in beer, be it bitterness (west coast IPA), juiciness (New England or hazy IPA), sourness (lambics, wild ales, kettle sours, or goses), or sweetness (fruit beers, shandies, etc.), we often immediately overlook Pilsner as a desirable option. With Pilsner, we think we automatically know what to expect: a pale lager that’s light and crisp, but lacks body and substance. Oh, and there is sometimes a “foot” aroma we don’t care for. But if you know where to look, it’s not difficult to discover a Pilsner that contradicts those expectations and delivers something special.
Barebottle Brewing’sPatio Pils is one such Pilsner, offering a huge peach aroma right off the top of the glass when freshly poured. It washes down easy without that ubiquitous “foot funk” you can get with lesser quality Pilsner.
What originally drew us to try Patio Pils was knowing it was hopped with one of our favorite varietals: Nelson Sauvin. Also found as a primary ingredient in Mandela Effect, Nelson Sauvin is often characterized as a dominant hop, lending strong flavors (varying from tropical to even pepper notes, while others still go so far as to call it “dank” or with “diesel” character) to whatever brew in which it finds itself. As such, you’ll most often see Nelson Sauvin used as a primary hop in IPA, commonly blended with other hops to create a more rounded profile. But what you might not know is that Nelson Sauvin can also act in a subtle manner if utilized by the brewer in a different manner. The result are aromas and flavors that range from citrus to mango and gooseberry, which are supplemented by hints of pepper and allspice and sometimes with a stone fruit pungency. In the case of Patio Pils, that clean, freshly-picked peach skin aroma comes through the most, offering a Pilsner experience unlike most on the market.
Being a lighter, lesser bodied beer means that Patio Pils is an excellent choice on a hot day, with low alcohol and bitter levels that will allow you to drink till your heart’s content. But that same lightness also means that the subtle notes we just described won’t stick around for long, so drink Patio Pils fresh, and cold. We recommend picking up a crowler or growler of Patio Pils and drinking within 48 hours to best enjoy the more subtle flavors not usually found in Pilsners.
Last week, Barebottle Brewing Company surprised us along with all their fans by dropping a mid-week can release called Secret City. With a blue and pink hued can covered in San Francisco iconic imagery, sandwiched between to pieces of pineapple (in typical Barebottle fashion of course), it’s one of the more stand-out label designs we’ve seen from Barebottle in recent months.
The design looked bold and refreshing, and the pastel shades made us think it would bring a cooling, relaxing note to a hot day on the Embarcadero or at Dolores Park.
We were not disappointed.
With a deep orange hue and strong head retention, Secret City pours considerably thicker than classic West Coast IPAs and even a bit more than most Hazy IPAs. Whether this is a byproduct of Barebottle’s dry-hopping or the inclusion of lactose in this particular recipe, the result is a beer that has excellent texture. It has an almost pillowy, fluffy feel that doesn’t feel heavy, but instead simply fulfilling.
The flavor profile is stated by Barebottle to be “tropical fruit notes” but more specifically, we think it brings strong POG juice vibes to the table. POG juice, or passion fruit/orange/guava juice blend, is popular in Hawaii as a refreshing blend and can be found at just about every breakfast table. POG juice doesn’t strongly resemble any one of the three fruits that make it up, but ends up coming across as its own tropical fruit flavor.
Though backed by two doses of Simcoe, which normally brings a piney and bitter flavor to beer, and a dry hopping of Mosaic, Secret City gets those strong POG flavors from both Lemondrops hops added in the whirlpool and a dry hopping of Equinox hops. Lemondrop, a lesser-known aroma-type hop, is known for adding citrusy, fruity and herbal notes to beer. Equinox, which is more commonly known as Ekuanot these days, adds to that with its own profile of papaya, lemon, lime and the overarching descriptor of “tropical fruit.”
The result is a beer with strong tropical flavors that is finished with a pleasant, smooth bitterness that keeps you going back for more.
With Secret City, much like with Mandela Effect (last week’s Beer of the Week) and the new recipe for Muir Woods, it feels like Barebottle is hitting a stride with their single IPA offerings. Secret City is just the third IPA that Barebottle has chosen to can in their three years as a business, with every IPA up until Muir Woods being bottled. It just so happens that the three beers to hit can have also been arguably some of their best.
The evolving preferences of the modern beer drinker have led many breweries to lean heavily on frequent production of new beers rather than focusing on the same eight or ten lifetime favorites. And while you may see beers from the past make appearances once in a while at these breweries, the emphasis on “new” is far more alluring to the average Untappd user.
New doesn’t always equal good, but in the case of Barebottle Brewing Company’s Mandela Effect, it certainly does. Mandela Effect stands out from Barebottle’s brand of hazy IPA with its excellent balance of Nelson Sauvin hops, which usually contribute a strong, dank profile to beer. In this case though, the Nelson’s pine characteristics are balanced against supporting hop players Citra, Mosaic, and Galaxy. The diesel notes of the Nelson Sauvin are tame, bringing out instead a light citrus along with green grape held together by a luscious texture usually only found in lactose, oat cream or double IPA beers. Though it has a thicker texture, it doesn’t have the overwhelming creaminess commonly associated with lactose or oat cream beers, which many enthusiasts can tire of easily.
This is a surprisingly full-bodied single IPA, with many characteristics we expect to find only in Double New England IPAs. But instead of being twice the alcohol and with the associated sweetness they can bring, Mandela Effect remains pleasantly easy to drink with a nice, lightly bitter backbone as you finish each sip.
Mandela Effect is one of our favorite single IPAs out of not only Barebottle, but the entire Bay Area in quite some time. You can try Mandela Effect yourself exclusively at the Barebottle taproom or through BottleHop delivery. Unlike other Barebottle cans, this one won’t be available at your local liquor store or Whole Foods and has a very limited can run. Try it while you can!