As the seasonal shifting continues and becomes ever more evident (despite the cold night early this week), I feel my own beer-style desires shifting right alongside the weather.
Stouts and porters are styles I gravitate to all year long, yet as the trees and meadows begin blushing with the green innocence of tender life, I want to taste flavors that reflect that transition.
Respected beer and brewing writer Randy Mosher writes in his book “Beer for all Seasons” that styles he associates with springtime are eisbocks, doppelbocks and maibocks. He also recognizes that there are breweries tweaking house recipes to suit current availability of adjuncts and others that are used as a kind of celebratory release. After all, who doesn’t want to rejoice when winter ends?
Here are some spring beers from Lancaster County breweries and a little about what makes them special, right from the brewers’ mouths. Look for these beers now or in an upcoming release, but keep in mind that, as seasonal beers, they won’t be around forever.
Wacker Brewing Co.
The Lancaster city brewery has a Biere de Garde that gets a fresh update with every spin around the sun; this year, it’ll be right around 7.1 percent alcohol by volume.
There’s a variety of grains used in the mash for this ale, with a combination of Golden Naked Oats, wheat, dark crystal malt, rye and pale ale malt offering flavors of berry, nuttiness and spice. You should find a lovely head capping the top of this Biere de Garde, and the body should feel soft, silky and satisfying.
Of this beer, brewer Jon Briggs says it “will remind you that summer is right around the corner and yet still give you that warming feeling to get you through the fact that it’s not yet here.”
Don’t expect it to be a haze bomb, as Biere de Garde should offer visual clarity and not look like orange juice. Fermented with a French saison yeast, you might also get some orchard fruit flavors and spicy pepper in the aroma and flavor.
Biere de Garde originated in northern France, and in translation it means “beer for keeping” because of its time spent lagering in cool farmhouse cellars.
Mad Chef Craft Brewing
When I talked with Francisco Ramirez from the East Petersburg brewery about what kind of spring beers he’s excited about serving, he recommended the Juice Caboose, a New England India pale ale that is a friendly 5.6 percent ABV. This beer was brewed especially for the fourth Rails and Ales Brewfest hosted by the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, held Saturday (look for more information at railsandales.org).
Juice Caboose comes with Amarillo and Mosaic hop varieties, and the orangey, citrusy, piney flavors they present should complement the guava and tangerine purees added in the fermentation tanks. There’s just a bit of lactose added, so expect a lingering sweetness from that unfermentable milk sugar.
“Get outside and soak up some sun with a Juice Caboose in your hand,” Ramirez says. I think that sounds like a mighty fine idea.
St. Boniface Craft Brewing Co.
Also adding some lactose to its ideal springtime beer is the Ephrata brewery’s Orange Pollinator, a hefeweizen that has a 5.5% ABV. This follows the traditional hefeweizen style in its base beer with white wheat malt and a satisfying body coming from mashing at high temperatures. Expect a hazy, full body with ample carbonation and hints of bananas from the hefeweizen yeast when drinking Orange Pollinator from a tap or can.
True to its name, orange blossom honey and orange puree were added to this beer. If you’re a fan of Blue Moon and haven’t yet sampled many craft beers, I think you should absolutely give this one a try.
As Dain Shirey from St. Boniface Craft Brewing describes it, “Orange Pollinator is sure to complete any spring or summer evening soiree.”
Black Forest Brewery
At this Ephrata brewery, you’ll find the JG Belgian Golden Strong Ale, and this one hits a bold 7.5% ABV to warm up your extremities and shake the last bits of winter from your mind.
With this style, you should expect to find some fruity aromas and flavors like orchard fruit and orange. It melds with spicy yeast character and lush malt for a complex and satisfying sipper.
Eric Sears, manager of Black Forest Brewery, suggests taking visual note of “the Belgian lace on the inner walls of the glass that contains this golden nectar.” Belgian lace isn’t some sort of fancy European doily; it’s the residual head that clings to the glass with finely tatted foam long after the liquid has been consumed.
The doily forms thanks to a polarizing protein: One end is attracted to water, and the other is repelled by it. The protein clings to carbonation like a buoy, and it stays topside when in a glass while also wanting to stay tethered to the beer. The battle is what creates the lacy patterns.
Grab a glass of JG Belgian Golden Strong Ale and head to the patio to observe the hydrophobic and hydrophilic reactions of Belgian lacing for yourself.
For the final spring beer in this local tour, head to Mount Joy brewery and try the Heller Bock. This beer should drop sometime in May, giving you a little something to look forward to for your middle-of-spring celebrations. If you’re familiar with a maibock beer, you’ll notice many similarities between the two styles. In fact, there is still some debate on whether these are the same styles, but Bube’s brewer Mitch Romig asserts that with this Heller Bock you might find a more pronounced hop character than with a maibock.
Romig is using German Callista hops in this beer — which offer various berry flavors, apricot and passion fruit — and he chose it to pair with the honeylike malt in the recipe. You should still get the herbal, floral qualities of the German noble hops like Hallertau, Saaz, Spalt and Tettnang.
This lagered beer should offer ample malty, grainy sweetness in the aroma, which you’ll also find in the mouth. It’s an easy-drinking style that finishes crisp and refreshing with little lingering bitterness, which made Romig suggest this as “perfect for the extended daylight of spring evenings.”
Whatever your springtime beer style preference, you’re sure to find a local version to enjoy as the days lengthen and temperatures continue their warming trend.
Contact Amber DeGrace with comments and questions at email@example.com and find her on Twitter at @amberdegrace.