Rolling with the windows down, warm night air blowing through, music playing, fireflies sparking at the corners of your vision... in the wintertime cars are about utility, but they seem to contain multitudes in the summer. This is especially true when you have a paper bag full of cold brews belted tightly as a child into the passenger seat. This week we'll take a short trip on the 'bahn to Stratford, try out something German, and bring it all home to Connecticut before a quick jaunt to the left coast and completely voiding the warranty somewhere in the south Pacific. Buckle up, and snorkel gear is not included.
Closest to home, Two Roads Brewing Co. introduced No Limits Hefeweizen for this summer. The can (yep) design features the symbol for Germany's autobahn front and center with the slashed grey of the 'bahn's dreamy unlimited sections incorporated in there between two stalks of wheat. It's summer blockbuster season, so allow me to put on my announcer voice (ahem):
From a world where there are no speed limits, and the cops will pull people over for not getting out of the way of faster traffic, comes Two Roads No Limits...
I love you already and I don't even know you, beer can.
This hefe emerged a cloudy straw color from the tap with a thinnish head, but it will probably bubble right up with a more aggressive pour. There is big Belgian yeast to the nose, but it's not at all perfumey. The 5% alcohol is hidden well down in the aroma, nearly undetectable, but there's something slightly sour there, almost like there was some wild yeast used in the fermentation.
That's where the wild ends, though, because on first sip No Limits is smooth as a ride on fresh asphalt. The yeast isn't too prevailing a factor in the flavor, it's more on the gentle side of the Belgian scale, and the whole thing is rounded off beautifully by the slightly sweet richness of the wheat. This is perfect beer for the beach or a muggy afternoon by the grill, plus there's no dangerous glass to clean up after a can of No Limits impacts the cranium of someone who has just asked if you have any Blue Moon. Convenient, that.
Drink this instead, people: it's superior to Blue Moon like an unlimited section of autobahn is superior to the Fairfield County section of 95.
The written German language isn't renowned for its brevity, and so it goes with Brauerei Heller-Trum Helles Lagerbier. You may also see this one under the brand Aecht Schlenkerla, but it's apparently brewed by Heller in Munich, so that's what I'm calling it, dammit.
This is another low ABV, straw colored summer beer, but it smells like pilsner malt, not wheat, and there's a slight, dry hoppiness to the nose. On first sip, this lager is crisp and cold as celery. It has a tinge of bitternness with a glimpse of sweetness, but it washes down clean as Alpine snow. I could drain a liter of this in the time it takes to pour the next one. This helles is a great one for hot weather rejuvenation or longer drinking sessions where a higher ABV selection would threaten to find the drinker making fast friends with the lawn.
The barley comes through so subtly, but it somehow brings its core essence through intact. This helles is a touchstone in the art of German beer.
Cavalry Brewing is a Connecticut brand from up in Oxford, I've mentioned them before, but I recently had a chance to try some of their Hatch Plug ale on draft. It poured a clear brown with a head as dense as your average teenager in an 80's slasher flick. The aroma was very malty and sweet, not far off from what you'd expect from a much heavier beer like a barleywine. My first impression on tasting it was the smooth mouthfeel under a thick, fuzzy blanket of malts. There's an English-style wink and nudge of hops, and Brits would probably refer to the style as a "bitter," but it's barely detectable to the American palate and contextual definition of the word.
Hatch Plug seems to have been designed as a session beer with its Billy Dee Williams smoothness and low 4.5% ABV. I'd say it's a solid accompaniment to any number of foods, but it would make an excellent choice when you need to do something with your hands while taking in a spectator sport like baseball, Estonian wife carrying, or a relaxing afternoon of Bo-Taishi.
The name "Hatch Plug"? I'll give you the story straight from the source at Cavalry:
"A happy tanker is a fat tanker and a real fat tanker is a Hatch Plug. This beer is named after a 1st Lieutenant that was traded for six M-16’s to another unit prior to departing for Iraq in early 2003. Hatch Plug went on to run the Baghdad airport and helped establish the telecommunications system in the region. Despite what we did to him he remains a good friend to this day."
If Hatch Plug sounds like your thing, North Coast Brewing out of California makes a malty number they call Ruedrich's Red Seal. North Coast beers are fairly easy to find on this coast, I particularly like their Pranqster, and this one is named after head brewer Mark Ruedrich. True to the name, Red Seal pours a reddish amber with a full cover of off-white head. Malts dominate both the flavor and aroma here, too, and everything is followed by a vaguely bitter aftertaste. This one's a little heavy for a summer beer to my tastes, but it's a princely beer for anyone a bit weary of the hop wars, or those whose tastes skew towards amber waves of grain.
OK, I've made it here without mentioning a single hoppy beer, but if you've made it this far, you deserve one. New England Brewing released their single hopped Galaxy Pale Ale a while back. Galaxies are an Australian hop variety, and a beautifully fruity, sharp citrus aroma drifted off my pint, looking like lemon meringue pie in the glass: all yellow, gel-like unfiltered opacity with a thick topper of bubbly, white froth.
Fresh hops carry the taste over earthy yeast as it coats the tongue. The hops are mainly there for atmosphere though, as a low bitterness keeps this Pale Ale squarely out of India[n] country. NEB has no plans to can or bottle Galaxy as far as I know, but keep an eye out for it on tap at craft beer bars as you hit the roads around our state. See you out there.