Friday Froth: Spring Things

James Gribbon

"The planet has needs for your deeds," read the bottle cap. I studied it as the beer's head made sizzling noises, bubbles popping in the glass. "Well," I thought, dropping the cap and producing a tinny rattle. "Obviously." I brought my eyes around to study the carbonation's wavering path as it rose through the brown fluid. A previous topper reading "It's later now than it has ever been before" stuck to my other hand as I put it down. I flicked the cap, and it skidded across the glass table, leaving a faint but traceable trail through the collected pollen. Weakening rays of early evening sun hit me on a slant as I closed my eyes and leaned back. Those beams wouldn't be much good for generating solar power, but they seemed to recharge my personal batteries just fine. Some sort of tiny insect crawled its way over the hills and valleys of my toes and back into the green grass. Ah, spring.

Magic Hat Vinyl is a bit of an extrovert. It's dressed in a label where not all of the words are right side up; not even all of the important words. "Vinyl" and "Spring Seasonal" are right side up, but the big "Lager" is upside down, printed across the wings of a faery. Growing from her head is a flowing mane of leafy sprigs which wrap around the label's circumference to rejoin at her feet. Magic Hat commissioned famed artist Jim Pollock, perhaps best known for his Phish concert posterdesigns, to create the design. Said brown color doesn't do the beer any favors in a clear glass, but rising up from the rim is an absolutely crystal clear maltiness gently insinuating itself into your olfactory senses. Vinyl sports four different kinds of malts, some (if not all) of them are toasted, producing the aforementioned hue, as well as a smooth, medium body. There's a tang there from the toasting, and it lingers on the tongue. "It sticks, it sticks," says my neighbor, Vlad. "I vant to dlink morrre of dis. It makes me." I nod in agreement. Lager yeast keeps Vinyl very crisp, and the whisper of astringency manages to make this malty beer at once dry and refreshing. It leaps from the glass and dives down the throat. Twelve packs are gone in no time, which is no big deal at 5.1%. Magic Hat calls it a "Scrumptious Amber Lager," but I call it kind of zen, baby.

The strawberry and the bee gaze at each other lovingly while a ladybug serenades on a guitar. The off-centered ale behind them is brewed from sorghum, strawberries and buckwheat honey, making it certified gluten free. Dogfish Head calls it Tweason'ale, a late-spring, early-summer beer, or any chronological combination of spring/summer/fall/winter you wish to make. Just turn the box and watch the berry and bee do their thing. The beer is roughly pumpkin colored, and the strawberries are the proudest of its scents. They likewise hit your tastebuds first, just before a balancing wash of tartness. Some of that sour note may come from the buckwheat pollen the bees used, but I'll be damned if I know what sorghum tastes like, so I really can't be sure. This (non)seasonal has a vaguely wine-like essence, but not much body. I was surprised to find the brewers used a sorghum extract in making this beer instead of going all-grain, which doesn't seem like a very "craft brew" thing to do, but I'm about as ignorant about gluten-free foods as I am of the properties of Panicoideae Andropogoneae, so maybe that's what needed here. This is an odd bird from a brewery priding itself on making challenging brews, and I guarantee you someone you know will love this. Check out the very cool Cinemagraph of the process here

The Chicago brewer calls it an "Urban Wheat Ale" and puts their home area code on the bottle. Goose Island, a fairly recent addition to the Connecticut beer scene, gives drinkers two options in its urban beer series: the Green Line Pale Ale and this: 312 Urban Wheat. There is a lager-y nose when one first pours this cloudy golden brew, and the thin head may give the impression of light carbonation, but it fizzes on the tongue like Pop Rocks. 312 doesn't show the fullness and sweetness of most wheats, and instead exhibits a tart citrus flavor above all else. The initial impression is one of lemon zest, but the flavor comes from a solid dose of American Cascade hops in this gassy beer which won its first GABF gold medal in 2006. The Torrified wheat makes an appearance at the end as a tiny aftertaste on the tongue's tip: a pleasant rejoinder to the more sour essence of this English-style summer beer. 

Barefoot beer drinking weather is back. My advice is to live accordingly.