I've been on a kick recently -- moreso than normal -- to dive into new beers, and I've got notes on a half-dozen that recently caught my attention:
- Double Nut Brown Porter from Mammoth Brewing Co.: I first got a taste of this on tap straight from the brewery and ordered a growler on the spot. I've since started seeing it in bottles in Central California. Porter afficionados might say it's a bit too sugary and its 5.5 percent alcohol content is on the lower end of the genre, but I find the overflow of coffee, chocolate and nut flavors a perfect blend. It's a dark beer that drinks well on a hot day. Highly recommended.
- Vanilla Doubledog: I first tasted this 25th anniversary brew from Abita Brewing while sitting in the legendary Napoleon House in New Orleans. It was fantastic then -- paired with a fruit and cheese plate -- and I've since been able to track down bottles of this limited release at BevMo in Santa Clarita. The vanilla comes from natural beans added during the aging process, adding a layer on top of chocolate and caramel malts. That makes it sound like a sundae, but the mashup with Abita's flagship Turbodog ale tames the sweetness and 7 percent alcohol. This is a dark ale that works as a before- or after-dinner drink.
- Riley's Irish Style Red Ale: My go-to beer at Bakersfield's Lengthwise Brewing is their red ale, but this version from Riverside's PackingHouse Brewing Co. struck me as flat. At 6.2 percent alcohol, you expect a little bit of character but I didn't get a whiff of anything memorable. A Cambria pupkeep told me I'd be back to buy more. I think not.
- 805 ale: Props to Paso Robles' Firestone Walker Brewing Co. for creating a regional beer that makes a bold statement: We own our area code. As more breweries pop up along the Central Coast, rallying your muscle around a mainstream ale is a smart way to keep and built marketshare. 805 drinks more like a lager but has enough character to separate it from slightly cheaper but mainstream beers like Bud and Miller. 805 wouldn't be my first, second or third choice from Firestone, but it's perfect when you're lugging a six-pack to the beach, campsite or friendly gathering. And at 4.7 percent alcohol, tossing back a few won't drag you down.
- Brekle's Brown: Anchor Steam Brewing Co. out of San Fran produces this "all malt, single hop brown ale" based on a recipe from the company's original brewmaster, Gottlieb Brekle. I love the idea of a tribute and I'm all for going old-school but the 150-year-old recipe left me yearning for more. The label promises "unusual depth of flavor -- richness and complexity without heaviness" (6 percent alcohol) but I didn't get any of that. I must say its copper color looks great in a glass and pours a great head, though.
- Labyrinth Black Ale: I'm a big fan of black ales and lagers, which have become a hot trend the last year or so. But this creation from Uinta Brewing in Salt Lake may be among the more expressive beers I've ever tasted. First, the Labyrinth is a beastly 13.2 percent alcohol, a level at which beer can easily go sideways. The diffentiator here is black licorice that melds with chocolate and toasted oak (the beer is aged in oak barrels). The result is a beer to savor and study, rather than blindly consume. Labyrinth Black Ale is definitely a beer I'd buy again, but next time I'd take the advice of a Cambria pupkeep: open the 750 milliliter bottle at lunch and finished it after dinner.
Each of these beers are available in bottles, so check your local store. And please share any beers you've tasted recently that are worthy of attention. There's never been a better time to find and enjoy high-quality craft brews of all styles, brands and regions. Bottom's up!