Seasonal beers feature lighter, zestier flavors and creative offerings

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 

Need more on beer?

For our story on winter beers, visit http://www.columbian.com/news/2011/dec/17/happy-brew-year-winters-dark-seasonal-beers-great/

For our story on fall beers, visit http://www.columbian.com/news/2011/nov/05/tap-into-fall-beers-pumpkin-ale-fresh-hop-oktoberf/

Spring Seasonal Selections:

Ninkasi Helles Belles (Eugene, Ore.)

Alaskan Brewing Birch Bock (Juneau, Alaska)

Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale (Chico, Calif.)

Weihenstephaner Vitus (Germany)

Bridgeport Stumptown Tart (Portland)

Upright Brewing Gose (Portland)

Silver City Delux Spring Lager (Bremerton)

Upcoming Vancouver Beer Fests:

— Who’s Your Daddy

When: Noon to 9 p.m. June 16.

Where: Turtle Place, Seventh and Main streets in downtown Vancouver.

What: Festival featuring about a dozen small Washington breweries, two food vendors and a chili cookoff.

Cost: Not fixed yet.

Information: http://on.fb.me/H9YVPj

— Vancouver Brewfest

When: 3-9 p.m. Aug. 10; noon to 9 p.m. Aug. 11.

Where: Esther Short Park, Sixth and Esther streets in downtown Vancouver.

What: Regional beer festival featuring brewers from Washington and Oregon -- including all Clark County’s breweries -- with six food vendors, live music, a brewer’s tent and home brewing classes.

Cost: Not fixed yet.

Information: http://vancouverbrewfest.com.

Warm or cold, light or dark -- much like spring weather in the Pacific Northwest, the season’s beer styles also end up fluctuating as they resist definition.

During this transitional phase the thick, high-alcohol beers of winter seem too filling; crisp, fruity summer beers too weak.

“The whole spring thing, it’s up to interpretation,” said Vancouver’s newest brewmaster, Tom Munoz, who is taking over beermaking duties at Salmon Creek Brewery & Pub when it reopens later this month. “Once you come out of winter, people look forward to a lighter style ale, but the American beer industry takes that and adds a lot of different variety.”

The most traditional spring styles are a range of amber-colored German beers called bocks, which include the lighter hellas bock and mai bock, and the darker, thicker double bock.

“All the bocks have a little bit of sweetness, maltyness,” Munoz said. “The lighter styles have a note of honeysuckle; heavier it’s a bit more clovey.”

Bock beers were first made in the Middle Ages by German monks, who would store and ferment the beer longer than other styles to smooth out some of the more assertive flavors. They’re a little stronger -- often in the 5.5 percent to 7.5 percent alcohol range -- than summer beers but not as strong as some winter ones.

Many local and regional brewers create varieties of bock beers in the spring. Munoz’s predecessor, Larry Pratt, made a very popular hellas bock beer that could reappear at the pub in some form in the next few months, Munoz said.

“We might do a hellas bock this season, and we’re opening with a hoppy, light IPA (India pale ale) that has a bit of a spring flavor,” Munoz said.

Hoppy and slightly bitter beers aren’t in the pure German bock beer tradition, because brewing seasonally, hoppier beers tend to crop up with the hop harvest season in the fall.

But that doesn’t stop local brewmeisters from adding the flavor to many beers. Hops are somewhat of a hallmark flavor of the Pacific Northwest, after all.

“Spring I think of medium body, with a little more hop than usual, but not as strong as an IPA,” said Devon Bray, brewmaster at Loowit Brewing, a new brewery setting up shop in downtown Vancouver. “When I think of spring styles, I think of something in between, like a copper or amber ale, not too heavy or dark.”

Whatever your craving, there are a lot of local and regional varieties to choose from, including some interesting spring styles you might never have heard of, said Angelo De Ieso II, head beer blogger at http://brewpublic.com and an employee at By The Bottle in downtown Vancouver.

“One of the more unusual ones out there right now is Upright Brewing’s Gose,” De Ieso said. “It’s a traditional style of beer that was brewed in Germany before World War II, when it sort of went defunct. (Portland’s) Upright Brewing and some others around the world have started reinventing it.”

Gose, named after the town of Goslar, is a top-fermented wheat beer with a light coriander flavor that’s brewed with ale yeast, he said.

In the region around Goslar the water had a high mineral content, and to mimic that here Upright added salt to its award-winning version.

“It has an almost lemon flavor,” De Ieso said. “And with the wheat, it’s really zesty, and the salt and coriander just balance out the beer.”

On the heavier side, another unusual spring variety is Alaskan Brewing’s Birch Bock, which is brewed with birch syrup and has a high alcohol content of about 8.5 percent.

“It’s kind of like candy,” De Ieso said. “It’s very forward with the malt.”

More classic is Weihenstephaner’s Vitus, a single bock German wheat beer made by the world’s oldest continually operating brewery.

“Weihenstephaner has been around since about 1040, and their Vitus has a banana- and clove-flavored yeast that is typical in a lot of German beers,” De Ieso said of the amber-colored beer.

In a strange twist on a spring beer, Sierra Nevada’s Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale is a bit more like a fall hop harvest ale, but it’s following the New Zealand hop harvest, which occurs during our spring.

“Their hop flavor is very different, it’s organic, you could say, because there are no natural pests in New Zealand for hops,” De Ieso said. “They’re more grassy and less citrusy than Northwestern hops. It makes for a pretty interesting beer.”

Also somewhat unusual is Portland’s Bridgeport Brewing Stumptown Tart, which this year has a mix of strawberry, raspberry and marionberry flavors, he said.

“It’s the fourth year they’ve released it, and every year they do a different fruit,” De Ieso said. “This year it was a combination of all three fruits they’ve used in the past. It’s an interesting spring seasonal that’s not very hoppy. The main focus is the fruit flavor, and it also cellars very well.”

The styles of spring may cover a wide swatch of the map, but there is one other thing to keep in mind as you get a taste for the season -- do it sooner, rather than later. Summer styles have already started appearing in some stores, and the trend of seasonals appearing and then disappearing before their time seems to be on the rise, De Ieso said.

“They just keep releasing stuff earlier and earlier,” De Ieso said. “Spring beers are now starting to come out in January and February. I think they’re just trying to make sure they go through their stock by the end of the season, but it’s not really great for beer drinkers that want to try some new things.”

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; sue.vorenberg@columbian.com;http://www.twitter.com/col_suevo.