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Familiar beer styles transform into something new and refreshing.

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click to enlarge MIKE RIEDEL
  • Mike Riedel

This week's selections began their proud existence as normal, everyday beers, until creativity and madness morphed them into something completely new. The labels might say IPA and wheat ale, but the contents scream something else entirely. If you have an adventurous palate, these ales will invigorate—and remind you why you fell in love with craft beer in the first place.

SaltFire Brewing Co. Gin Barrel-Aged IPA: The mere act of aging an IPA, even for the briefest of times, is considered by most beer nerds to be a crime against nature. If you truly want the best out of your IPA, freshness is key—or so we thought. The pour here reveals a typical-looking IPA full of honey and grain hues, with a moderate amount of slowly fading head. My nose is greeted by a big dose of juniper berry, spruce and citrus. It might not have the usual IPA aroma profile, but the fruity and boozy perfume is pleasing. As the sprucy tang of juniper and gin float just above a fluffy white cap, what waits below is the soft, sweet taste of toasty malt, laced with honeysuckle and light bread. Then, after the sweetness dissolves effortlessly on the tongue, an herbal and tea-like presence takes hold of the middle palate, teasing with zesty notes of citrus goodness similar to orange peel and tangy berry-like tartness from juniper. Sprucy, sappy and minty, the beer rounds into a lightly refreshing, bitter lemon-lime taste. Blurring the line between beer and cocktail, this 8.0% beer offers soft wood tannins as a dry finish ultimately takes charge.

Overall: The SaltFire crew has managed to maintain fresh-beer qualities in this drink while allowing its time in the barrel to shine. Flavors like these tend to be suited for bigger Belgian styles; here, the selection of Beehive Distillery's Jack Rabbit Gin provides a tasty dose of spruce and juniper that works better than I could have imagined with the hops used.

Uinta Brewing Co. Valley Orchard Wheat: It says wheat ale on the can, but the purple-and-pink-hued beer staring at me looks more like a fancy soda, with some haze and prickly carbonation. Pure cherry and raspberry are up front in the aroma; however, there's not much in the way of the base beer's wheat character. Upon first sip, I get a big punch of raspberry and cherry that immediately makes me think of Smarties candies. The fruitiness is pleasant, but feels artificial in its candy-like quality. The tart fruitiness is only mid-range in intensity, but the light wheat beer base has no ability to compete. Toward the end of the beer, it becomes difficult to separate the cherry and raspberry as they begin to meld into one designer fruit flavor—kind of like a Grapple. The finish has a minor citric tartness that manifests as a tingling in the jaw.

Overall: This isn't a bad beer. It delivers on what it was intended to be—a warm-weather recreational beer with a broad reach to non-beer drinkers. Beer purists might knock it for its soda-like feel and the absence of real fruit's jammy sugars, but this was never meant for them. Enjoy this 4% beer cold, straight from the can.

Valley Orchard Wheat is already finding a wider market and should be popping up everywhere you can find Uinta products. SaltFire's Gin IPA is at the brewery to enjoy there or to go; it can also be found at most beer pubs that serve SaltFire. As always, cheers!

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