When you travel the world, the thing most people associate with the great state of Kentucky is, you guessed it, fried chicken. Against The Grain Brewery is based in Louisville, so they know a thing or two about that reputation and have brewed a more than interesting tribute called Kentucky Ryed Chiquen ($12). This unique offering was brewed with rye malt and caramel rye from Germany, and was later placed in Redemption Rye barrels where it aged, soaking up just enough rye whiskey flavors. But don't worry, you won't taste chicken when you drink it, just a smooth barrel aged beer that even Colonel Sanders might have enjoyed, chicken feathers and all (which just happen to come stuck to every bottle).
If you haven't heard of the upstart craft brewery based in Oklahoma called Prairie Artisan Ales, it's about time you became familiar. Prairie has some of the better Farmhouse / Saisons on the market already, and now they've dipped their toes into the Imperial Stout pool. Prairie Bomb! ($8) is a 14% Imperial Stout aged on coffee, cacao nibs, vanilla beans, and chili peppers. It's a rich, luscious experience with a faint chili pepper kick on the tail end. This one is as good as it sounds, so you might want to get out in front of stout season and pick up some Prairie Bomb! before it's gone.
Belgians are known around the world for their brewing expertise. One thing that sets the Abbeys and the Trappists apart is the water they use to make their fine brews. Well it just so happens that the water on a small farm in Ohio is nearly identical to that of Wallonia, Belgium, where Belgian Ale originated. Rockmill Brewing took advantage, setting up their brewery on a small farm plot nearby and are creating some fantastic Belgian beers. Included in the small collection is their take on the Belgian Dubbel ($14). A few sips of this sweet, malty gem will have you asking for more, and wondering if you aren't drinking something straight from Belgium.
When it comes to well known craft breweries, there are few with a reputation and reach equal to Dogfish Head Brewery. The Delaware-based brewers are craft pioneers and have never been afraid to push the boundaries of beer styles. By now you've likely met their 60 Minute IPA or their 90 Minute IPA, but you may not have had an encounter with big brother 120 Minute IPA ($12) yet. Dogfish has been brewing this beast for over a decade, but the supply is always limited, and those with access aren't always up to the challenge. If you crack one open fresh, it's less of a hop bomb than you might expect initially, but the IBU intensity will sneak up and bash your palate at some point during a tasting. Grab a couple bottles if you can, share with a friend or set some aside to age like a fine wine.
The brewing history in our hometown of Cincinnati goes way back. Combine that history with our current beer soaked culture and some special things can happen. Rhinegeist Brewing is one of the newest additions to a growing craft scene in Cincy, and their newest creation is called Saber Tooth Tiger ($15). The double IPA hits with a full bouquet of citrusy hop aroma after it pours an inviting amber colored nectar. It's a smooth criminal taste wise, with plenty of flavor and just enough Saber Tooth hop bite that finishes crisp and clean. But don't be fooled, at 95 IBU, this is a palate wrecker that will have your tongue tingling after a session. Hunt down a growler before it goes the way of the Saber Tooth Tiger.
A brewery like Epic Brewing in Utah have some challenges other breweries don't have to mess with. The alcohol laws in the state are quite prohibitive, forcing the brewers to be creative when it comes to the amount of alcohol that makes its way into their beers. But the 11% plus ABV badass that is Big Bad Baptist Imperial Stout ($14) kicks through the door of many restrictions, regardless of your proximity. It's brewed with cocoa nibs and whole coffee beans, and is then placed in whiskey barrels before bottling. Every batch varies a bit, and isn't easy to come by, so hunt down a bottle now and enjoy a truly Epic stout.
What happens when two uber geeks team up with Stone Brewing CEO Greg Koch? A perfectly geeky craft beer, of course. Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout ($10) is the brainchild of actor Wil Wheaton, Fark.com creator Drew Curtis, and Koch, and is sure to turn some heads. It was brewed with rye, wheat malt and pecans and partially aged in Bourbon whiskey barrels. W00tStout crosses the finish line at 13% ABV, which is enough to make any geek a little weak in the knees. It might sound highly illogical, but this collaboration will be in high demand.
One of the trends worth following right now in the craft beer world is the abundance of Saisons and Farmhouse Ales. These styles of beer are brewed during the winter and by the time the summer months hit, are ready for consumption. Oxbow Brewing in Newcastle, Maine, who make "Loud Beer From A Quiet Place", also brews one of the best Farmhouse ales around, fermented in stainless steel and aged in oak barrels. The Barrel Aged Farmhouse Pale Ale ($15) is light, refreshing with just a hint of spice and tartness. Each batch is aged in a different kind of barrel with a slightly different recipe, but if you aren't near the brewery or in the surrounding region, it's going to be difficult to find.
Zombies are all the rage nowadays (we were here before they were cool), but no TV show, movie, or video game compares to this zombie from Indiana. We're talking about Zombie Dust ($10), a beer made in Munster, Indiana, at Three Floyds Brewing. And to say it's the finest Pale Ale on the planet would be doing it a disservice. While it's classified as a Pale Ale, to most palates it has much more in common with a ridiculously tasty IPA. The tropical fruit aromas you can't miss are from the generous amount of Citra hops the beer was brewed with. The same hops provide a subtle but effective bite after you tip back your sample. So even if zombie culture isn't your thing, Zombie Dust could convince you otherwise.
Despite what some will have you believe, fruit and beer can make a wonderful couple. As evidence, we submit the downright fantastic Farmer's Reserve No. 3 ($10) from Almanac Beer Company. The California brewers draw you in with their classy bottle art, and keep your attention with this revitalizing, tart, wild ale. They employ coastal strawberries and high summer nectarines before aging this bad boy in white wine barrels for 12 months. So toss out your preconceived notions about how fruit and beer get along and add this to your list of summer beers to track down.
For those that crave their next hop fix, you might want to look to Ohio instead of the traditional hotbeds on the West Coast. Fat Head's Brewing in North Olmstead has quietly crafted one of the best IPAs around with their dry, piney, aggressively-hopped Head Hunter ($10). And maybe it's not so quiet of a process after all since Head Hunter has taken home medals at the World Beer Cup three years in a row. Ohio might not be a hop hotbed yet, but IPAs like this are getting more and more attention from hopheads.
The craft beer canning craze continues to grow across the United States. One of the breweries that has embraced canning and also brews amazing beer is Surly Brewing Company in Minnesota. Their "Beer For A Glass, From A Can" tagline applies to all of their offerings, but the IPA they call Furious ($10/4-pack) has separated itself from the pack. The crimson colored nectar might look more like an amber ale, but don't be fooled, it's a smooth hop celebration that demands additional research. The only time you might find yourself Furious is at the bottom of each pint.