As a Maine beer writer and local beer fan, I nearly always enter a beer store and make a bee-line for the local section. There’s so much new there that I barely make it a few steps before I already have an armful of brews I want to try. But every once and a while, it’s healthy to pry yourself away from the latest and greatest locals and broaden your horizons to some beers from other places. The two beers that I want to talk about today are very different but have both earned a spot in my heart – and my beer fridge – despite their state (and country) of origin.
Earlier this summer, I went to Pasadena, California, and stopped in to Galco’s Soda Pop Stop, a famous and quirky store that sells exotic sodas from all over the world. The flavors were ridiculously varied, from pumpkin spice to hot pepper, and it even carried Moxie in glass bottles. In the back of this soda-centric store, however, was an unexpectedly large imported beer section. It had nearly every German and German-style beer I’ve ever seen available in the U.S. and many that I was unfamiliar with. When the store owner saw that I was interested, he talked to me about many of the beers and nearly got tears in his eyes when he described one in particular to me.
He was pointing lovingly at Stiegl Grapefruit Radler, and I brought some back to my hotel room. A radler is a traditional beer that is mixed with fruit juice, usually lemon or grapefruit. You can make your own radlers by adding the fresh juice to a fresh beer, but in some cases, they are packaged, as was the case with the Stiegl Grapefruit Radler.
Stiegl is a brewery out of Austria, and I have to admit that, though its is well-known among import beer fans, I wasn’t very familiar with it. When I absent-mindedly grabbed one later in that week after a long day’s work and poured it into a plastic cup in my hotel room, something magical happened. It was, without question, the perfect beer at that moment. The base beer, a beautifully balanced lager, was the perfect backbone for the grapefruit, with a little twinge of sweetness to make it quenching and delicious. Combined with its low alcohol content (2 percent), this should probably be declared the official beer to cure hot sticky days. Luckily, this beer is available in Maine. I’ve had good luck locating it at beer retailers; just remember that it may be in the import beer section rather than with craft beer.
The second beer is a bit different. It is all about the hops and is a beer I’d heard about for quite some time. The first time I was able to try Bell’s Brewery Two Hearted Ale was on a trip to Michigan during my honeymoon, where I managed to fit in a stop in Kalamazoo to visit the brewery. To me, Two Hearted Ale was almost a myth. I’d heard about this wonderful IPA that was hard to find (even in Michigan) but would ruin you for all other IPAs after you consumed it. With a tiny distribution footprint that definitely did not include Maine, I had little chance to encounter it before visiting the brewery myself.
When I got there and tasted it, I finally understood what everyone was talking about. It is an American-style IPA, but it uses only Centennial Hops, the type that the Pacific Northwest is known for and that became the backbone of the American version of the style. The flavor is pine, grapefruit and citrus, and is the definition of the more West Coast IPA style in that it is clear but bursting with those Pacific Northwest hop flavors. At 7 percent alcohol, it is a little bit of a throwback to when IPAs in general were designed to be a little bit more boozy, and Two Hearted has a sweet malt backbone to support it, so it tastes balanced. If this sounds delicious to you, you need not pack up the family for a Michigan road trip. Thanks to a partnership with a Maine distributor, four-packs of 16-ounce cans of Two Hearted Ale and several of Bell’s other beers can be found at local beer retailers. I recommend that you take a moment to try this really classic example of what IPAs used to taste like and appreciate the boldness of the brewery for using that single hop in all of its glory.
Though I found these beers (at first) far from home, there are even more waiting to be discovered in our beer stores right here, if you know where to look.