Friday, May 13, 2011

Brewing Up Variety At Ithaca

These days, a craft brewer can’t rely on one or two good beers and expect beer aficionados to stick with them. Craft beer drinkers demand variety. Give them an eclectic selection of quality beers and they’ll pay you back with loyalty.

That’s a lesson Ithaca Beer Co. out of New York knows well. This small regional brewery – distribution only reaches as far as New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and a few surrounding states – is all over the map in terms of the styles they offer. Even better, they make a darn good beer. That’s probably why you’re seeing Ithaca beers appear in more and more good liquor stores in New Jersey.

Among their five year-round beers are CascaZilla, a big, hoppy red ale that clocks in at 7% ABV. It’s got a reddish hue and a full, malty body, but the star of the show are the Cascade hops. Most reds are pretty mild and, frankly, forgettable. Not CascaZilla.

But if it’s hops you like – hops are the part of beer that gives it its bitterness, as well as aromas that can smell of pine, citrus, and more – Ithaca’s Flower Power IPA is where you want to go. This beer has a huge, citrus-filled, floral aroma that is surprisingly pungent (in a good way) for the price. The beer is bitter but highly drinkable even at 7.5% ABV. It’s a year-round beer but is released in limited quantities, so if you see it scoop it up. It's one of the best IPAs brewed on the East Coast.

Ithaca’s best-known beer is by far their Apricot Wheat. It’s available all year long and is their best seller. This isn’t a beer for someone who doesn’t like sweet beverages. The apricot is not subtle. It’s right up front and in your face, making this a fruity brew perfect for a hot day. Try one of these while sitting poolside.

Like all good craft breweries, Ithaca also does an array of seasonal beers, including a smoked porter and Belgian amber ale in the winter. Right now, you should be able to find the last six-packs of Ground Break, an American style saison that should go down wonderfully on a pleasant spring day. Saisons are light-bodied Belgian beers known for their subtle fruity character and zesty, refreshing taste. Well worth tracking this one down, because they stop releasing it in April. Starting in May, Ithaca will be putting out Partly Sunny, a wheat ale brewed with coriander, lemon zest and spices. That’s good summer drinking right there.

Like so many of the great craft beers now appearing in better liquor stores, Ithaca is a regional beer. You can find their beers in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut. You can locate distributors here.

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