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Beer Mailbag: Kona Brewing Goes IPA, Woodchuck Cans Cider

Hotlanta turns up the heat

Back in December when we visited SweetWater's brewery in Atlanta, we were introduced to a colorfully painted fermentation tank that was far smaller than those in its newly expanded facility. Dubbed the Dank Tank -- since the brewery behind 420 Pale Ale would naturally name its tank for experimental batches after a weed vaporizer -- it held the brewery's small, potent limited-release batches.

SweetWater's distribution has grown so much in recent years that the "small" batches now outstrip the Dank Tank's capacity, but the Dank Tank line of beers is still a seasonal offering heavy on the kick and light on subtlety. The latest installment, Johnny Hash, was released back on April 24, and has less to do with the man behind Folsom Prison than it does with the Citra hop hash that SweetWater's brewers scraped from the machines that reduce fresh Citra hops into nugget for brewing.

Citra is a tart, citrusy hop that takes some getting used to in the first place, but the hop hash is basically held together with the lupulin resin that gives the hop its flavor and aroma. In this 8.5% alcohol by volume Double IPA, that means some lovely, citrusy goodness from the first sniff and a brawny grapefruit flavor that comes with minimal bitterness. It's a fun, tasty beer to drink and a great harbinger of warmer days ahead, but the 22-ounce bomber bottle should provide fair warning for those considering more than one.

SweetWater's other tip to the season was its 17th Anniversary beer: A Saison Farmhouse Ale. Brewed in much the same fashion as the style's standard bearer, Belgium's Saison Dupont, this 9% ABV bears little resemblance to the low-alcohol brew served to farmhands in the 18th century. But its two months of fermentation and cellaring give it the same yeasty funk as its Belgian predecessor while packing slightly more punch.

Frothy and light, this is the spicy summer beer for folks who've graduated from their local pub's drafts of wheat beer with citrus slices and up to slightly more complex Belgian varieties. At 17, you're on the cusp of adulthood and full maturity, and a Saison is the perfect beer style to embody that stage.

IPA takeover continues

It seems that just about every time I write about a particular trend in beer styles, I get a new example of it just after the story runs.

It happened with stouts just before the last beer mailbag and it's happening with year-round IPA this week. Just after offering a 10-beer sampler of that particular style and explaining how craft brewers are drifting toward IPAs high on hop flavor and aroma but slightly more conservative with their alcohol volume, we got two bottles of Castaway IPA from Kona Brewing.

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