Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean. On its own, Stone’s Smoked Porter was already a damn fine beer, merging rich coffee and mocha notes with subdued smokiness for a complex twist on the traditional English porter. Throw in some Madagascar vanilla beans, though, and it becomes a little slice of heaven. The velvet sweetness of the vanilla works perfectly with the rich chocolate at the heart of this porter, while peat-smoked malts add just a hint of the abrasiveness that Stone is known for. This brew’s full body makes it a perfect one to finish off a meal or to pair with a fine cigar. Watch for Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean to begin appearing on tap in the weeks ahead—but it’s released in limited quantities, so get it when you see it!
Atwater Vanilla Java Porter. Some vanilla beers aim for subtlety, featuring just enough distinctive sweetness to be noticed but not so much that you’ll be pining for it at dessert. And then there is Atwater’s Vanilla Java Porter, where the word “vanilla” is something of an understatement. There is a roasty coffee porter hidden back here, one with a lush, frothy brown head and a full, chocolaty body, but the star of this show is the massive, rich sweetness imparted by an imposing amount of vanilla extract. Not for those without a sweet tooth but sure to please anyone who’s got one. If you can convince the folks at Bainbridge St. Barrel House, where this is now on tap, to make an ice cream float with it, do it!
Russian River Blind Pig. While most East Coast beer geeks lament their inability to get brews by California’s Russian River, Philadelphia beer drinkers continue to rejoice at being the only city east of the Rockies to serve its stuff. This brewery’s roster of sours and the legendary Pliny the Elder win all the accolades, but its secret weapon might be Blind Pig, very quietly one of the finest IPAs brewed in America. Full-bodied but with a clean, dry finish, this stunningly balanced ale features explosive hop aroma and flavor. All the usual descriptors apply—citrusy, fruity, and loaded with resiny pine—and it all comes in a package that somehow manages to be bracingly bitter without being off-putting. How do they do it? Probably with magic. Try Blind Pig at Monk’s Café, Sidecar and on Dec. 26, at a special Russian River tapping at Kraftwork.
Lancaster Country Cream Ale. Back before corporate conglomerates took over the beer world, the cream ale was a popular regional style that merged the zest of an ale with the smooth drinkability of a lager. Over the years they fell by the wayside—New York’s Genesee was long one of the last holdouts of that fading style—but they’re making a comeback thanks to craft brewers like Lancaster. Brewed throughout the summer and typically available well into winter, Country Cream Ale maintains the cream ale tradition, but without the blandness sometimes associated with the style. Medium-bodied with a grassy, grainy malt flavor and a touch of earthy hops, this brew’s clean finish makes it a quaffable all-purpose beer good for most “let’s have a few pints” occasions. Try it at Old Eagle Tavern and Kraftwork.
La Trappe Dubbel. The traditional dubbel is closely associated with the world’s handful of Trappist breweries, and the best examples of the style invariably come from within the walls of their abbeys. Such is the case with La Trappe’s take on this venerable style. Its deep brown color and billowy off-white head are a thing of beauty, but looks aren’t everything. Taste is—and La Trappe does not fall short in that regard. The tastes and aromas of dried plums, raisins, sweet cherries and burnt brown sugars are further enhanced by a yeast strain that offers soft banana notes and a subtle, prickly spiciness. The carbonation is soft, the body full and the finish warming. This brew is a complex tapestry worth exploring; you can do so at City Tap House, and from time to time at the city’s Belgian-themed taverns.