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Belt's Beer Garden: Champion brews

In honor of the best two teams from the MAC playing tonight, I bring you two of the best brews I've had lately.

There's a very important game going on later tonight...perhaps you've heard that the MAC Championship Game between the Northern Illinois Huskies and Bowling Green Falcons will take place just three hours from now.

Well, that means I've given you plenty of time to run out and find these championship-caliber beers that I found.

First up, from out West; Sierra Nevada has once again struck gold!


Sierra Nevada, from Chico, California, is one of the largest names in craft beers. I'm sure you've heard of them...everyone has. Their story begins way back in the 1970s. They're the ones who made the West Coast IPA famous. That's why they're available in all 50 states.

This year they've got five new IPAs in their Harvest series that feature either fresh hops, wet hops, new hops, dry hops, or wild hops. Previously I reviewed the Idaho 7 hop version, at loved it! As the first was just so good I decided I needed to try them all...

So when I found their Newly Developed Hop IPA (which I'm going to call NDH-IPA because I'm lazy) I bought it immediately. This Harvest beer is made with hop featuring creative names such as HBC431, HBC472, SS05256, and, let's not forget, SS06300!

Despite the lack of great names for the hops, they sure did smell amazing. When I poured the beer a strong tropical fruit aroma was emitted featuring pineapple, mango, grapefruit, tangerine, and slight lemon. Along with the fruit, there was a slight dankness that was present as well but, for the most part, it was all tropical fruit.

The amber colored brew was topped by about 2 fingers of head that quickly evaporated into just a dusting around the edges, leaving signs of lacing before I even took a sip. When I did take a sip, I was in love.

All I can say is can really pick up on the SS05256! (I'm kidding of course.)

But in all seriousness, NDH-IPA surprised me a little with the addition of apricots to the flavor, which I failed to pick up in the smell. Outside of that pleasant surprise, all the other fruits were there: pineapple, mango, grapefruit...yum! The hops, surprisingly, don't come off as too bitter (even though it carries an IBU rating of 55). However, they do leave a slight woody flavor that balances out all the fruit.

It's a sweeter, less dry, beer and has mild carbonation when drinking. The aftertaste that lingers is one of pineapple and slight hops, but mostly fruit juice. And, as predicted when I poured NDH-IPA, it leaves nice thick clouds of lacing around the glass with every sip.

The 6.5% ABV is, for the most part, unnoticeable which is dangerous since this beer is only sold in 24-ounce bottles AND only costs $6.49. If I can find more, you bet I'm buying them!

Overall, NDH-IPA was smooth, delicious, priced right, delicious, easy to drink, flavorful, and...did I mention it was delicious? It was.

I wish I had a bottle of their Harvest Idaho 7 as I drank this one because I'm trying to decide which I liked more...

As I really can't pick a winner (they're both amazing), I'm going to rate NDH-IPA the same: 9/10.

9 beers

Next up, the International champion of beers - Mikkeller.

vanilla sky

Mikkeller is a ghost brewery that began back in 2006 in Copenhagen, Denmark. As a ghost brewery, they don't have their own location but, instead, use other breweries' facilities. This particular beer, for example, was made at the De'Proef Brewery in Lochristi, Belgium.

Vanilla Sky is an IPA brewed with vanilla beans. It pours a hazy apricot color with just under a finger of foam bubbling to the top. The aroma of grapefruit, tangerine, lemon, and hops filled the air as I poured. The vanilla was there but it was mostly hidden behind the aroma of all the citrus that was packed into this beer.

On my initial taste, the vanilla is, again, complimentary to the all the other flavors. First up is a fizzy rush of carbonation that fades quickly. With the carbonation, the taste of orange, grass, lemon, and grapefruit come through. The vanilla is there but, once again, is just a complimentary flavor to all the other ingredients.

The malts back the beer nicely but, mostly, it's the hops shine through. However, this beer is not very bitter or too hoppy. Instead, it's smooth and rather refreshing.

You would never guess this beer packed 7% ABV with it. The alcohol is hidden so well behind all the citrus and (hints of) vanilla, that it's almost like you're not even drinking beer.

Like all Mikkeller beers, this one is more expensive than your average bottle. At $5.49 for 11.2 ounces, it's quite steep in price but the quality, and rarity, of Mikkeller make it worth the cost.

I have yet to meet a Mikkeller beer that I don't like. This one included. In fact, after checking my Untappd profile, there is only one beer that I rated under a seven...their Crooked Moon Imperial IPA (6.5/10).

This is a very solid IPA that has a plethora of flavors. It's smooth, easy to drink, and only has one drawback: the price. It's hard to spend over $5 on less than 12 ounces of beer...but if you can get over that, Vanilla Sky is a very good beer. 8/10

8 beers