Brew Test: 'Outdoorsy' Beers

By T.C. WORLEY

As an editor, I could investigate the scientific recovery benefits of a post-workout beer, but I’d be veiling the real reason I sometimes love to tip one back after a run or a ride — I just like it, simple and plain. It’s an added bonus when a beer brand gets behind races and events in the outdoors space, including surf, bike and “urban adventure” competitions. Here are three brews that hit that sweet spot — satisfying to the pallet plus active in our outdoor world.

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Island style: Hawaii’s Kona Brewing Co.

Direct from its namesake Kona District on the Big Island of Hawaii, Kona Brewing Co. bottles beers that pack plenty of flavor, though without batting you over the head with it. I sampled several of the company’s beers and found them all to be well above average, including the fruitier, citrus breed of the company’s Fire Rock Pale Ale. In short, it’s one of the easiest-drinking, most balanced pales I’ve ever had — crisp, light and smooth. Look elsewhere if you like your PA’s to have a bite.

Kona’s new medium-bodied beer, the Koko Brown, is brewed with toasted coconut. The result is creamy and smooth, a moderately sweet flavor where the coconut hints are nutty and deep, not too sweet. It’s a fitting recipe from an island brewer and something special among brown ales.

Kona is the 13th largest craft brewer in the U.S., with brewing facilities in Oregon, Washington, New Hampshire and Hawaii. Its distribution currently spans 28 states, most of which hug one of the two coastlines, and the company is a big supporter of stand-up paddle boarding, including the sponsorship of events and an industry award.

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Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing

It’s no secret that Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing is a prominent supporter of outdoor events and causes, including its Urban Assault races and Tour De Fat festivals. (An aside: Last weekend, racing as Team Rainbow Unicorn, two members of Team GearJunkie/WEDALI took first place overall in the Minneapolis Urban Assault Ride!)

New Belgium’s long-lived Fat Tire Ale is a solid, if not standout medium-bodied ale. It’s a great choice for those unfamiliar with craft brews. Most will find it easy to drink and perennially flavored for year-round enjoyment. It’s a cult classic kind of beer that everyone ought to at least try. Comes in a can or bottle.

NB’s Ranger is a classic IPA (India pale ale) that brings out the bitter side of hops. The faces of IPA fans typically light right up whenever a sixer of Ranger appears. Hops dominate in both aroma and flavor, but in a “just right” way for this style of beer. Rolling this one around on your tongue will reveal piney, grapefruit flavors with a slight zing.

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‘Save the Colorado River’ campaign

Worth noting, it’s hard not to respect the lengths New Belgium goes to for the good of the environment. The company’s Colorado facility is wind-powered, they support things like the Save the Colorado River Campaign fund, and they highly encourage employees to bike commute to work. Cheers to that!

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The other Surly — Surly Bicycles

By now, many readers are likely familiar with the Minnesota bicycle brand Surly. But you may not know there’s also a MN-based craft brewery operating under the same name. With the tag line, “Beer for a glass, from a can,” Surly Brewing Co. is known locally and beyond for its bold-flavored beers. Related in name only, both companies kick out a great product and have a strong regional reach to bike nuts and beer connoisseurs alike.

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The beer, not the bike: Surly Brewing Co.

Surly’s CynicAle is a Saison-style, medium-bodied beer with yeast, fruit and citrus flavors up front. A dry, bitter, hoppy finish makes it seem like a mix of Saison and pale ale, which I can get on board with. Within the Surly line of beers, this is likely the most mild of the bunch.

If something with more color and punch is what you crave, Surly’s Bender is a hit. Its American oatmeal brown ale pours a nice chocolate color and has notable flavors of hops, roasted malt and caramel. If you find Newcastle too weak, you’ll love this beer.

Though most often, the “best” beer is the one that’s in your hand, none of these craft beers will disappoint. And regardless of when or what you like to drink, I’m certain that there is something here for everyone to love, whether it’s post-workout or simply kicking back around a campfire this summer somewhere deep in the woods.

T.C. Worley is based in Minneapolis.

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