New Belgium Brewing, in Fort Collins, Colorado, makes half a dozen or so beers at any given time (some are seasonal). When buying their beers, keep in mind that they are made without preservatives and have a limited shelf life: three to four months in the fridge. (So buy them from a store that keeps them cold.)
It's nice to serve these beers in stemmed glasses, Belgian-style. Their colors are beautiful ― everything from deep coffee to hazy dark caramel to pale clear gold. Plus, drinking from a stemmed glass helps keep the beer from getting warm when you pick it up.
Some delicious brews to try:
Fat Tire Amber Ale
The company's best-known, best-selling beer. Toasty, malty flavors in perfect balance with bitterish hops. It's great both on its own and in recipes.
This summertime beer (available April through September) is as low in alcohol as a "lite" beer but actually has flavor ― thanks in part to a skillful dose of kaffir lime leaves, of all things.
A clear, pale-gold beer that Jeff Lebesch, the brewery's founder, poured at his wedding under the label "Wedding Wheat," then later renamed ― because it was too good for him and his wife, Kim Jordan, to keep to themselves. Its faint spiciness comes from crushed coriander seeds and orange peel. Unlike many wheat beers, Sunshine has no banana flavors; it's cleaner and citrusier.
Released in, you guessed it, spring (available February through April). For 2007, Springboard will be made with oats, hops, schisandra (an ancient Chinese herb), gogi berries, and wormwood. Both fruity and crisp on the palate.
Mothership Wit Organic Wheat Beer
The company's first organic wheat beer. The name refers both to the earth (the ultimate mother ship) and to New Belgium itself (the "mother ship" for all the witty minds who work there). A cloudy blond beer that tastes surprisingly crisp and clean for a wheat beer.
Trippel Belgian Style Ale
Trippel (triple) and dubbel (double) refer to the number of x's that Belgian monks would, in times of old, mark on the casks to indicate beer strength. Although paler than the Abbey (a dubbel), this beer is quite a bit higher in alcohol ― yet it doesn't taste unbalanced, just beautifully complex, weaving together flavors of coriander, flowers, and oak.
1554 Brussels Style Black Ale
A great story lies behind this beer: Staffer Phil Benstein and brewmaster Peter Bouckaert found the recipe, which does indeed date back to 1554, in dusty archival pages in a Brussels library. This "zwartbier," or black beer, is a deep coffee-colored ale with a surprisingly light texture; it may look like Guinness, but it doesn't taste or feel remotely similar. Lovely toasted flavor, with notes of coffee and chocolate.
Abbey Belgian Style Ale
The company's top award-winning ale. A gorgeous chestnut brown dubbel, with complex flavors swirling in the glass: bananas, cloves, chocolate, and toast brought into harmony. When poured, the head is thick and mousselike.
Frambozen Raspberry Brown Ale
A seasonal ale (available Thanksgiving through Christmas) made with fresh raspberries, following the old Belgian monastery tradition of brewing beers with fruit. Beautiful reddish hue. Tart, refreshing, intense flavor of raspberries.
La Folie Wood-Aged Sour Brown
Extremely unusual, wonderfully tangy beer that reminds us of a fine artisanal German sipping vinegar (which is much milder than cooking vinegar and meant for drinking). It's fermented with wild yeasts, the way lambic beers are in Belgium, and aged in oak wine casks for up to three years. Unlike all the other New Belgium beers, La Folie can be kept for years, and it mellows and sweetens as it ages. Limited production.
Blue Paddle Pilsener
Clear, clover honey-gold beer made in the Pilsner (or Pilsener) style. Bright, bracing bitterness from hops; creates a creamy, foamy head when poured. The brewery's most "in the box" beer, but done well.