By Brian Skaggs
Bear Republic brewed over 100 different beers in 2018—about average output over the last few years.
Warning: some beers reviewed below might not be currently available. Unfortunately, this is the case for three of the four Legacy Beers: Hop Rod Rye, Peter Brown, and Red Rocket. As two of my drinking partner and my favorite beers of all time are legacy beers, the present tense is being left in on purpose to encourage Bear Republic to revisit Hop Rod and Peter Brown.
Most of these beers have been consumed and reviewed by me and my drinking partner on multiple occasions over the course of about a year. Tasting notes were remarkably consistent over this period of time—except where noted (especially in my last review of Racer 5).
One note: Bear Republic’s range of beers expresses a consistent lemon aroma—a lovely, appealing, inviting lemon aroma. This could be totally real—due to beneficial house microflora, adaptation of house yeast strains, utilization of the same raw ingredients over and over, etc.—or completely imagined—three different brewhouses, multiple ale and lager yeast strains utilized for different beers, I’m a crazy person, etc.—but in multiple blind taste tests conducted with my drinking partner, I’m almost always able to identify Bear Republic beers due to their lemon aroma.
REVIEWSBEAR REPUBLIC BREWING COMPANY Sonoma County, California, USA Founders: The Norgrove Family www.bearrepublic.com
Draft specialties/rotating beers
Racer 500 – 97 points
‘Indy Pale Ale’ | 6% ABV | draft, 473 ml cans, 355 ml bottles
A lighter orangeish-yellow with a slight haze, the Amarillo/Citra/Galaxy hop profile provide an initial guava/passionfruit aroma that hints at stereotypical New England IPA flavors to come. If we bet on Racer 500 being a juicy IPA as if we were wagering on the Indy 500 pole winner winning the actual race, we’d have just below twenty-percent odds; not bad. However, just as the Indy 500 had its first pole winner in 2019 after a ten-year drought, the aroma doesn’t tell the whole story. Initially, Racer 500 tastes of bitter fruit rind, like grapefruit, lemon, and pieces of pineapple with too much skin attached. Then pine and high acid hop bitterness swerves through to dissuade any notions of hazy zero-IBU IPA, yet it finishes pure guava. There’s not much malt flavor, yet its backbone seems gutsy enough to hold its weight in the pit as the hops drive the flavor. Racer 500 could be described as a modern-style west coast IPA that might not have much to do with Indianapolis but everything to do with the conceptual continuity of Bear Republic’s innovative history of racing through—and past—staid style boundaries. Outstanding.
Volksbier – 95 points
Pilsner | 4.5% ABV | draft only
Lemon, toast, toasted lemon, snappily bitter, completely dry and crisp and hoppily sharp. Lemon-oil mouthfeel lasts a long time, however, and is intensely enjoyable. Nasturtium-floral hop flavors in the middle, punctuated by somewhat vegetal noble hop flavors. An excellent example of Bohemian pilsner (despite the German name) that bottled lagers from Pilsen (or Bavaria) don’t quite approach in the States. Power to the people.
Challenge 11 – 95 points
Double Brut IPA with Citra and Galaxy | 8% ABV | 473 ml cans
Pours semi-hazy yellow with a big white head, but it’s hard to concentrate on the color when mango, pineapple, ripe apricot, preserved lemon, and Southern biscuit aromas burst out of the can. Mango, peach, apricot, and bread tastes still lead to a semi-sweet aftertaste; Challenge 11 seems more rounded and more full-bodied than what ‘brut’ or even ‘double brut’ would advertise, but labels and names are of the least concern when the beer is this delicious. Warming adds a mint and caramel aroma and taste, with some Cara Cara orange in there for good measure. The Challenge series is going to be fun for Bear Republic brewers and drinkers alike.
Heritage – 94 points
Scottish Wee Heavy | 7-ish% ABV | draft only
Rich’s second commercial beer—and first award winner, in 1997—was this Scotch ale that has all sorts of grainy, spicy, caramelized sugar malt personality that more than makes up for its complete lack of hop profile. Aromas (according to me) are a garden in the spring that you’re about to plant peas in just after taking a healthy swig of Irish (note, not Scotch) whiskey that you accidentally shaved some nutmeg into right before heading to your small plot of earth. Tastes (according to me) are concentrated amber malt homebrew extract, followed by caramel malts toasted an extra ten minutes in the oven before you start your homebrew, plus Grape Nuts briefly soaked in Scotch (note, not Irish) whisky. That’s a weekend breakfast you have too, right? Sure, maybe you should try Heritage before delving into the hoppier Bear Republic stuff… but you might not ever get to the IPAs because Heritage is that good.
Citra Rebellion – 93 points
IPA | 6.0% ABV | draft only
Bear Republic started their Rebellion series in 2007, long before different hop varieties were vehemently debated by beer nerds at breweries and pubs and online. Bear Republic has utilized the exact same grain bill and hopping schedule for every Rebellion since, but they only use a single hop. It’s a rare day when there’s not a Rebellion on tap at the brewpub, and it’s always fun when two are on tap at the same time for compare/contrast experiments—always scientifically controlled with a Racer 5/500 that you persuade your drinking partner to order, of course!
Most Rebellion IPAs I’ve encountered over the years have been brewed with offbeat (Hüll Melon, Lemondrop) or experimental (usually five-digit numbers, like 90125 or 02657) hops. The Rebellion available when doing this diligent research, however, was with a currently crazy-popular juicy hop.
Citra is commonly used in hazy/NE IPAs because of their robust citrus and tropical fruit flavors. Kernville, CA’s Kern River Brewing alerted brewers to the lychee, lime, grapefruit, and pineapple flavors of Citra hops with their (non-hazy) Citra Double IPA nine years ago, with Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo following a short time later. Bear Republic brewed a crystal-clear non-juicy IPA that’s almost shockingly bitter, possibly because of Citra’s high levels of alpha-acids. A grapefruit rind aroma plus mango and guava are fruit flavors that succeed in poking through the bitterness wallop. The Rebellion series is designed to let all hop characteristics shine through, but the malt backbone is always perfectly dialed in—minimal sweetness, slight sourdough bread, lovely full mouthfeel that fights above its ABV, and a touch of lemon (always a touch of lemon!).
Global Kölsch – 93 points
Kölsch | 5.4% ABV | draft only
Lemon and Asian pear with rounder, fuller crispness than Volksbier. Hints of tropical fruit—maybe hop-driven, maybe ale yeast-driven when the warm-fermented beer is aged at lager temperatures, as is the style—show up when it warms and is protected from the sun (if you’re fortunate to be enjoying Global Kölsch outside). More hop-driven than other beers modeled after the classic Cologne style, it ends up approaching a slightly-hopped Kabinett Riesling and is much more complicated than expected.
Chicane Wit – 92 points
Belgian Wit | 5% ABV | draft only
Delicate pale yellow in color, wispy, barely-there head. One sip—erase all those fragile thoughts because Chicane Wit is exploding with Belgian and Thai flavors. Coriander! Lemon (of course)! Mussels in a lemongrass pho broth! Tart apples, Asian pear, unripe banana! It’s mellow, complex, totally enjoyable… and I’ve only seen it once, in Rohnert Park.
A Beer Down Under – 89 points
Pale Ale | 6.4% ABV | draft only
Smelling like Braeburn apples, crisp Red Anjou pears, Asian pears, and red and purple wildflowers, A Beer Down Under showcases a couple Australian hop varietals, Ella and Galaxy. Tropical fruits like papaya and guava are definitely present, with tart pink grapefruit and a slightly sweet aftertaste that goes away once a subtle and unexpected bitterness takes over at the end. Full, fruity, bitter, with a rounded aftertaste possibly contributed by wheat, it’s almost a double pale ale. One point five pale? It’s worth pointing out that the hops in this beer skunk almost immediately when enjoying A Beer Down Under outside in the sunshine (not a fault of the beer, just be aware). Racer Max, a future Bear Republic IPA set to debut summer 2019, will be made with these Australian hops and might just be this beer in disguise, Mad Max style!
Juicy – 87 points
Hazy IPA | 6.9% ABV | draft only
Not actually all that lemon-yellow hazy, Juicy belies its—ahem—juicy moniker with guava, pineapple juice, and citrus blend aromas and flavors. The distinguishing characteristic of this beer—as well as Bear Republic’s commercially available Thru the Haze—is its floral bitterness that shows up at the end, as if one of their sneaky brewers simply refuses to make a full-on zero IBU IPA, secretly throwing a handful of Citra into the boil during the last ten minutes when everybody else is off cleaning the lauter tun and hoses and whatnot. Non-pithy orange rind helps round out the mouthfeel and finish too.
Initial Attack – 87 points
Belgian IPA | 6.6% ABV | draft only
Lemon-lime aromas lead to bitter lettuces expertly seasoned with lime-cilantro dressing. Bright lemon continues into the flavor profile, lending itself to a lemon rind-sprinkled wheat/rye bread kind of chewiness and papaya and bitter aftertastes. What would this beer taste like brewed with the Bear Republic house yeast instead of the Belgian wit yeast? Another fascinating compare/contrast in a similar manner to the Rebellion series.
Barrel-Aged Sangiovese Kölsch – 97 points
Kölsch plus Sangiovese grapes | 8.7% ABV | on draft and in 750 ml bottles (bottle reviewed was bottled 11/22/16, tasted 6/16/18)
Light amber with pink hues, Barrel-aged Sangiovese Kölsch (BASK) looks like what a rosé of sangiovese might look like if it spent about three months in barrel. The head disappears almost immediately, but the carbonation is perfect—almost sparkling wine-ish. Aromas of strawberries, noble hops, fresh cut grass after a midwestern thunderstorm, and standing in a secluded winery barrel room both entice and confuse—what is this that I’m drinking, anyway? Initial tastes don’t exactly clear that up—strawberries, plum, and chewy fruity tannins all say ‘hey, I’m a lighter-style sangiovese meticulously grown and lovingly harvested high above the Dry Creek benchland,’ yet the lemon, apple, oak, and cherry 7-Up sweet-sour effervescence poke you and grumble, ‘hey, I’m a Bear Republic beer all the way, I’ve just seen the inside of some oak.’ BASK is dangerously drinkable. Concomitantly comparing BASK to an Alexander Valley rose my drinking partner and I know and love, we both agreed BASK is much more complicated and more fun to drink. An extra special bonus (for me) was swirling the yeasty bottom of the bottle and adding it to the last 125 ml or so—an oaky Fruit Stripe gum combined with wheat shortcake. Note that Bear Republic plays around with adding Orsi Family Italian grapes to their Global Kölsch quite often, in both barrel-aged and standard versions, and these beers are sometimes available at the brewpubs.
Hornswoggler – 95 points
Barrel-aged old ale | 11.2% ABV | draft only
Gorgeous cherry color. No head to speak of. Initial aroma is pretty lambic-style: horsey, vinegary, red fruit, like plums and raspberry. Someone next to you on the train sucking a sour watermelon Jolly Rancher aromas start showing up after ten minutes or so. Sour cherry, Portuguese ginjinha (including the chocolate cup), very mellow bourbon flavors are initially present when cold, then once it warms up, look out! Hornswoggler starts showing real Kriek flavors—funky tartness, complex cherry liqueur, slight molasses sweetness tempering the tart during the aftertaste that lasts minutes. Towards the end, starts tasting more like twenty year-old zinfandel or twenty year tawny port, with (slightly) more spicy oak and (slightly) less ethanol.
Clobberskull – 91 points
Barrel-aged English estate October ale | 10.5% ABV | draft only
Toffee-colored, very little head. It smells like dark caramel, roasted almonds, and a new brown leather jacket (a fresh, clean, non-funky aroma – decidedly not an oily, wrinkly, slightly evil black leather jacket aroma; you know what I mean). We let Clobberskull sit for about thirty minutes, and it mellowed out significantly, losing a little upfront funk while heading right into liqueur territory. Dry amaretto, Frangelico, almond panna cotta, caramel, bananas Foster, and nutmeg were all layered together, with some seriously tantalizing almond-y alcohol hints at the end. Clobberskull is made with ten percent split peas and ten percent raw wheat—maybe exactly how they brewed big beers during eighteenth-century Octobers on English estates?!—but these non-Reinheitsgebot ingredients seemed to contribute much more to the elegant mouthfeel than any taste components I could find.
Tartare – 94 points
Berliner weisse | 4% ABV | on draft and in 375 ml bottles (bottle reviewed was Batch 5, bottled 9/8/16, tasted 6/17/18)
Bear Republic has been making Tartare for years, long before the non-popular sour Berliner weisse or Gose styles were figments of most brewers’ imaginations. I swear I can remember having an early version in 2010, when my drinking partner was bummed she couldn’t try it because there was a bun in the oven, or maybe even before then, but the internets seem to point to late 2011 as Tartare’s infancy.
Nevertheless, Tartare (and its many variations) is a true wild-soured beer, left to age in barrel, or in steel, or with fruit, for months or years, and it’s always a treat to try all of the different iterations and the variance from batch to batch. Batch 5 comes in at 4%—some earlier Tartares have been around 6%, far higher than the <3% usually seen in Berlin—and is mouth-puckeringly tart. Unlike earlier versions, though, there are some amazing white peach, apricot, and lime flavors that counterbalance the acid. There are also lemony-sugar aromas of opening the Chewy Sweet-Tart package right before you run the 400m dash in high school track, and this nostalgic reminiscence kept me coming back for more. The sour grapefruit mouthfeel lasts a long time, completely belying the nonsense that a low-alcohol beer has no flavor. The end of the bottle brought some residual yeast—not surprising as this Tartare was bottled almost two years before—and some increased tartness that was remedied by just a bit of the green sweet woodruff syrup Berliners call Schuß (hiding in the background of the photo).
Sonoma Pride – 91 points
Hoppy Belgian (?) golden ale | 5.5% ABV | on draft and in 650 ml bottles, brewed after the North Bay fires in October 2017
A sourdough starter-like large head tops an initially clear yellow-gold beer that initially smells like lemons, then blossoms into tropical fruit, papaya, and pineapple aromas after the head subsides. Sonoma Pride tastes a little like lemon-limeade coupled with intriguing spices—maybe a combination of rye, piney hops, and a Belgian yeast strain (I don’t know if any of these ingredients are in Sonoma Pride). Once the second pour came out of the bottle, the beer turned a little hazy and tasted more along the lines of pineapple juice—odd as there didn’t seem to be a yeast layer present at the bottom of the bottle. Once it warmed, lemon-lime combined with Thai lemongrass flavors faded into a lovely butter pecan ice cream mouthfeel and aftertaste.
Fiat Brux – 88 points
Trappist pale ale with Brettanomyces bruxellensis | 6.4% ABV | on draft and in 375 ml bottles (bottle reviewed was bottled 4/13/17, tasted 6/14/18)
Hazy amber with a large white head, Fiat Brux comes at you with a big blast of stone fruits. Perfectly ripe or even a little overripe peach, pluot, and nectarine aromas and flavors dominate, with significant contributions of white pepper, ripe banana, and clove/coriander from the ‘Brett,’ the Belgian yeast strain brewers love and winemakers hate. ‘It’s an enjoyable, complex-but-not-too-crazy summer beer,’ you might think to yourself during the first three point seven seconds after your first swallow… until the finish that comes out of nowhere. Whoa! A fully enveloping, comforting, somewhat indescribable funk with a surprising dryness. 375 ml isn’t enough of this one. The Brett might mellow out the stone fruit hoppiness while adding more tartness and funk if you can get your hands on a two year-old bottle, or perhaps if you’re lucky enough to be in Sonoma County when it’s on tap.
Legacy series (year-round at the brewery/seasonal in bottles)
Hop Rod Rye – 99.75 points
Rye IPA | 8% ABV | tasted on draft, available in summer
Smells like cinnamon, cocoa, and burnt sugar. It’s got a grainy dark bread taste with an almost fennel-y spice from the rye, with the significant classic west coast hop bitterness blending right in. Crystal malt lends itself to that classic Bear Republic backbone, but it’s all about the racy spiciness and lengthy, spicy, cinnamon, cocoa, chewy, touch of lemon, scrumptious aftertaste. Hop Rod hides its ABV well, as someone’s poor performance after drinking multiple Hop Rods at multiple fantasy American football drafts can attest.
Unfortunately, Hop Rod going seasonal instead of bottled year-round has affected my ability to obtain what Ryan affectionately refers to as ‘my’ beer. Hop Rod Rye is always my first malted beverage when I’m lucky enough to see Ryan at the Healdsburg brewpub (whether I’m wearing my ancient Hop Rod cycling jersey or not). Perhaps this is for the better, as my 2018 fantasy American football draft was much more successful when I stuck to drinking only Racer 5.
Peter Brown Tribute Ale – 98 points
American brown ale | 6.3% ABV | available in autumn
Pours dark walnut, but still see-through, with an off-white head. Grape nuts, lightly roasted walnuts, and wort aromas lead to lighter-than-normal roasted chocolate malt and actual chocolate flavors. A slight residual sweetness coupled with minimal hop flavor and bitterness on the finish might suggest that this beer is comparable to an English mild. There’s a ton of flavor—and fun—in here, though. Arguably the Peter Brown recipe has changed over the years—strong recollections from the early-mid oughts are of a heavily-hopped west coast brown IPA that gradually developed into the beer it’s been over the last six or so years. Peter Brown is my drinking partner’s favorite Bear Republic beer and possibly her favorite beer of all time.
Big Bear Black – 96 points
American stout | 8.1% ABV | available in winter, year-round draft at the brewpubs
It’s a beery mocha made with some of the best coffee around… yet there’s no coffee (or lactose) (or chocolate!) anywhere in the beer. Chewy and roasty, with gorgeous black malt layers and steamed milk with melted bittersweet chocolate and cocoa nibs, Big Bear Black teases you into thinking it’s at least two points lower in alcohol content. This could be due to additions of molasses and brown sugar, two ingredients that are fully fermented into our buddy ethyl alcohol, or because it’s just that delicious. The classic American C-hop profile is only noticeable in the solid sorta-dense structure of the beer, and not much in bitterness or floral aromas.
(Ricardo’s) Red Rocket – 96 points
American amber ale | 6.8% ABV | available in spring
Sweet aromas—dark honey, whiskey in barrel, ribs grilled over pecan wood with a sweet base—lead to similar flavors, like wild thyme or manuka honey from the South Island of New Zealand, smoked malt, and that all-too-lovely Bear Republic lemon/lime signature poking in to say ‘hi.’ Bitter piney and floral hops arrive at the end when the beer is cold. As it warms, hops appear at the first sip, right at the same time when a milk chocolate mousse sweetened with the rich NZ honey also pokes in and says ‘hi.’ Red Rocket, at least in 2018, has more in common with malty Heritage than the hoppy Red Rocket than I remember from twenty years ago. Bonus when ordering this beer from Ryan: he’ll say ‘Rrrrrred ROCKET!’
(Bear Republic’s other seasonal IPAs, not reviewed here due to availability, are Racer X in summer and Apex in autumn)
Café Racer 15 – 97 points
Double IPA | 9.2% ABV | on draft and in 355 ml bottle, 2019 bottle tasted, available in winter
What an attractive beer. Deep orange in color, a sniff through the light tan head brings in inviting key lime, yellow pithy grapefruit, and orange peel aromas with a seductive undercurrent of Schezuan pepper and anger (Really. Anger! In a productive way, though!). Initial flavors are all on the citrus side—mainly Cara Cara orange, grapefruit, and lemon (naturally)—but minty/piney/woody/cinnamon-y hops take over after swallowing. The malt isn’t really noticeable at all, as the whole experience of the beer is dry, bitter, and possibly even angry way, but there must be a solid malt base to stand up to the high abv and aggressive hops and not taste like hoppy water—in short, the malt acts like a really good bass player (An angry bass player, frustrated about being put into the corner but completely invaluable in keeping his super-tight band with the lead guitarist named Hops together all the same).
Fastback Racer – 97 points
Double IPA | 10.4% ABV | tasted on draft and in 355 ml bottle, available in spring
Whoa. An alpine forest olfactory assault; sharp, piney, spicy, foreboding. Concentrated piney bitterness on the top of your mouth and even reaching back into the sinuses, resinous butterscotch-caramel, chewy, weighty, spicy background malt balance, almost oily and thicker than expected from a beer, forever caramel-hop aftertaste with yet merely a medium-weight mouthfeel carried along possibly by some rye. Crazy awesome. Also crazy strong!
Year-round house beers
Double Aught – 96 points
Pilsner | 5% ABV | tasted on draft and in bottle
Pale yellow in color (but not fizzy pale yellow), Double Aught gives off lemon and pink grapefruit in a grassy meadow aromas. It tastes like the aforementioned meadow with a slight, unexpected lemon curd richness. There’s also an herbal—almost fennel-like—bitterness; some sourdough bread, some anise, more a rye bread instead of the typical biscuity/bready adverbs associated with how pilsner tastes. The draft version is brighter and richer than the bottled version and is an absolute delight.
Thru the Haze – 89-95 points
Hazy IPA | 6.4% ABV | tasted on draft (May 2018) and in bottle (March 2019) (initially tasted when called ‘Through the Haze’ when it was draft-only in spring 2018)
As you peer through the haze of the stereotypically unattractive pineapple/orange juice blend, you can’t quite see your eyes roll in the reflection of another one of these (not so) newfangled zero IBU pale ales. Yet fear not, as it’s fitting that the complex and delineated orange/grapefruit/mango/lemon juice hybrid finishes with a significant west coast-style piney bitterness as a great counterbalance to the perceived juicy sweetness.
The bottled version turns up the papaya/pineapple juice and raises the early draft version with a lovely grassy, fruity, apple-y, herbal-y sauvignon blanc aroma blanket. The bottle copy suggests citrus ‘without all the bitterness,’ but I swear there’s a pretty piney hoppy bitterness at the end. Slight tartness and a medium mouthfeel lend some big viognier-type reminisces in the ol’ limbic system. The 2019 bottled version improves on the 2018 draft version.
Grand Am – 91 points
American pale ale | 6% ABV | on hiatus*
Similar in orange/slightly red color to Pace Car, Grand Am has a more complex and better-integrated orange peel, orange blossom, and freshly baked white bread with maybe a touch of rye aroma. Piney hop aromas aren’t prevalent but are somewhat more pronounced upon drinking. Grand Am is more of a malty IPA with orange scone, mint, and wheat or rye spice. Media reports floating around on the internets suggest this beer was the XP Pale replacement in 2014-ish…
*… and, like XP, Grand Am has been replaced by Racer 500 in 2019. Rich told me that the Pale Ale category is just too crowded after the rash of acquisitions, mergers, and assorted non-beer machinations in the industry… although the beer isn’t gone forever.
El Oso – 91 points
Vienna lager | 4.9% ABV | draft only
Caramel? No, not exactly; there’s a caramel aroma but the implication of slow-flow caramel seems off, as amber-brown El Oso is very much a quick-velocity beer. Maybe brown sugar/light molasses/Grape Nuts? No again, because, although there’s maize in the malt bill, the sweetness isn’t anywhere near as simple as the simple sugar descriptors above. How about this: an almond scone made with whole wheat flour and no sugar that has a minimal but perfect dark brown sugar glaze that imparts maximum flavor and proper bitterness from the nuts (fine, fruit; almonds aren’t nuts) and the right amount of sweetness? Whatever, lame analogy guy. You could drink El Oso all day. That’s what really matters.
Sonoma Tart – 90 points
Fruit kettle sour | 5.2% ABV | tasted on draft, also available in 355 ml bottles
This beer is all about passionfruit juice. The aroma and flavor discussions are pretty succinct: passionfruit juice. Real passionfruit juice, though—not the artificial metallic flavors found in lesser fruit sours. That said, it is definitely sour, perhaps a slightly amped-up version of Bear Republic’s Tartare, but the tartness seems more derived from the natural acids in passionfruit and guava than Lactobacillus. The mouthfeel is pretty lovely—more bready and full versus a crisp and salty Gose. Could Tartare be used as a kind of sourdough-type starter, a bit added into a new brew to give some extra complexity and gravitas?
Pace Car Racer – 90 points
‘Beer to Keep Pace With’ | 4% ABV | tasted on draft and in 355 ml bottle, on hiatus*
Orangeish color with a great bubbly white head. A west coast hop blast on the nose: pine, grapefruit, orange peel, and rosemary. The mouthfeel is a bit thin at first, like drinking hop-flavored water, but even slight warmth brings out some orange, mint, and forest flavors, with residual bitterness and a brioche-like weightlessness in the aftertaste that actively encourages you to drown your professional cycling sorrows (or whatever sport you’re actively following, we don’t discriminate) ‘at a speedy pace’… just like it says on the label. Rich’s awesome label art is an ode to one of the original number 5s, Juan Fangio, and the car he used to drive.
*As with Grand Am, Pace Car production is shelved at this point in time. ‘People and distributors just didn’t understand the whole concept of Pace Car,’ Rich explained. ‘It’s a ‘beer to keep pace with,’’ he said, a much more clever label than the tired ‘session IPA.’. ‘We might come out and make it Bear Republic’s light beer,’ Rich told me while chuckling at the idea of a light Bear Republic ale. ‘That beer has not gone completely away—I’m just waiting for the public to catch up to it.’
Racer 5 – 72-100 points
West Coast IPA | 7.5% ABV | tasted on draft, in 355 ml bottle, and now 473 ml cans many many many times
There is absolutely no doubt that I have consumed more Racer 5 than any other single beer on the planet. At least one bottle of Racer 5 has always been in the fridge since, I don’t know, four years before our eleven year-old was born. We’ve gone to two parties this school year where the hosts have purchased a Racer 5 six-pack simply because I was coming over—that’s almost embarrassing. But not really. It’s kinda great.
Why have I drunk around a kiloliter of Racer 5? Because it smells like Mill Creek and Fort Ross Roads. Because it smells like lemon. Because it tastes like bittersweet dark caramel and floral toffee. Because of the bright, bittersweet, floral, lemon-orange aftertaste. Because it’s really easy to forget that one of the most delicious things on the planet is seven point five percent ethyl alcohol. Because Ryan and his abalone-diving friends call it ‘Eraser 5.’ Because it’s from my local pub in my favorite town that’s only four hundred twenty-seven miles from home. A perfect pint of Racer 5 is exactly that: perfect.
All of the preceding evidence suggests that I am a Racer 5 expert, admittedly biased yet well-versed in the ways of Racer 5. Therefore, what I’m about to say pains me: Racer 5 in bottles is maddeningly inconsistent.
Sometimes bottles just seem muted, a somewhat sweet pale ale without much going on in the way of bitterness, as if it’s too old and the hops are gone (even if consumed before the best-by date). Other times the bottles almost taste like soapy water, flabby and odd—a passable beer for sure, but with my sensory organs’ and liver’s long history of Racer 5 exposure, clearly not what’s supposed to be in the glass.
At a Corkscrewer Report meeting in February 2019, our beer editor John—apropos of nothing—mentioned to me that he had been thoroughly unimpressed with a Racer 5 six-pack he had just purchased. ‘Racer 5 was one of my go-to beers for years,’ he said. ‘I’ve been trying other IPAs, and when I came back to it, I felt like either the beer or my tastes had changed!’
Most times, though, it’s brilliant, exactly like those perfect Racer 5 pints in the Healdsburg brewpub or at Flo’s V8 Café in Disney California Adventure (as in the picture). Stunning, clear, laser-focused balance, complex, caramel, wonderfully bitter, bright, and lemony-sweet. Since the interviews and tasting last spring, I’ve tried to pay close attention to variables such as best-by dates, whether the beer is in a cooler or warm on the shelf, light exposure, my mood, the phase of the moon, Mercury being in retrograde, etcetera. I can’t find a pattern. Even in the same twelve-pack, two Racers will be amazing, the next weird. Often—but not always—the weird Racer is hazier than I remember. Whether it’s chill haze or something more insidious, I have no idea.
Should you try Racer 5 if you’ve never had it? Absolutely. Of course! Should you revisit Racer 5 if your first one was a little odd or you weren’t a fan or you feel like it’s not the same beer you once loved? Absolutely. Of course! Racer 5’s reputation as an iconic west coast IPA is well-earned and most thoroughly deserved. I’d hate to see this beer’s reputation tarnished by inconsistencies, or, even worse, ambivalence, so drink it. A lot. I do. All four cans from the March 5, 2019, run (which, judging by ‘time trial’ written on the side and a new can design, might have been in the first Racer 5 canning run) were one hundred point beers.