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Boy did The Brickskeller get it wrong. They hosted a tasting Thursday with Carol Stoudt, “Queen of Hops” at Stoudt’s Brewing Company, at which they would also be selling sample pours of rare and vintage beers. The website declared:

Many of these extremely rare beers will never be offered again so if you miss the worlds (sic) sexiest Grandmother you are missing the grandmother of all extreme beer lineups too!

I’m not protesting the “sexiest grandmother” title — that’s a lose-lose argument — but the ‘Skeller’s mistake was in touting the “extreme” beers when the true star of the night was Stoudt’s lineup of quiet, balanced, even conservative offerings. With so many American microbreweries scooping up hops by the ton and barrel-aging anything that foams, a crisp pilsner or a well-executed hefeweizen can be damn refreshing.

Stoudt’s is a family-owned brewery from Adamstown, Pa., about half an hour from Lancaster, the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. The family opened a German restaurant in 1962, which is still open today under the name Black Angus. The brewery was born in 1987. German heritage can still be seen in many of their beers, most notably their wheat and lager offerings, both of which use yeast from the heralded Weihenstephaner brewery. (Weihenstephaner was my personal favorite from last summer’s Wheat and Lowdown taste-off.)

Of the eight beers we sampled, not all were stellar, and there were one or two I wouldn’t drink again. But without fail, every beer nailed two things: carbonation and mouthfeel. All of the brews were full on the palate — light and refreshing where appropriate, but never fizzy or watery. These are hard things to get right, especially with the lighter styles Stoudt’s specializes in, and compared to the hop bombs of late, their line-up was restrained, balanced, and almost zen. I think they helped my chi.

Breathe…relax…Drool List:

  • Brewers Reserve Kolsch – I sniffed and sniffed, but got no aroma. Kolsches are ales brewed at cold temperatures normally reserved for lagers, which can result in crisp hops and a round, sweet maltiness. This one was slightly metallic, like corn flakes. Moving on…
  • Gold Lager – …and we’ve arrived. This poured a deep gold, with fresh aroma pouring out: lemon, apple, quince. (Yeah, I’m not sure I could sniff out a quince either. But that’s what I wrote down.) Their lager uses Hallertauer hops, a super-aromatic variety you might’ve had in Samuel Adams’ Imperial Pilsner. All this made for a wet, almost chewy lager with a flavor that stuck around.
  • Heifer in Wheat – This was another standout, with big, velvety banana flavors and wee notes of lime and clove. It’s the best American take on German hefeweizen I’ve tried yet. Sound like faint praise? Shove one in front of a Blue Moon drinker sometime and get back to me.
  • Pils – The German-style pilsner is much leaner and hoppier than the lager, and a good starting point for hopheads trying to come off their high. The nose brought green apple and wet grassy notes, but the flavor was all Saaz hops (the standard for pilsners), with a flash of strawberry at the front. This beer and the two that preceded it really benefited from Stoudt’s signature soft carbonation — enough bubbles to bring out the flavors but keep it smooth going down.
  • American Pale Ale – Pale ale is Stoudt’s top-selling beer, and it’s also the most popular style among U.S. microbrews. This one was harsh though, all hops and black pepper. I think it was surprisingly low 4.5% abv, which meant the beer couldn’t conjure up enough maltiness to mask the hops. That’s another point of restraint: the first six beers we tasted were all below 5% abv, an anomaly among micros in the Land of the Whopper.

Here we took a quick break.

  • Scarlet Lady ESB – My least favorite of the night. Like the pale ale, either its low maltiness or abv (4.8%) couldn’t stand up to the metallic hops.
  • Double IPA – Ohhh yeah, that’s the stuff. Nothing like six restrained beers to put a hop addict through withdrawal. Good as they are at subtlety, Stoudt’s double was one of their highlights. It’s hops were reigned in, dressed in some serious orange and tangerine sweetness. A very balanced double IPA, and as far as sweet doubles go, I think it would put Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA to shame. This will require further research.
  • Fat Dog Stout – Coffee, coffee, coffee. This was a roasty imperial stout with a little rust and some faint licorice, and really benefited from the low carbonation. There’s lots of good imperial stouts out there, though, and I’d like to see it side-by-side with some big shots. Still, a nice nightcap.