For hopheads, the highlight of the group is undoubtedly Alpine Beer Company. Based in the foothills east of San Diego, Alpine started in 1999 as a tiny brewery that quickly won the hearts and minds of Californian beer fanatics. Green Flash purchased them last year, and it's now expanded to the point where you can find Alpine almost nationwide. McIlhenney's Irish Red, a solid, reliable red ale on tap now at Platypus Pub, is theoretically Alpine's flagship beer, but it's their India pales that wow the crowds—the Pure Hoppiness Double IPA is a bitter, piney delight, and Nelson, while lighter, uses New Zealand-grown hops and European rye to create a juicy, citric, irresistible package.
If sour beer is more your style for the upcoming hot season, Almanac Beer Company might be your preference. Based in the Bay Area, Almanac specializes in "seasonal artisan ales," most using locally-grown fruit and grain. Farmer's Reserve Strawberry (alongside its cousin Blueberry) is available now in Bend, a sour blond ale aged in wine barrels and flavored with strawberries from the Santa Cruz coast. Put your nose to it, and you're rewarded with deliriously heavy wine and berry notes; have a sip, and it almost feels like you're swimming in a vat of this year's berry crop. It's pricey, at around $11 for a 12-ounce bottle, but worth the investment.
If that's not impressive enough for you, how about Central Oregon's first shot at the brewery that pioneered wild-fermented beer in the first place? Denver-based Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project is debuting here in a few weeks' time, and its line of ales—all made with Brettanomyces yeast, all aged in oak—range from light and refreshing to almost liqueur-like in its complexity. They recently collaborated with Crux on a wild sour golden ale, but if you didn't know that, forget about finding a bottle now—most of it went to Portland, with only two cases reaching the Bend taproom, where it sold out in 10 minutes. Make some more, guys!