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Best beer for dog days

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Published: Wed, August 2, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Jim Cyphert

The dog days of summer are here. For the Mahoning Valley Flight Crew, it’s a perfect time to enjoy a variety of delicious craft beers.

We had the pleasure of doing exactly that recently as we spent 21/2 hours with Heidelberg Youngstown’s Mike Testa, district manager/brand manager, and Nick Rose, sales representative.

Headquartered in Dayton, Heidelberg Distributing Co. has quenched thirsts on hot summer days for nine decades. Heidelberg acquired Ohio Wine Imports at 1265 Crescent St. in Youngstown in December 2012 and now operates it as Heidelberg Youngstown.

Heidelberg is Ohio’s largest distributor, ranking in the top 10 of U.S. distributors. Growth has occurred by getting the masses what they want. Heidelberg Youngstown, which distributes to restaurants, bars and retail outlets in Columbiana, Harrison, Jefferson, Mahoning and Trumbull counties, follows the corporate lead.

Cleveland’s Great Lakes is Heidelberg Youngstown’s best-selling brand. Rhinegeist (Cincinnati), Sierra Nevada (Chico, Calif.) and Deschutes (Bend, Ore.) are other good sellers.

“We picked up a few new brands following the acquisition,” Mike said. “But, we maintained our mainstays. The 40 people working here are glad Heidelberg acquired this operation. We’re proud to continue to bring quality craft beers to this market.”

Nick said Heidelberg puts a focus on Ohio craft beer. Two thirds of the beers we sampled were brewed in Ohio.

“We’re very fortunate to have some outstanding breweries here in Ohio,” Nick said. “We love that we are able to carry several great Ohio craft-beer brands.”

From the new to the old, Heidelberg has craft beer covered. Royal Docks, out of Canton, is the distributor’s newest brand. And old favorites, like Akron’s Thirsty Dog, are still going strong.

When you pick your own beer, it’s possible to get stuck on certain styles — to get into a rut, so to speak. Each Flight Crew member has been guilty of that at one time or another.

Though the Heidelberg selection for us might not have been exactly what we’d have chosen for ourselves, it provided for an enjoyable tasting experience.

From a raspberry wheat to a rarewit to an IPA to a porter, we rode a roller coaster of hop and malt flavors, thanks to Mike and Nick.

Here’s what the Flight Crew had to say about Heidelberg’s offering:

Sierra Nevada Sidecar Orange Pale Ale (5.3% ABV, 35 IBU)

David Anderson

“Like a lot of people, one of the first craft brews I tried years ago was Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale. I was hooked instantly. I still buy a few 12-packs of the Pale Ale each year. So I was excited to try the Sidecar. This brew is an orange pale ale. It was described as a ‘Pale Ale with a Twist.’ The flavor from the orange peel is a great addition to the classic crisp, hoppy flavor of the Pale Ale, especially during these hot summer months!”

Great Lakes Elliot Ness Amber Lager (6.1% ABV, 27 IBU)

Dave Shively

“Great Lakes is one of Ohio’s original craft breweries, and it holds a spot near and dear to the Flight Crew’s hearts. Elliot Ness Amber Lager is named for history’s most famous agent of prohibition. It’s an extremely smooth beer with a touch of lightly toasted malts and noble hops. When a beer wins 12 World Beer Championship awards over the years, the brewer has to be doing something right. It was great to get back in touch with this longtime friend!”

Royal Docks Pendragon Welsh Rarewit (5.3% ABV, 18 IBU)

Jason Jugenheimer

“Canton’s Royal Docks has created a truly unique wit beer. Instead of utilizing hops to create its flavor profile, they rely on a variety of spices and herbs native to the Welsh countryside. The result is a beer with a floral aroma that pours a little hazy. The flavor is spicy — almost peppery — with a touch of citrus and finishes with the sweetness you’d expect from a wit. I predict goods things to come for the brewery, including launching Leatherhead IPA at Cleveland Browns Stadium this year.”

Deschutes Black Butte Porter (5.2% ABV, 30 IBU)

Joe Sanfilippo

“Black Butte was the beer that started it all for Deschutes. Named after a beautiful landmark in central Oregon, this brew has been around for decades. If you give it a try, you will definitely see why. This one has a rich chocolate flavor with a hint of coffee and a nice roasted finish. This wasn’t the first time I’ve enjoyed this porter, and it certainly won’t be the last.”

Thirsty Dog Raspberry Ale (3.9% ABV, 75 IBU)

Roger Gillespie

“Many know that I’m a lover of hoppy brews, but this is a nice change up. Thirsty Dog is a great brewery. Most notable about this beer is the intense aroma of fresh raspberry. This might not be your choice for tailgating, but it is a really refreshing brew to enjoy while sitting by the pool on a hot summer day.”

Rhinegeist Truth IPA (7.2% ABV, 75 IBU)

Brian Long

“Truth is one of my favorites from Rhinegeist. It’s an American IPA with a nice hazy amber color, an ABV of 7.2%, and a middle-of-the-grid 75 IBU. This one’s great for both a newcomer to craft beers or someone with a seasoned palate. Truth has a nice medium hop bite with a tasty citrusy finish.”

(On this visit, there was a passing of the Flight Crew torch. Sadly, this was David Anderson’s last Flight Crew mission. But we were excited for new member Brian Long’s first flight. David and his wife, Heidi Daniel, the former executive director of the Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, left the area for Baltimore last week. Our Sept. 6 article will feature our full new lineup of Jim Cyphert, Roger Gillespie, Jason Jugenheimer, Brian Long, Joe Sanfilippo and Dave Shively.)

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