Naparbier - ZZ+
- ABV: 5.5%
- Serving Temperature: 45–54° F
- Suggested Glassware: Pilsner, Dimpled Mug, or Nonic
Up until now, the international availability of Naparbier’s ZZ+ has been pretty limited, with only 16 cases making it to the U.S. last year. European distribution has generally been limited to Spain’s Basque Country and the surroundings of Barcelona. Naparbier will see more U.S. distribution this year given the positive reception; still, we’re only talking around 50 cases to start. We’re pleased to help this delicious amber ale find a larger audience through our club.
Brewed with three charismatic malts, plus a combination of American/Australian hop types, we found ourselves able to better appreciate these things given the pitch-perfect production. We were really impressed by this beer, and by how quickly it disappeared whenever we’d get off topic, even for just a moment. There’s a ton of texture, but this is also a 5.5% amber with pinpoint carbonation and a perfect mouthfeel. It just disappears, we’re warning you now, so keep an eye on your glass and take a moment to savor what this ale from Naparbier offers.
The rich, caramelized roundness in the aroma of this caught our attention from the start. It’s a really nice balancing act, with the hops certainly adding a zest and floral notes and citrus in there, but the core malt complexity comes rolling out as well. Caramel, toffee, the good kind of butterscotch. Even a bit of brown sugar, some earthiness. The hoppy grassiness comes in as well, a nice herbaceous—almost piney, possibly—counterpoint to those generous malts.
That first taste backs everything up. The carbonation provides a perfect amount of edge, an effervescent liveliness that keeps this exceptionally refreshing. It’s also not so pronounced as to distract from the layered malts here: alongside ripe red fruitiness from the yeast is caramel, brown sugar, and creamier notes approximating crème brûlée. But this never feels heavy, the firm piney, tropical hop character adding a welcome bitterness, almost bracing, from healthy additions of Mosaic, Nelson Sauvin, Topaz, and Chinook hops. Even at 5.5% ABV, this has an immense complexity via multiple things: interlaced malt notes (from additions of Carared, Melanoidin, and Maris Otter), an herbaceous, piney mélange of hops, and perfect mouthfeel.
As this warms, a deep, red fruitiness begins to play a more significant role, showing through alongside caramel and biscuit-like maltiness. Its overall shape seems to change as well, with a hop-forward profile at cooler temperatures expanding into something more interesting as it’s allowed to depart from fridge conditions. Some folks may prefer to enjoy this on the cooler side, and we’d encourage you to follow those impulses. Taking a step back for just a moment (while admittedly keeping our glasses close at hand), it’s important to consider just what this is, in the grand scheme of things: one of the best ambers we’ve had. Its hoppiness is nothing if not generous, and that complexity of malts is enriched by effortless drinkability. We like.
We would encourage folks to enjoy this fresh, as those zesty hop qualities will diminish over time. That said, a bit of caramelization could be perfectly placed here, so if you are planning to set some bottles down we’d just encourage you to keep an eye on how they’re evolving as things go. With Naparbier ZZ+ alongside food, we’d most often tend to put the caramelized notes beside something like grilled pork or a Gouda cheese, or mellower Cheddar. That said, there’s enough hops and effervescence here to cut through fattier dishes or creamier cheeses.
Naparbier from northern Spain has been impressing us across various styles—most recently in examples like their Back in Black IPA and Napar Pilsner, the latter a toasty and unfiltered lager that we found super refreshing. But it was the brewery’s ZZ+ that we were smitten by, when it came down to it, and we think this firmly hopped amber ale is an excellent example of what Naparbier’s been up to. Their core lineup is rounded out with a porter, pale ale, and firmly hopped IPA named Aker. Even their limited releases (a saison with Citra, for instance, or an imperial IPA with New Zealand hops) tend to showcase potent, impactful hops well.
Such beers tend to put you in good company. While Naparbier is still a relatively new name stateside, this small brewery has already partnered up for collaborative beers with folks like Mikkeller; Norway’s excellent Nøgne Ø, HaandBryggeriet, and Lervig Aktiebryggeri (your pronunciation guesses are as good as ours); and Italian upstart Birrificio Toccalmatto. The Naparbier facility is also responsible for a few Evil Twin beers (such as Kiwi Imperial Pils).
ZZ+ will be the first taste of Naparbier for most, and we think it captures what this brewery in Navarre can do perfectly. (And we’ll be keeping a close eye on them for future releases.)
When it comes to IPAs, we’re in good shape. Breweries having an IPA somewhere in their lineup is often assumed at this point (respect to the holdouts doing their own thing), and if more traditional IPAs aren’t scratching the itch, we’ve got pretty much everything from the super sessionable to the quintuple-plus. If you desire hops, you can probably find your fill.
(Also: I’ll be the last person to complain about all the new session IPAs. More, please.)
But it’s pale ales and ambers that have been hitting the spot lately—at least in our household. Having covered northern California a couple years back for our regional beer guide, my wife and I had the privilege of getting even more familiar with some of the OG classics, in what’s essentially ground zero for this country’s craft beer movement (Anchor, Sierra Nevada, New Albion…all NorCal). There were certain beers that felt perfect: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, sure, but also ambers. El Toro’s Poppy Jasper. Anderson Valley’s Boont. Speakeasy’s Prohibition.
These things are relative, of course. But I think the overall appeal of these beers, the hoppier versions in particular, for me, is best exemplified by what’s happening now. One could point to newish stuff like Three Floyds Zombie Dust (an especially generous pale ale with Citra) or amber-hued counterparts like Maine Beer Company’s Zoe and Cigar City Tocobaga Red Ale. (Cf. Tired Hands, Hill Farmstead, Half Acre Daisy Cutter, etc.) With lesser bitterness relative to the IPA spectrum, well-fermented pale and amber ales can sometimes better showcase the unique and often subtler characteristics of new hop varieties, whether Citra or Mosaic or, for example, incoming varieties like Equinox and Lemondrop. For some of us, they just fit best, and these newest renditions tend to be good reminders of why we keep going back to them.
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