Citra hops have been my personal favorite hop over the last few years with mosaic following in a close second. The problem with citra is that if used “incorrectly” or perhaps too liberally, they sometimes have a bizarre quality to them. Now, hops are all different things to all different people so this is not a universal feeling, but for my personal tastes when it comes to a beer that uses citra exclusively moderation is key. The two best examples (that also happen to be pale ales) are psuedoSue by Toppling Goliath and Zombie Dust by Three Floyds. To be fair, that’s a high bar to place in front of any beer for equal consideration, but it’s also the gold standard to some and to fall short can be considered a disappointment.
Surly, a top tier brewery in and of itself, makes their fair share of stellar beers. If I were to be so bold as to cut right to the chase, Xtra Citra certainly doesn’t measure up to the heavy hitters in the style. However, this is a sessionable pale ale so the question is whether or not this should be held to the same standards as the “non-sessionable” pale ales. Session itself at times feels like an arbitrary categorization to be begin with so in my opinion, no it should not. PsuedoSue and Zombie Dust respectively clock in at 5.8% and 6.2% ABV while Xtra Citra comes in at 4.5% ABV. The difference in percentages are slight to say the least and while Xtra Citra has a much lighter body, the ABV doesn’t quite play into the drinking experience.
Xtra Citra pours beautifully clear with a thin bubbly head with mild carbonation present in the glass. The aroma specifically tips Surly’s hand that it’s not quite at a level their beer normally is. The aromatics are light with little to no traces of the bright aromas so indicative of the citra hop. There’s an oily quality to the aroma that comes through likely due to the integration of the hops which carries through to the flavor. That’s where you get the citra, but it’s not as citrusy and welcoming as citra lovers might expect. The body is crisp and light, which is right on par with the session style, but the prickly mouthfeel suggests a more intense carbonation than it looked like sitting in the glass. The oily quality gives way to a chalky finish that loses the typical fruit notes of the citra hops- leaving mostly just a faded, but pleasant, hop resin quality.
For feeling so light in body the beer has a fulfilling finish after a full 16oz can. Crushable is the oft used expression for session beers and Xtra Citra most definitely fits that moniker, but on the lower end of the spectrum. Will it taste great in the dog days of summer by the side of the pool or boating on a lake? Yes. However, when all is said and done it probably wouldn’t be the beer I reach for first when I’m at the store. Still, the price point is the selling point for this one. Most of Surly’s seasonals carry a hefty price tag between $15 and $20 while Xtra Citra clocks in between $7-9 ($7.99 at the store I picked it up at). Being easy on the wallet is a definite selling point, but as a sessionable pale ale Xtra Citra could use a little tweaking. A more rigorous dry-hopping with a lighter malt base could clean this bad boy up even more and give it the citrus punch citra lovers crave.
As it stands, you could certainly do much worse than Surly’s Xtra Citra Pale Ale, but the beer does leave a little to be desired when compared to beers of the same ilk or at least within reach of the same style. Pick it up, give it a whirl for yourself and it might be exactly what you’re looking for, but for this beer lover I’ll enjoy what I’ve got and move back on to my go-to’s and give this one another shot next year.
Rating: B (Not the citra I know and love, but still a “crushable” and tasty beer)
P.S. Good luck to the frat bros trying out keg stands and shotguns of this bad boy. The ABV is quite tempting and easy on the liver, but your stomach might not be as forgiving.