As 2012 begins to unfold, the first thing (or should that be the thirst thing?) to notice is the ever expanding examples of what is called India Pale Ale in the United States, or IPA. IPA has become a symbol of market magic, at least in the so-called craft beer world, where hop famous brewers such as Sierra Nevada, have abandoned their spring seasonal Glissade golden bock, for yet another hop-centric manifestation called Ruthless Rye IPA, which should be on the shelves around here shortly.
The same can be said of Samuel Adams new year round offering: Whitewater IPA. It seems that hops obsession has become a market segment that can not be ignored. All aboard the IPA train as it were.
The term IPA is given a very interesting interpretation by Widmer Brothers Brewing of Portland, Oregon. Their Nelson Imperial IPA is a remarkable, and very drinkable achievement. Using Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand’s South Island, combined with Cascade and Willamette, along with generous malt support from 2-row Pale, Caramel and Carapils, produces an outstanding example of a big shouldered Imperial IPA that I would have to regard as unique. The surprisingly light texture (some might call it fluffy) obscures the 8.6% strength, with an exceptionally tasty smoothness that is balanced perfection.
A completely different approach to IPA , from the same Widmer Brothers, is their remarkable Falconer’s IPA, a loving tribute to brewmaster Glen Falconer, who died in 2002. This is an estery recipe of great dimension. A tropical fruit quality is present in the malty depth that is outstanding. Living proof of Mr. Falconer’s statement that “Brewing is both an art form and a science.”
Yet another Widmer take is their Pitch Black IPA. This combines IPA with a black bier sensibility. Subtly nuanced, this dark delicious pour reveals its hop considerations in the long pleasant finish. What is there not to love?
I am aware that a whole generation of beer drinkers now assume that hop emphasis beers are the normal. Funny how things work out, because I remember the first India Pale Ale I sampled, and this was before Samuel Adams even existed, and that was Ballantine India Pale Ale. This was a unique American beer, in that it was aged in oak barrels, long before the term oak crafted had been co-opted by the craft brew revolution. The first time I tasted it, it reminded me slightly of Vernor’s Ginger Ale, a soft drink I had as a kid. Which was actually more accurate than I realized at the time, since the Vernor’s of my childhood was also stored in oak. What is even more remarkable that Ballantine India Pale Ale was a full production beer where storage in oak was a simply a prerequisite of the recipe.
Traditional India Pale Ales of the British variety were no way as aggressively hopped as the new world varieties. Anderson Valley’s Hop Ottin’ IPA. An original hop head American IPA that melds the citrus pine resin of Northwestern hops in a new world approach that for many now has become the standard.
Back in the days when Hop Ottin’ IPA first appeared it was considered extremely bold. But this was way before things like Bell’s Hopslam tickled the hop heads’ imagination. Today aggressive and overly aggressive hopped beers have become a craft beer standard.
On other matters, I recently sampled a bottle of Red Hook Pilsner. The one time Seattle based brewer, now brewed across the country, from Oregon to New Hampshire. A rather tasty Czech-style lager, that was a popular seasonal, that has become a year long slammer which has two interesting aspects. First, the bottle itself, genetically modified version of an old snub nose traditional, with a nonic-like collar between the short neck and body. Which makes me wonder what was the reasoning behind this? But even stranger is this statement found on the label: MAY NOT LOOK IT, BUT HAS A DARK SIDE.
What does this mean? I have no idea.
Lastly, I would like to comment on Goose Island Matilda, one of their Belgian style takes which I found to be a complete waste of time. Emphasizing its cellaring quality “develops in the bottle for up to 5 years” this ale takes the characteristics of Belgium yeast and develops them in a quite unsuccessful way. This is nearly incomprehensible to me, but even more so are those who actually believe that this is what Belgium beer tastes like, in this case, a farmhouse ale, which to some folks means the funkier the better. But this does not apply to The Beer Doctor. I have another bottle of six month old Maltida, which I will give to someone who might appreciate it. To put it diplomatically: I drank one and I certainly don’t want to drink another.