Saturday, June 30, 2012
A certain ladyfriend, known to some as the Erroneous Ginger Magnet, has been preaching the praises of India Pale Ale to me over the past few months. IPA to beer drinkers is kind of like beer to non-beer drinkers in that it initially seems quite bitter and is basically an acquired taste. I had relatively little experience drinking IPAs prior to 2012, and associated them with old men, buttloads of hops, and beer nerds. However, a trip to Portland in mid-May and my recent adventures with the Erroneous Ginger Magnet have revealed some of the joys that IPAs can provide.
An important thing to keep in mind when dabbling in India Pale Ales is that they range a great deal in bitterness, hop characteristics, and alcohol content. Due to their very nature (an ale high in antibacterial hops and alcohol that originally aided in preservation when beer was being made in the UK for export to, you guessed it, India), IPAs are potent and very flavourful, but there are many ways to make them. West Coast IPAs, for example, are unique in that they often contain fresh Northwest "C" Hops, which include Centennial, Cascade, Chinook and Columbus varieties. Hops from this part of the world are piney, grapefruity, and lingering. They will literally put hair on your chest. East Coast and British IPAs, however, use hops (such as Admiral) that are less sappy and more grassy. While the UK is just starting to alter their IPA-making methods in order to jump on the North American IPA bandwagon, they are generally low gravity and quite malty.
Here are some of the more memorable IPAs that I have tried over the past month and a half:
Alameda Huckleberry Hound IPA (Portland, OR) - 6/10
"What am I? Who did this to me?" These are two questions that I was asking myself in the wee hours the other week, after a night of IPA and burrito pounding, but these are also two questions that the Huckleberry Hound is always asking itself. Part summery fruit beer and part West Coast IPA, this is a beverage in the midst of an identity crisis. It's not a "bad" beer due to the skill of Alameda's brewers, but it is not a harmonious beer. If you see this on a menu, I suggest you get a lambic or IPA, and just encourage a pal to buy this so you can have a taste.
Alameda Yellow Wolf Imperial IPA (Portland, OR) - 7.5/10
I had this at Portland Craft last month and was impressed with the drinkability of this bold beer. Imperial IPAs are also known as Double IPAs and they are (without providing an uber nerdy technical description) just IPAs with abvs between 7%-10.5% and an extreme amount of hops. The correct amount and hops must be used to counteract the malty characteristics generated by the high alcohol, so it is hard to avoid making a beer of this style toooo hoppy or toooo alcoholy. The Yellow Wolf is unfiltered, mildly carbonated, and packed with grapefruit characteristics to distract you from that 8.2% alcohol content. I couldn't drink more than one of these though, due to its thick, murky aspects.
Tenaya Creek Hop Ride IPA (Las Vegas, NV) - 6/10
A 6 on the ABCD Scale? Yes, but not because this is a bad beer...rather due to the fact that this is a forgettable beer. I had this at St Augustine's in Vancouver and remember liking it, but not loving it. When there are forty taps to choose from at an awesome establishment like St Augustine's, you should avoid selecting a beer that you don't love.
A Paddle Full of IPA
Left Coast Belgian IPA (San Clemente, CA) - 8.5/10
If Darth Vader was a West Coast IPA, then Luke would be a Belgian Tripel. West Coast IPAs are bitter and sappy, while Belgian ales are spicy and smooth. So how could these nemeses of the beer world join forces to create a drink that is big and bold yet luscious and smooth? The answer lies in the yeast, and also in the relatively low alcohol content, which is 6.2% in this case. Slow-moving Belgian yeasts often create esters that are floral and spicy, which can be delicious in an IPA that contains appropriate hopping. Good job, Left Coast!
Phillips Hoperation Tripel Cross Belgian IPA (Victoria, BC) - 7.5/10
I like every wobbly pop that Phillips makes and have probably spent more money on this company's product than on any other beer. They are cautious brewers, who value distinct traits and clean flavours...which is totally different from the brewers at, say, Burnside Brewing (see below). Like the Left Coast above, Phillips has combined Northwest hops with a Belgian yeast to produce an IPA that is smooth and aromatic. Phillips' Tripel Cross is higher alcohol than the Left Coast beer but less complex.
Burnside Brewing Alter Ego Imperial IPA (Portland, OR) - 7/10
I drank this from the source and found it oddly smooth. I always brace myself for a citrus-based punch to the chops when taking a first sip of an unknown IPA, but this amber-coloured ale was surprisingly sweet and subdued. It contains 99 bittering units, which is almost as high as you can get, but the toffee and woodiness provided by the malt really mellow out the hops used in this. It's a weird one, and one that I probably wouldn't feel like drinking from a bottle.