Category: india pale ale

This is what Joe Strummer trained you for. I don’t think I…

This is what Joe Strummer trained you for.

I don’t think I was expecting a punk rawk IPA to smell so much like flowers. Baerlic’s latest IPA blends the juicy hops so popular with the kids – El Dorado and Strata – with some old school funk from Chinook. Punk Rock Time starts out pretty dank, but beyond the weedy smell is something more perfumy. Is that a geranium? Maybe some sweet rose water? It’s definitely not the catty resin I was getting earlier. Under the hood, Punk Rock Time has the body and edge of a west coast IPA. There’s bitterness. There’s a dry finish. But it can’t be mistaken for an oldy.

The Cat Are My Stash & Pissed on the Xmas TreeRarely has a…

The Cat Are My Stash & Pissed on the Xmas Tree

Rarely has a beer’s label so accurately described it’s contents. Gigantic Brewing’s new winter IPA paraphrases John Mallet at Bell’s Brewery describing Hopslam. It’s surprising to think that five, ten years ago, a dank, piney beer was revolutionary. The catty, harsh flavors of American hops were, for centuries, considered gross by most. But somehow, American brewers convinced us all that this is the taste we wanted, and they weren’t wrong.

I miss the hoppy tingle of an old school double IPA. I miss the grating bitterness on my tongue. Sipping on a pint of The Cat Ate My Stash was a helpful reminder of just how far palates have shifted since I started drinking beer ten years ago. Everything these days is sweet and tastes instantly familiar, like cookies and fresh fruit. It’s nice to taste something a little challenging for a change.

How Do You Spell IPA in German?There are West Coast IPAs, New…

How Do You Spell IPA in German?

There are West Coast IPAs, New England IPAs, English IPAs, but no one seems to make German IPAs. It’s not like they don’t have hops in Germany. But few people have tried to use to create an entirely German IPA.

Perhaps the best example of an intensely hoppy German beer is Hopfenweisse from Schneider. It’s billed as a wheat-doppelbock, but the dry hopping and eight percent alcohol make it taste more like a double IPA. The nose is floral and citrusy, despite being brewed with traditional Hallertau hops. The flavor fruity. The wheat adds a lot of body and bready sweetness. If they left it unfiltered and canned it, I bet Hopfenweisse could pass as a cloudy American IPA.

Closer to home, Zoiglhaus has started making their own German IPA. Hopfenbombe is brewed with unnamed German hops and malts. It’s a tasty brew, both more bitter and more malt balanced than many modern IPAs. The flavor is on the piney and herbal side – more juniper than doug fir – with a bit of citrus. It finishes with a nice pithy bitterness. 

Zoiglhaus was started by an Alan Taylor who spent decades in Germany training in German brewing school and working in German breweries. He can make a mean Pils. He has a great Kolsch. But you can’t last as an American brewery without an IPA.

Three Taverns Craft Brewery opened in Decatur, Georgia launched in 2013 making Belgian style ales. Now, half their production is an American IPA. Belgian styles make up only twenty percent of their sales. Closer to home, people place the blame on The Commons closing on their failure to make an IPA. It’s literally impossible to open a brewery without brewing an IPA.

It used to be that a brewery could specialize. There were breweries that focused on lager. Breweries that made farmhouse saisons. Breweries that made great bitter. Not anymore. It’s all shades of IPA with little experiments on the side. It’s a sad state of affairs. IPA is crushing diversity in American brewing.

Bee Keeping and BeerEvery May, we visit Sarah’s parents in…

Bee Keeping and Beer

Every May, we visit Sarah’s parents in Virginia. And every year, we visit the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. Sarah and Cynthia squish some fibers and pet some sheep while Asa and I try to watch a sheep dog competition. It’s hard to stand on your toes very long, especially with a toddler on your shoulders.

But our first stop was the Milkhouse Brewery tent. It was right near the front entrance, but even at noon on the, they were running low on supplies. Last year, they had closed up shop before I could check it out.

I didn’t have a chance to chat with anyone behind the booth, and the sample pours were miniscule, but the few sips I had seemed, at the very least, not terrible. So I grabbed four bottles and dragged through barns and across fields for a few hours. Plenty of time to do some research on my phone. 

Milkhouse Brewery is located at the Stillpoint Farm in rural Maryland –from what google tells me, somewhere outside Frederick. They raise sheep, keep bees, and grow their own hops. The beer range skews toward the classics – porter, stout, pale ale.

When we finally got home, I cracked open Goldie’s Best Bitter, a sessionable 4.5% pale ale brewed with wildflower honey and Cascade hops. It’s not strictly traditional, but it’s really good. The honey does a lot of heavy lifting, adding a aromatic floral sweetness to the beer. The Cascades are just there for balancing bitterness. I could do with a little more hop flavor, but it’s a real nice beer.

I definitely tasted the Dollyhyde Farmhouse Ale at the Wool Festival, I remember the thimbleful sample being incredibly dry and fizzy. I had to double check the board. This is definitely not a cider? OK. Dollyhyde is also brewed with honey but is complemented by additional chamomile. The beer is fermented with a Trappist ale yeast strain which explains the extreme attenuation. Dollyhyde is only 4.5%. This isn’t exactly a saison, the yeast character is pretty sedate. I’d figure it’s closer to a biere de garde. It’s light on the tongue with just floral scent like a light breeze in springtime.

At this point I was impressed. I opened up the Irish-style dry stout and was convinced. Milkhouse knows what it’s doing. Coppermine Creek is the third beer under 5% but it blew me away. It’s full bodied. It’s simple. Not a lot of coffee or chocolate. Just dry peanuts and plain crackers – charred around the edges, but still good. It’s the perfect bitter counterpoint to a chocolate cake.

That left us with only one beer left, Stairway, the classic India Pale Ale. In the days before the glitter bombs and the milkshakes, this is what an IPA was about. It’s a little simple – on the brown side of amber, featuring decidedly uncool Cascade hops. It tastes like beer with subtle notes of citrus and pine.

And at 7.2% it’s the strongest beer in the line up.

It’s not bad, but it’s not exactly what I’m looking for in an IPA these days. 

It’s so refreshing to see a brewery making such an eclectic range of beers. None are exactly chained to the style guidelines, but each finds a way to taste familiar and new at the same time. And when half the beers on offer are so – I guess I’ll just say it – weak, it’s a pleasure to drink all of them by the pint.

The Center Cannot Hold Last week, Old Town Brewing earned three…

The Center Cannot Hold 

Last week, Old Town Brewing earned three bronze medals at the Oregon Beer Awards, the annual celebration of our fair state’s best brews. Shanghai’d IPA came in third in the Classic UK Styles category. Add that to a GABF Gold Medal in 2015, and you’ve got a nicely outfitted “English-style” IPA. I figured I give this award winner another go around. It’s amber. It’s bitter. It’s sweet. 

Shanghai’d tastes less like London and more like Portland in 2010. The color is the first sign. These days, dark malt is rare, and sugary crystal is verboten. But here is an IPA with a reddish color which is actually a little sweet on the tongue. Old Town only lists 2-row malt and honey as ingredients, so maybe it’s all in my mind. The hops list is a trip down memory lane – Nugget, Liberty, Crystal, and the classic Cascade. The hops are used less for aroma than tongue coating bitterness. It’s bracing with hints at grapefruit and a long piney finish. Is this an IPA?

It’s mind boggling how far we’ve come in the ten years I’ve been drinking. This would not be out of place on any tap list when I was in school, but now, it tastes like an old relic. I’m amazed at how far our collective palates have shifted. We once revered beers with hundreds of IBUs. Now, we are adding vanilla and lactose to make milkshakes. And somehow, they both fall under the same three letter heading: IPA.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: we need a new word. India Pale Ale can’t be all beers all the time.

Beer Sans-GlutenLast month, Jeff at Beervana wrote about his…

Beer Sans-Gluten

Last month, Jeff at Beervana wrote about his experience at Ground Breaker Brewing, a totally gluten-free brewery. Owner and head brewer James Neumeister uses sorghum, lentils, and toasted chestnuts in place of barley and wheat. It sounds like a weird mash, but as Jeff pointed out, “By sixteenth-century standards these ingredients would have been entirely normal.”

More important to me, Jeff says the beer tastes good. And unlike some gluten-free beers, they look and feel like normal beers. They roast and toast the nuts and lentils by hand to get exact flavors, just like malting. When you add it all together, I think Jeff’s right, Ground Breaker might be “the Most Interesting Brewery in Oregon.”

We’re sensitive to the needs of the gluten intolerant. Sarah and I haven’t eaten meat in almost a decade and – spurred by a lactose intolerant baby – have eaten an almost entirely vegan diet for the last three years. (Full disclosure: I got a whole milk latte by accident last week, and I drank it.) I hate it when people assume vegan food is gross, so I figured I owed Ground Breaker a try, if only to see what lentils do to a beer.

I defy you to find a problem with Ground Breaker’s Dark Ale. It’s their flagship for a reason. It’s dark, ruby edged and roasty.

I got a whiff of something odd on the nose, but it was quickly subsumed by a wave of black coffee.

The body is full and flavorful. The full mash includes belgian candi sugar, which must enhance the dry finish. I got a whiff of something odd on the nose, but it was quickly subsumed by a wave of black coffee. The beer has depth and would easily pass as a porter at any bar.

The IPA No. 5 on the other hand has a few more issues. The coppery color is a little dark, but it is crystalline. It’s hard to get a barley beer that clear. The hops are spot on. Citrusy Crystals are on full display, bright and fresh. The malty replacements come out more with every sip. The color says crystal malt, but it’s not quite sweet. And then there’s the lentils. Like I said, we’re vegan. We can taste lentils. There’s a savory flavor that’s off putting in a beer like this. The IPA is admirable, if flawed.

Would I drink Ground Breaker again? Sure. I would definitely suggest Ground Breaker to any friends going gluten-free. They make good beer, full stop. No need to qualify it. 

New Hops!Hopsworks has a brand new IPX on draft and bottles….

New Hops!

Hopsworks has a brand new IPX on draft and bottles. It’s fruity and fresh, though there is a hint of Hopworks house bitterness. Is it the house yeast? Bad packaging? Thank god, it fades if you let the it breath, leaving behind a soft apple and lime flavored beer.

The secret to the flavor is Strata hops, which recently graduated from the Oregon State University and Indie Hops breeding program. Strata started with the chance pollination  of a Perle hop. Testers described the flavor as tropical and citrus, and dank – smelling of cannabis. My taste buds detected more light, ephemeral flavors like watermelon.

You may have tasted Strata a few years back when it was experimental hop X331, but you can soon taste it properly in beers from Sierra Nevada, Fort George, and others. Worthy Brewing is already making a new Strata hopped IPA, StrataSphere, look for it in bottles soon.

Last of the FreshiesHere’s one last fresh hop beer for the…

Last of the Freshies

Here’s one last fresh hop beer for the season, Sodbuster V: The Simcoe Strikes Back. As you might’ve guessed, the guys at Gigantic Brewing picked up a ton of fresh Simcoe from Sodbuster Farms hops to give their IPA a mighty hop flavor. It’s still tasting super fresh. It’s full of tangy citrus and a heaping handfuls of fresh herbs. Lemon grass and lemons. It’s got that same fresh bell pepper flavor I was talking about, but again, I don’t mind it.

Across the PondWhen I’m feeling run down by the constant churn…

Across the Pond

When I’m feeling run down by the constant churn of new beers from new breweries, I reach for the old classics. I like to revisit the European originals for a sense of perspective on American trends. 

Last week it was XX Bitter from De Ranke in Belgium. I wouldn’t call it a blonde ale, and it’s not exactly a tripel. I dare say, it may be the original Belgian IPA. It’s intensely hoppy, though the brewers use only European varieties – Hallertau and Brewer’s Gold. 

It’s bitter, sure, but it’s balanced. Honey flavored malt is followed by a bracing bitterness. It’s perfectly dry with little of the lingering aftertaste typical of old American IPAs. There’s none of the typical Belgian yeast flavor, but it’s immediately apparent this was brewed in Europe.

XX Bitter represents a different approach to IPA, a different path toward hop flavor. Of course, here in the States we’ve gone toward a sweeter, juicier, thicker beer, a move I’m increasingly regretting. But in a world with thousands of small breweries, somewhere someplace must be brewing a beer I enjoy.

Make Amber Ale Great AgainWe’re in the midst of another heat…

Make Amber Ale Great Again

We’re in the midst of another heat wave, but we’re dreaming of fall. So here are a few seasonal ales for you, both reddish brown, and sort of hoppy.

Deschutes’ autumn seasonal attempts to combine German Marzen and American IPA. Hopzeit is Oktoberfest meets hops, I guess. It’s malty red with hints of toffee and nuts. Then you get the juicy middle. I’m guessing that’s the Hull Melon hops. It tastes like melon. It’s a wild curveball. I think the beer would be better with a bit more bitterness, and a little less fruit. But I guess that would just be an amber ale huh?

I’d rather have another bottle of Terminal Gravity IPA. It’s a very, very old school IPA. First brewed in like 2002 old school. It’s amber to brown in color with a ton of malt character. It’s toasty; it’s nutty. I told Sarah it was almost “porky” and she nearly gagged. But there is almost a smokiness in there. Oh, and then there are hops. I’m sure it’s better fresh, but like this it’s a really solid malty amber.