Category: india pale ale

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.

Fresh!It’s that time of year again. Back school shopping, one…


It’s that time of year again. Back school shopping, one last barbecue, and the return of fresh hops

The northwest had a very wet spring and a long dry summer, and the hops are ready a few weeks ahead of schedule. No matter, our friends at Ex Novo Brewing were ready. As the first cones left the field, they were firing up a batch of Eliot IPA. They tossed in the fresh, sticky Centennials and let them do their magic.

The result is a beer bursting with floral flavor and aroma. The smell is out of this world. It’s like burying your face in fresh cut flowers. The flavor fresh and green – like herbs right from the garden, like foraged fruits. The citrus flavor is subtle – there’s no mistaking it for orange juice. The whole thing just sparkles and shimmers as you drink it. It’s out of this world.

Get it while you can. Fresh hops can’t last long off the bine. A few hours and they get all soggy, so you can only get this flavor during harvest season. 

WholesomeIt’s weird how far tastes can shift in a few short…


It’s weird how far tastes can shift in a few short years. In honor of their fifth anniversary, Gigantic Brewing is re-brewing fan favorites from their back catalogue. Whole in the Head was the first imperial IPA the Gigantic fellas brewed. The recipe is five years old, but it’s very different than the IPAs we’ve been drinking lately. It’s neither thick and bitter, nor light and juicy. It’s sort of in the middle.

Whole in the Head has got the juice, but there’s more to it than that. There’s enough Citra and Lemondrop hops to give it a great pink lemonade flavor, but it’s backed up with Simcoe and Cascade for a dank, earthy edge. The grist has none of the oats or wheat we’ve become accustomed to. It’s just pale malt and sugar. It’s light and dry but still sweet.

Whole in the Head was brewed in that space between yesteryear’s danker, bitter imperial IPAs and today’s juicy, creamy IPAs. It has an interesting in-between flavor that brings out the good in both styles.

Gimme Something LightAll I want lately is light beers. Real…

Gimme Something Light

All I want lately is light beers. Real crisp. Real clean. That’s why I picked up Reuben’s Brews Summer IPA. I figured it would be a nice light take on the style. Still hoppy, but in a easy drinking form. It is a little on the light side for an IPA at 6.5%, but the flavor is so hard it’s hard to enjoy. It’s bitter grapefruit rind and pine. Not entirely bad, but not particularly summery, either. But it does photograph well.

Someone Dropped the BallGalaxy infused Drop Bear IPA should be…

Someone Dropped the Ball

Galaxy infused Drop Bear IPA should be tasty. But like many beers lately it’s marred by a strong bitterness in the finish. Is it an amateur mistake? Is it a storage issue? What’s it about? 

The closest defect I can find is excessive tannins from overly steeped grains, but it’s described as more of a dry, black tea flavor. This is an overwhelming bitterness, and it goes away after the beer breathes for twenty minutes or so. I let my Drop Bear sit and it revealed a nice citrus character. But by that point I’d already decided the beer sucked.