Category: ipa

Too Many Hops? Impossible!One theory behind the cloudy IPA is…

Too Many Hops? Impossible!

One theory behind the cloudy IPA is that the wheat and oats included in the grist add more proteins to the beer. The proteins give hop oils something to grab onto keeping them in suspension, resulting in a very hoppy tasting beer. If you don’t have the hazy proteins, the hop oils will fall out of the beer and you won’t get the full effect of intensive dry hopping. 

The problem with this theory – besides the lack of scientific evidence – is that i don’t taste it. In the last year we’ve tasted dozens of hazy IPAs, and while there are some really great ones out there, for the most part, hazy IPAs taste less hoppy than their clear cousins. Often much less. When a hazy IPA works, it works beautifully. When it doesn’t it’s worse than a clear IPA that’s been sitting on the shelf for months. 

Why?

There seems to be much less planning going into new hazy IPAs. No one knows exactly how the beer will be when it leaves the brewery. No one is tasting it at one week, two weeks, and three weeks after finishing. Most of these beers seem to be one time things. They’re brewed, canned, and thrown out the door. It could just be poor quality control. 

But maybe it has something to do with the incredible number of hops in many of these beers. There’s just too many different oils and esters mixing it up in there, and the result is a muddy flavor that just doesn’t taste of much in the end. Maybe it’s just a case of less is more. 

In For the Love of Hops, Stan Hieronymus writes about Marble IPA from Albuquerque. The head brewer was doing some regular spot checking, tasting bottles of IPA that had been in cold storage. The beer that was two weeks old actually tasted better than the fresh IPA straight from the line. It was fruitier and had a more vivid hop flavor. So the brewer goes back and tries tinkering with the recipe. He tries adding more late addition hops. He tries rearranging the dry hopping schedule. Nothing. Then he tries something paradoxical; he cuts back on the hops. He finally gets that flavor he was looking for. 

Maybe, that’s why sometimes a pilsner tastes hoppier than the juicy IPA next to it. 

Name That OrangeWe were drinking a couple pints of Gigantic…

Name That Orange

We were drinking a couple pints of Gigantic Brewing’s Endless, a juicy IPA brewed with Citra and Mandarina hops, and I was at a loss. Obviously, it tastes of citrus. But I had the hardest time coming up with a better analogy. Is it like a satsuma? Is it a pomelo? What does a mandarin taste like again? I kept circling around looking for the right variety, but in the end I gave up. It’s been months since I’ve seen a cutie. I haven’t tasted a sumo in at least eighteen months.

Keeping track of beers in my mind is hard enough. Keeping track of three hundred fruits and vegetables is impossible. Despite writing about beer for almost seven years, I am regularly stumped trying to describe a flavor – especially in beers that rely heavily on tropical, new world hops. I am not a supertaster. Sometimes my beer notes are the typographical equivalent of a shrug. 

When it comes to writing tasting notes, every writer falls somewhere on a spectrum between between the ornate, flowery pole and the technical, utilitarian pole. One writer might describe how “sweet oranges dance with aniseed, biscuits, caramel, and hops in the tantalizing nose,” while another uses terms like DMS, diacetyl, acetaldehyde, esters, phenolic, or oxidized. Both are valid ways to evaluate beer, and no one drinker writes entirely purple prose or a technical manual. 

But all writers are trying to turn their subjective experience into something another person can objectively understand. You get into the weeds though when you’re comparing a beer to an obscure wine like barolo or a weird fruit like gooseberries. I doubt many readers can instantly imagine the scent of lanolin. (I know it well, Sarah is a prodigious knitter.)

In the end, all tasting notes are metaphorical. Unless a beer is literally infused with citrus, it only tastes like a grapefruit. I pray the “horse blanket” flavor in your lambic is figurative. But reaching for a really out there description like “Strawberry Shortcake met the Big Bad Wolf,” can be incredibly entertaining and evocative.

Kegged and ConditionedThis weekend, we found ourselves driving…

Kegged and Conditioned

This weekend, we found ourselves driving through the state capital in search of a nice pint. Salem isn’t a particularly beery city, but the metro area hosts a respectable ten or so taprooms and brewpubs. We went straight for Santiam Brewing on the southside of town. It’s not the fanciest place in town, nor the most famous, but in addition to a dozen beers on tap, Santiam serves not one but four cask conditioned ales

For the uninitiated, cask conditioning is a beer serving method most often seen in the UK. In a typical American brewery, when beer is packaged in kegs, carbon dioxide is forced into the beer. Carbonated beer is then dispensed on tap with more gas. Cask conditioned beers, or “real” ales, are fermented right in the keg giving it a much lighter carbonation. When it comes time to serve it, a tap can be inserted right into the cask and dispensed like a big gatorade cooler. To keep the yeast working, cask beers are kept at about fifty degrees fahrenheit. It’s this unique conditioning that gives English beer the appearance of being warm and flat.

Santiam has four beer engines which pump the beer from under the bar. The result is a smooth, slightly bubbly beer. Without the extra carbon dioxide, even a light beer feels full bodied. But this is America, and an ordinary bitter with less than four percent alcohol won’t move too fast, so all the Santiam taps were over six percent. But that’s not to say they weren’t tasty.

Spitfire is an amber colored extra special bitter. It’s brewed with traditional Maris Otter malt with a little crystal malt and Belgian candi sugar for color and English Admiral and Fuggle Hops. Despite being on the strong side for a bitter, it’s incredibly drinkable, and even in the afternoon warmth, Spitfire is still cool enough to be refreshing. 

The IPA, Stonehenge, is a burnished copper color and full of classic Cascade hop flavor. I could stick to that for an afternoon very happily. The cask conditioning really brings out the grapefruit flavor. It’s not harshly bitter, but it’s far from the fluffy, sweet hazy IPA currently in fashion.

Coal Porter feels like a pint of nitro Guinness but with a deeper flavor. The low carbonation calls for gulping and glugging instead of the usual taproom sniffing and swirling. The toasty flavor goes perfectly with thick cut french fries.

I’m not a great judge of cask beers. I understand there is a certain art to tapping a cask. The beer should be lively and fresh, but not green or underdone, but it should be poured entirely before it gets old and stale. The care of casks is more like that of fermenting homebrew. But I only get to taste a few cask ales a year, so I don’t know the difference between a beer in good condition or bad. But I know I definitely enjoyed drinking the beer at Santiam.

Catch and ReleaseCaptured by Porches always sounded more like a…

Catch and Release

Captured by Porches always sounded more like a midwestern post-rock band than a brewery. The tiny operation has had many ups and downs over the last ten years. Somehow, despite bad press, some really off beers, and bouncing from Portland to St. Helens to Gresham, the little brewery that could keeps going. And they are now malting their own barley, too.

Captured by Porches is a one man operation, Dylan Goldsmith seems to make all the beer even after a decade in business. He started as a homebrewer supplying house parties. His homebrew was so popular, his friends never left, hanging on his porch all night – thus the name. 

The first Captured brewery was wedged into a weird space behind the Clinton St. Theatre on some hand-me-down equipment found on Craigslist. The brewery moved from cramped corner to cramped corner – from an old gas station on highway 30, to an industrial park in St. Helens, and now the backend of a health food store turned organic pizza pub in Gresham.

Captured By Porches has never garnered a lot of press. Every few years, someone hunts down Goldsmith for an interview about beer and homebrewing and sustainability, but he seems more interested in making beer than self promotion. They never opened a proper taproom, but they entered the Portland food cart scene. The Captured by Porches beer buses popped up all over town selling beer from converted campers to thirsty foodies.

But a few years ago, Goldsmith and his business partner/wife broke up. He kept the brewery; she got the beer buses. The brewery nearly fell off the face of the earth. The business had to pull distribution and focus on the smaller accounts that actually sold the beer. They continue to sell beer at local farmer’s markets and in small grocers and bottle shops but you won’t see Captured by Porches in the Whole Foods anymore. 

But I’ve been hesitant to pick up anything new from Captured, their beers do not have a great reputation. Their Invasive Species IPA made it into the finals of our grand all Oregon IPA taste off in 2012, then flunked out when we got two very off bottles. They had notable issues in the early 2010s with swing top bottles which were often infected, and came with a dollar bottle deposit. Those early bottles soured reviewers on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. A single bad bottle can turn into even worse word of mouth.

But I was at the local co-op grocery and in between the hazy IPAs was Wind & Rain ESB. I had a hankering for something a little maltier, so I picked it up. It wasn’t until I got home that I learned the beer was made with Full Pint barley bred at Oregon State University, grown locally, and malted at the brewery. In 

2015, Captured by Porches started malting nearly all the grain in their beers. That’s insane. I had to try it.

Wind & Rain is a malty brew with a lot of character. It’s not just sweet or toasty. It’s tastes like bran flakes or wild rice. It’s slightly, slightly smokey. The caramel notes are kept in check by a firm bitterness and a hint of yeasty fruit. One sip and I was hooked. What else could they be making? So I went pack for an Oregon Sunshine golden ale and the reformulated Invasive Species. Both have a tasty malt flavor, but each shows off a different side of the grain.

Oregon Sunshine is like a sandwich, nice toasted bread notes with a seedy, grassy flavor topped with a hint of pickle and an oniony umami. Invasive Species is an old school IPA with plenty of bitterness backed by a malty sweetness. The flavor is toasted, nearly burnt like popcorn heated on the stovetop. There’s a raw grassiness underneath emphasized by the old school pine and citrus hops.

In a market dominated by massive multinational craft brewers – and small brewers aiming to become massive multinationals, it’s intriguing to see a truly tiny business overcome some serious struggles and continues to push the envelope. And somehow, despite using their own hand malted grain, Captured can still sell pint sized bottles for less than five bucks. If you see them around, I encourage you to give them another try. 

3-Way IPAEvery year, the brewers at Fort George invite over a…

3-Way IPA

Every year, the brewers at Fort George invite over a couple friends to make a new IPA. But this is no one time brew. 3-Way IPA comes out in June but the collaboration starts in January. Throughout the spring, they brew test batches and serve them under the Beta IPA tag in Astoria. When the recipe is perfect, they can it and send it out.

This year’s 3-Way was brewed in collaboration with Seattle’s Holy Mountain Brewing and Modern Times out of San Diego. It’s a juicy, fruity, sweet, and tangy beer, but it looks like mud. Oats and wheat form the thick and creamy body. The fruit flavor is all over the map. It tastes like passion fruit. No. It’s tangerines. Peaches? I don’t know. But it’s pretty tasty. Just don’t look to closely at the weird beige pulp swirling around in there. 

Fresh Yakima Valley HopsEighty percent of all American hops are…

Fresh Yakima Valley Hops

Eighty percent of all American hops are grown in the Yakima Valley. Despite being so near the fields, Central Washington has never been a hotbed for brewing. In the early eighties, Bert Grant opened the first modern brewpub in the United States, Yakima Brewing and Malting Company. But after Grant’s death in 2001, the company quickly fell apart. Since that time New breweries have popped up here and there, but the largest is Bale Breaker Brewing. Founded in 2013 by three siblings and third generation hop farmers, Bale Breaker is now one of the larger breweries in the state.

Naturally, Bale Breaker focuses on hop forward beers made with locally grown hops. Their range has a distinct hoppy flavor, not so much juicy or fruity but raw and leafy. Opening a fresh can is like shoving your face in a bag of hops. The homebrewers out there know what I’m talking about. The flavors are fresh and green and earthy.

For example, Leota Mae, the juiciest beer in their lineup, still has certain earthy dankness. It’s brewed with trendy Mosaic and Ekuanot, but the flavor is balanced. The nose is floral. The flavor is fresh. No mango or passion fruit, just grapefruit and pine, yet the beer tastes new and exciting.

Top Cutter and Bottom Cutter, single and double IPAs respectively, are a more old school. The flavors are bitter and earthy – pine tar, cedar, a third thing. But the aroma is one hundred percent raw hops. Even Bale Breaker’s light pale ale – Field 41, only 4.5% ABV – reveals a huge scent. Herbal hop flowers just waft from the can. 

I’m not sure how they do it, but I am in love with these beers. Is it a new dry hopping technique? Is it just the freshness of having the hops grown right there? I don’t know, but I am definitely going to look for more.

To Beer or Not to Beer?Fruity IPAs are beer for people who don’t…

To Beer or Not to Beer?

Fruity IPAs are beer for people who don’t like beer. It’s an argument I’ve seen popping up a lot lately. Mostly from people who never liked hazy IPAs to begin with. But they have a point. The ultimate goal of these beers is resemble anything but beer. Despite using traditional beer ingredients like wheat and oats and hops, the beer tastes like mango, guava, orange juice. With the extreme cloudiness, most barely look like beers anymore. 

For example, Fort George is now canning a rotating selection of hazy IPAs under the moniker Fields of Green. The latest incarnation is codenamed Eleanor and features all the big hitters in fruity hops – 

Hallertau Blanc, Meridian, Idaho 7, Mosaic. It tastes more like a fancy mimosa than beer. No. It tastes more like birthday punch than beer. Two liters of 7up and one can of frozen juice concentrate. It’s delicious. But it doesn’t taste like beer.

That’s not a negative. There is plenty of room in the beer world for beer flavored beer and not so beer flavored beer. I just wish beer flavored beers would get equal time in the media.

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.

Not Just a Phaze.I’ve decided to give these hazy IPAs another…

Not Just a Phaze.

I’ve decided to give these hazy IPAs another go. I had been avoiding them, last summer it seemed like everyone and their sister was jumping on the cloudy bandwagon, with very mixed results. But the trend seems to have staying power, and a local version seems to be emerging.

What The Fluff? from Baerlic Brewing is downright delicious. It has the usual light shade and cloudy appearance, but looks less like orange juice than some extreme New Englanders. The scent is all pineapple and citrus. The flavor is deceptively sharp, a suggestion of acid where none exists. It’s juicy, without tasting like Tropicana. The malt is almost untastable. The wheat in the grist adds plenty of body, but no bready flavors. And the finish has a nice firm bitterness, like seeds hidden in the center of a tangerine.

Breakside’s Kids These Haze has been on shelves a while, and I suspect our bottle was a little long in the tooth. It’s hazy, but far from opaque. If I was served a beer this clean three years ago, I wouldn’t blink an eye. It looks like a normal pale ale. It tastes like a normal pale ale. There is a hint of citrus, a suggestion of pine, but the body is a little weak and the flavors muted. It’s not terrible. But it is not great.

Pillowfist is a big hitter from Old Town Brewing. Again, it doesn’t look totally cloudy. Tons of tangy lemony limey flavor. A handful of cranberries thrown in for a bitter tartness. The finish is rind-like, bitter. Again, not exactly wheat flavored, but nice full body. None of the yogurty gak I find in the really milkshake-y varieties. 

Lastly, we have Mystery Cloud from Gigantic Brewing, their slightly less adventurous hazy IPA – the other one, PiñaCOOLada, features added coconut. It looks less overcast and more smoggy in the glass. The addition of Crystal hops give it a meyer lemon flavor, which adds interest to a field drowning in Mosaic’s funk. Soft bodied, but not doughy. 

The Northwestern-style New England-ish IPA seems to be emerging. It’s hazy, but see through. It’s fruity, but not super juicy. The flavors lean more toward citrus than mango, and the body is full, but not thick. Unlike earlier incarnations – which tasted so fresh, I wasn’t sure they were fully fermented – the current class of hazy IPA tastes finished, even polished. And many are very tasty.

Haze and HistoryWho would’ve guessed? Bridgeport Brewing can…

Haze and History

Who would’ve guessed? Bridgeport Brewing can make a pretty good hazy IPA. In order to understand my amazement, it’s necessary to go back a ways.

Founded way back in 1984, Bridgeport Brewing is the oldest brewery in the Portland. The original owners, Richard and Nancy Ponzi, were pioneers in Oregon’s nascent wine business in the seventies. They decided to move into beer making. They succeeded, but in 1995 they sold the company to the Gambrinus Company – owners of Spoetzl Brewery, makers of Shiner

Despite being corporately owned, Bridgeport continued making good beer throughout the nineties. They launched an eponymous IPA that is considered an ur-example of the Northwestern style.

Everything was going swimmingly, but by the mid aughts, things began to change. The area around the Bridgeport brewery gentrified rapidly in the late nineties. Old warehouses and industrial buildings were transformed into million dollar condos and the Pearl District was born. Bridgeport tried to follow suit, going through a massive renovation.

With the new brewery came a change in focus, Bridgeport pushed into the regional market. In an attempt to attract more eyeballs in other states, Bridgeport focused less on it’s Portland roots. I knew things had changed when they discontinued Blue Heron. The classic pale ale was first brewed in 1987, and named after the official city bird. In its place, Bridgeport launched a series of poorly received beers aimed at jumping on new trends – most notably some terrible fruit beers.

Recently, Bridgeport has been sliding into irrelevance. Sales have declined locally, as have actual barrels brewed. The only question seems to be, when will Gambrinus finally close the place? Then last week, they announced a new hazy IPA. I thought it was going to be another lame attempt at joining the zeitgeist. But the press release made it sound pretty good

It seems, they made it the right way. They used malted and unmalted wheat. They used Mosaic hops – a necessity in all modern IPAs. They didn’t add any hops in the kettle – which to old school homebrewers might sound wacky, but it’s the way of things these days. And they dry hopped it with some unnamed experimental hops. I picked up a six-pack, with my own money, figuring if it was bad, at least I could write a nice obituary for the brewery. 

But it’s actually pretty good. It’s hazy, not completely opaque, but throwing off a nice orange hue. It’s fruity – notes of melon and mango. The body is fluffy on the tongue, without the yogurty thickness that ruins some New Englanders. There is a sort of tooty fruity, bubblegum flavor on the finish that sticks out to me, but other than that it’s solid. 

I drank half the six-pack, and I was excited to do it.