Ah beer, one of the greatest treasures that man has made for himself. There is something so wonderfully rewarding, refreshing and renewing about a couple of cold brews. Even though your not chewing, at least you better not be, there is a palatable difference between each brew house and each type, style or method of creation. The results can range anywhere from awe inspiring to vomit inducing.
This last weekend I had the pleasure of trying a panel approach to reviewing the IPA. A friend of mine, David H., sat down and selected 8 different IPA’s and started grading them on a scale of 1 to 5. We graded them on overall presentation (which included design), palette feeling, flavor, fruitiness, hop levels and after taste.
We used fruit and cheese and water to clean our palettes between each delicious mouthful and even with this attempt to separate the contents of each bottle orally, they are very hard on the constitution all at once. In retrospect I may not have started IPA as my first beer panel guinea pig because of its strength, but it was still enjoyable.
The IPA can be a very misunderstood monster due to its characteristic sharp hoppy flavors and aromatic punch. People who have limited themselves to basic American ales and lagers may be in for quite a shock at first glass. Mind you, I am also still a beer neophyte by many standards but I know what I like and I think you will too. ON TO THE BEER….
First up, THUNDERHEAD IPA by the Pyramid Brewing Company, 6.7% ABV & 64 IBU $1.52 (the IBU was not listed on the bottle, I had to find it online)
We enthusiastically cracked THUNDERHEAD open first, due to some twist of fate, but quickly wished we had pumped the brakes a little and started with a slightly more “grown-up” brew.
The contents were (as you can see) a light amber gold and had an inviting aroma that would lead one to believe that the first mouthful would be nothing short of pleasing. Even the quickly evaporating white head that had formed gave one the sense that we were poised on the edge of averageness (I know this is not a word). We were of course wrong.
There is nothing terribly wrong with this beer but every component seemed to be a fake. It was the most effervescent of night but in the wrong way, like when someone leaves the CO2 tank turned up and your coke starts attacking the pores of your mouth. The label design and consideration was mediocre (what do pyramids have to do with India Pale Ale?), there was a twist off cap (I thought I was having beers, not Mike’s Hard Lemonade) and for whatever reason it went flat so quickly neither of could bring ourselves to finish the bottle.
Overall it could have been worse, there were some very smooth elements of the flavor but it didn’t seem very genuine and I think they should reduce the amount of carbonation and fire their designer before releasing something as distinguished as an IPA into the market.
Overall score 2 out of 5
Second, STONE IPA by Stone Brewing Company, 6.9% ABV & 77 IBU $1.81(the IBU was not listed on the bottle, I had to find it online)
The Stone IPA is actually a beer that I haveÂ regularly at some of the pubs in Boulder during happy hour.
It has a fairly smooth finish and texture. This IPA you can definitely have in quantity due to its lightness as far as IPAs go. There are plenty of strong aromas and happy surprises but the overall sweetness or fruitiness of the contents really tone down the harsh bite that most IPAs leave you with.
This may be the only thing that stops it from being a real contender with other IPAs. No clear distinction. The color of the beer and the head were both adequate for the price of the bottle and I wouldn’t turn down a 6 pack of these if given the opportunity. This was one of the only two bottles to have no paper and get ink jetted directly onto the exterior.
Overall score 3.5 out of 5
Third, SNAKE DOG INDIA PAL ALE by Flying Dog Brewery, 7.1% ABV & 60 IBU $1.52
Darker, richer, more full bodied, aromatic and flavorful then any of the beers thus far, the Snake jumped ahead of the pack quickly as its rich tones, like a great bass player, and sharp hop accents created a refreshing and imaginative balance.
There seemed to be a decent lace created from the creamy head that stood up to the atmospheric oppression of our altitude and the light carbonation danced and faded into the rest of the band like a great improvisation.
The flavor came in like a great wave and washed away jush as smoothly after crashing against the shores of my pallet. There seemed to be very little (if any) after taste that bothered my experience. The Snake seemed to really be owning up to the identity or at least what I think a great IPA can offer. Something unique without being over powering. Enjoyable but accessible on many different levels.
I also really enjoyed the labeling, in fact this was the only label that featured a unique hand drawn image that really had a mind of its own.
Overall 4.5 out of 5
Fourth, INVERSION IPA by Deschutes Brewery, 6.8% ABV & 80 IBU $1.45 (the IBU was not listed on the bottle, I had to find it online)
If IPAs have evil-dark-secret relatives this must be one of them. There are no good feelings or memories coming into view as I reflect on that very first damning sip of Inversion.
Setting aside the great brown/gold appearance, firm frothy head and strong lumberjack like aromas, this thing is bitter and unpleasant. I can’t really recommend it to anyone because of its really rough entry and exit… …
The laughable illustration of majestic mountains on the label lead thoughts of supreme tranquility, while the cold indifferent liquid trap that lies within, prepares to utterly devastate your mouth and stomach. The cold calculating brew master who saw fit to summon this great evil into this world should take some time off and explore knitting, or some other vocation that will not evoke ruination.
Overall 1 out of 5
Fifth, LONGHAMMER IPA by Red Hook Brewing Company, 6.5% ABV & 43 IBU $1.23 (the IBU was not listed on the bottle, I had to find it online)
First let me just say that this was the most well designed bottle/label combo of the evening, which makes the mediocre contents all the more dissapointing.
The split label, colors, shape and the embossed wheat stalks give the appearance of care and consideration. The flavors, on the other hand, did not seem to get such a generous helping of creativity. Much like the Thunderhead, there was a great sense of shallow effort put into this IPA.
There were descent visual and aromatic markers that seemed to have all the right cues for a good middle of the road IPA but the final analysis revealed a shell of its promise. Overall there was no real strong punch of hops and the light texture of the beer overall seemed like the unfortunate result of mixing a lager with an IPA. Not authentic to say the least but not the worst beer of the evening.
Overall 2.5 out of 5
Sixth, AVERY IPA by Avery Brewing Company, 6.3% ABV & 69 IBU $1.52Â (the ABV and IBU were not listed on the bottle, I had to find it online)
This may be a point of contention for some people but I think that the finish and the punch in a beer should not be reversed in a beer. I like desert after dinner call me old fashion.
This beer overall does not really appeal to me because of the above established principal. There is a textural smoothness and a crispness of the liquid but the floral bouquet hits first and then as you swallow an overwhelming hop tidal wave crashes the party. It was jarring for me and I personally won’t be trying any other Avery products without some sort of incentive.
Oh and the label looks like one of the interns found a map on Google images and added a red line to represent the path of the boats traveling from England to India (which is supposed to be the reason for the name and brewing process). Not classy.
Overall 2 out of 5
Seventh, 471 IPA SMALL BATCH by Breckenridge Brewery, 9.2% ABV & 70 IBU $2.54 (the IBU was not listed on the bottle, I had to find it online)
Wow. On further introspection Breck really hit this one out of the park. There are things about this beer that are so well executed that it seems to not belong in the IPA category.
A word on strength, this was the most expensive and luxury level beer of the evening but for all of its strengths, it never seemed like much of an IPA to me. It has IPA elements but it was so much smoother and heavier than any of the other beers participating that it seemed to be on a playing field of its own.
If there is an award for sexiest printed bottle and this 471 totally takes the cake. There is excellent lacing from the frothy head and a warmth from the golden brown liquid. I felt like I was eating the Dagwood of beers. Its mythical like a unicorn but somehow not really an IPA at the same time. I will revisit this little gem in the future to see if there is something that I missed.
Overall 4 out of 5
Eighth (finally), INDIA PALE ALE by Odell Brewing Company, 7.0% ABV & 60 IBU $1.74 (the IBU was not listed on the bottle, I had to find it online)
I will admit that I have a bias here, I love the Odell IPA so much that before this little panel started I would have immediately claimed that they were the best thing on the block. Frankly, this is still true for me. Everything about this beer screams care and balance. The exact formula that makes me a dedicated consumer.
Its like alternating current bottled and sold. The parallel delivery of hops/sweetness/hops/sweetness totally leave your mouth satisfied and at the same time hungry, for more. There is an incredibly engaging texture and flavor that makes this brew not only hard to resist but hard to deny as a top level brew for a really decent price tag.
The bottle’s shape, wood block style artwork and total tasty delivery makes this beer the undisputed champ of my refrigerator. It may not take this position in yours, but that just means more for me.
Overall 4.5 out of 5
Thanks for sticking it out with me. I think next time I will only do six instead of eight because this was a lot of ground to cover.
Till next time,
Zach “still hungry/thirsty” Meyer
Photos (and fellow beer panel member) by Artist/Designer David Hilgier
Beers selected from the ever cool fridges at Total Beverage, Westminster Colorado.
IBU information was gathered from either the brewery’s official website or BeerTutor.com