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Double Feature: Documenting IPAs

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I recently lamented my lack of double feature posts, a fault more of circumstance than anything else. I've been drinking more of a variety (which does not always lend itself to the comparative nature of double features), and some styles just don't lend themselves to this type of post. One style that's always been a boon to double features is the IPA. It's a style of tremendous variety, yet you can often come away from drinking one particular example feeling that it tasted kinda the same as any other IPA. So pitting two examples of the style against one another and comparing the differences has always been illuminating. This double feature was a bit odd, for a few reasons. By total coincidence, they were both 7.2% ABV, lending a nice sense of stability to the proceedings. But then, one of the beers tasted nothing like an IPA, despite being labeled as such.

To match with my beers, I undertook a filmic double feature of two Errol Morris documentaries. Gates of Heaven was Morris's first film, and it's one of those documentaries that proves that you can make almost any subject interesting. It follows the ins-and-outs of pet cemeteries, including the folks that run them and the people who have opted to bury their pets there. It's not quite riveting, and there is a sorta low-budget, bare-bones vibe to the production, but Morris is able to glean a lot of interesting stuff from an obscure subject. Morris' latest film is Tabloid, a bizarre tale of a former beauty queen who is charged with kidnapping a Mormon missionary. It's an amazing story, pure tabloid gold, but told in a way that made me think a lot about the nature of media and how stories can unfold in the news. I won't ruin it, but there are many revelations and the old British tabloid reporters are an absolute riot (one of them particularly loves the phrase "spread eagle", even verbing it at one point). Certainly one of the best films of 2011 (so far) and highly recommended. Now, onto the beers:

Troegs Scratch 49

Tröegs Scratch Beer 49 (Fresh Hop IPA) - This is from Tröegs's experimental series of small batches where they are able to play with strange ingredients or non-traditional brewing techniques. In this particular case, we've got a Fresh Hop IPA. Also known as a Wet Hop beer, this is basically a style that utilizes hops that were picked within 24 hours of brewing the beer. Most hops are dried, concentrating and preserving the various flavors and aromas. They're often processed even further into pellets or plugs, which generally helps preserve their potency. But a lot of breweries will ask their local hop providers for some fresh hops so that they can brew something with them, and thus we get fresh hop beers. They're also called wet hop beers because their water content is 80-90% of their total weight (these will go bad if you don't dry them out or use them right away). I've actually had a few fresh hop beers this year, and there is something different about them, though I'm not entirely sure I could pick them out of a lineup.

This one pours a clear golden color with a finger of white head. Smells fantastic. Very citrusy sweet, with a twang of something else in there. Perhaps an earthy herbal or medicinal aroma, but in a good way, and it becomes more prominent as the beer warms up. Whatever it is, it comes out in full force in the taste. Much less citrus in the taste, which heavily favors an earthy or maybe grassy bitterness, especially in the finish and aftertaste. Mouthfeel is somewhere around light or medium body. Just enough body that it isn't quite quenching, but not so much as to be a heavy sipper either. Overall, a decent beer. Nothing I'd go crazy for, but it is very different from your typical IPA, which is certainly a plus. B

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/4/11.

A solid beer, but like a lot of offerings from Tröegs, it didn't blow me away. I thus turned to my local, hometown brewers' latest creation:

Boxcar India Pale Ale

Boxcar Brewing India Pale Ale - Pours a darkish golden orange color with a finger or so of bubbly white head. Aroma is musty and just a bit spicy (you can really tell they used a Belgian yeast with this), with not very much of an earthy hop aroma and maybe just a hint of citrus (but you have to look for it). Taste is very sweet and spicy, with a little fruitiness and a nice dry finish. Again, very little hop character or bitterness here, at least, nothing like an IPA. Mouthfeel is quite nice, very well carbonated, a little of that harsh Belgian feel (which I always enjoy). Overall, it's a very nice beer, but it's not really an IPA, which makes it hard to rate. Ultimately, I really enjoyed it, so I'll give it a B, but it should probably be marketed as more of a Belgian Pale Ale (or even a Belgian Strong Pale)...

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/4/11.

The Boxcar beer kinda threw me for a loop. I feel like the lone review on Beer Advocate is pretty unfair, as it's a D+. When you read the review, it seems he's docking points because it's not really an IPA. It's a fair criticism, but then the rating says under it "Avoid", which is pretty unfair, as it's a pretty good beer. I agree that it's not really an IPA, but I don't really know how that should play into its rating. It seems more like a criticism of the branding or marketing of the beer than the beer itself. But on the other hand, it's branded/marketed wrong! Weird. I suppose I should also disclose that this is an uber-local brewery (right down the street from me, basically in the dude's garage), and I'm a total homer, so I'm inclined to cut them some slack. But I suppose if you're really looking forward to an IPA and you open this, you'd be in for a big surprise. What say you?

Baby Tree

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So this beer is labeled as a Quadrupel. I've written about a few Quads on the blog, but I've never really written much about the style, instead just referring to it as "mildly mystifying", which is certainly true (I've also said it's a brew "which is like, 4 times better than regular beer, right?"). It's usually referred to as a style of Trappist origin, though obviously lots of non-Trappist brewers make beers in the style. Beer Advocate describes the style thusly:

Inspired by the Trappist brewers of Belgium, a Quadrupel is a Belgian style ale of great strength with bolder flavor compared to its Dubbel and Tripel sister styles. Typically a dark creation that ranges within the deep red, brown and garnet hues. Full bodied with a rich malty palate. Phenols are usually at a moderate level. Sweet with a low bitterness yet a well perceived alcohol.
What's more, BA lists about 150+ examples of the style, including heavyweights like Rochefort 10, Westvleteren 12, and St. Bernardus Abt 12. The weird thing about the style, though, is that it seems to date back to... 1991. That's the year Koningshoeven (known to us Yanks these days as La Trappe), the only non-Belgian Trappist brewery, supposedly coined the term Quadrupel. The sourcing is somewhat vague about this. My meager collection of beer books has very little to say about the style. In Brew Like a Monk, Stan Hieronymus refers to it as a "style that's not quite a style." With the help of google books, I see a reference in The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer that says La Trappe/Koningshoeven's Quad is "the beer that supposedly coined the Quadrupel name." (Curious, that. While Quads are indeed very strong, I was not aware that they had gained the power of speech and were coining controversial style terminology.) Notorious beer history wonk Martyn Cornell takes a more measured approach:

[Koningshoeven] made Dubbel and Tripel for a long time and has "reinvented" (Tim Webb) the terms Enkel and Quadrupel to extend its beer range at either end of the strength scale. The terms double and single for different strengths of beer were used across Northern Europe: the three commonest styles of Swedish beer before the middle of the 19th century, for example, were dubbelt öl, or double ale, enkelt öl, or single ale, and svagöl, "weak ale".
From a common sense point of view, it seems wise to acknowledge that the term "Quadruple" (and various fancy/foreign spellings of such) could have been applied to various strong beers for a long time. But it does indeed appear that Koningshoeven has succeeded in reinventing the term, as when people talk about a Quadrupel these days, they're generally referring to the style that Koningshoeven began to brew in 1991. Of course, that does little to explain why this is a distinct and separate style from, say, a Belgian Strong Dark Ale. Indeed, the BJCP doesn't list Quads as a style, instead classifying them under Belgian Strong Ales or Belgian Specialty Ales. Ah, the joys of pedantic style debates. Well, enough of that, let's drink some Baby Tree, a particularly good example of the style:


Pretty Things Baby Tree

Pretty Things Baby Tree - Pours a beautiful dark amber brown color with just a bit of head that seems to persist reasonably well. The aroma is filled with dark fruitiness and sweet malts. The taste is bursting with dark fruit (apparently plums), with just a bit of spiciness to offset it. Extremely well balanced taste (generally the hallmark of a great beer for me). The mouthfeel is rich and full bodied but very smooth, making this extremely easy to drink (especially for a 9% ABV beer!) I suppose it could be a bit of a sipper... if I wasn't gulping the stuff down so quickly because it's so smooth and full of awesome. In reality, 9% is actually rather low for this style that isn't a style, so I guess that makes a sort of sense. Whatever the case, the alcohol is hidden really well, and this is just an all around fantastic beer. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a goblet on 10/29/11. Bottled June 2011.

Pretty Things (another of them newfangled "gypsy brewers") are now on the list of breweries where I'll need to seek out more of their stuff. And naturally, I want to get me some more of this particular beer as well. As for other Quads, I will say that it's among my favorite styles, so expect to see some more of them (or, at least, Belgian Strong Darks, which seem to be popular this time of year). I think I may even have a line on a bottle of the fabled Westy 12!

Jester King Wytchmaker Rye IPA

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During my recent trip to Austin, I actually stopped at a grocery store to pick up a couple of beers to smuggle back home. I've never done this before, so I was a little worried about confiscation or broken bottles. So I put the bottles in ziploc bags, wrapped them in clothing and made sure they were in the middle of my bag. Fortunately, it all worked out in the end, and I got me some Texas beer:

Jester King Wytchmaker Rye IPA

Jester King Wytchmaker Rye IPA - Jester King is a pretty small brewery based in Austin, TX, but they've been making a name for themselves with their big imperial stout and some barrel-aged offerings (and bitchin' label designs). They've also been in the news lately for trying to fight Texas' asinine beer laws (ever see a sentence on a lager that says "ale in TX"? That's because Texas law requires brewers to call lagers above 4% ABV an ale - i.e. Texas law requires brewers to lie about their beer. And that's just one example.) This beer is a relatively straightforward beer, except for the inclusion of Rye in the recipe. I've had a few beers with Rye, but I can't say as though I have a really good palate for picking it out. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this beer muchly...

Pours a very pretty dark amberish orange color with tons of slowly disappearing head (seriously, took forever for it to go away) that leaves copious lacing as I drink. Smell is filled with sugary sweet hoppy aromas. Typical citrus and pine here, but also something else, perhaps that rye? Taste starts sweet, with a nice, well balanced bitterness coming in towards the finish. Not quite refreshing, but it's not extreme either. Mouthfeel is extremely smooth and compulsively drinkable. Overall, a really nice IPA with well matched flavors. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/22/11. Hops: Warrior, Cascade, Centennial, Amarillo, Simcoe. O.G.: 1.062.

Certainly a good first impression and a favorable rating amongst the various Texas breweries I became acquainted with during my vacation. Here's to hoping they get distribution up here in PA someday. Hey, Jester King? We have horrible beer laws too! You should send beer up here so that we can commiserate together...

Novembeer Club

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Another month, another beer club! For the uninitiated, beer club is just a monthly gathering of friends from work for dinner and, of course, lots of beer (and often other alcoholic wonders). We had an average turnout, but still lots of fun and we had so much beer that we couldn't even get to all of it... A transitional period in terms of seasonal beers. Some leftover fall seasonals, some holiday beers, but the majority of beers were regular offerings:

beerclub-nov11.jpg
(Click for bigger image)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we tried are below. As usual, conditions were not ideal, so take it all with a grain of salt. Or as sacred scripture (as I'm sure you do with all my other posts). The choice is yours. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the picture):

  • Tröegs DreamWeaver Wheat - A very solid Hefeweizen from semi-local Tröegs. I've actually had this a few times before, but there's nothing particularly unique about it. A really nice example of the style though. B
  • Amager Julebryg 2008 - Dark color, with a wonderful aroma that is filled with crystal malts and caramel flavors (and maybe some subtle spicing). Taste is a little more roasty than I was expecting from the nose, with some coffee and maybe a little chocolate apparent. Full bodied but smooth, a really nice beer. It feels more like a solid stout than a holiday beer, but it's good either way (Beer Advocate calls it a dubbel, which sorta fits, but I probably wouldn't have guessed that from the beer itself). The bottle sez it was spiced, and it was certainly complex, but nothing particularly stood out (this is actually a good thing). Brewer Amager warrants further exploration. B+
  • Guinness Black Lager - This feels like a more crisp, carbonated version of Guinness' famous dry stout with less roastiness. It's an easy drinking beer, but the flavor seems oddly muted (perhaps because of the other brews of the night). Nothing wrong with it, but not a particularly special beer either. C+
  • Abita Turbodog - A great name for a beer that turns out to be a standard brown ale. Certainly nothing wrong with it and a solid example of the style, but not particularly special either. B-
  • Wychwood King Goblin - According to the bottle, this beer is only brewed under a full moon. It's got that typical Wychwood style label which is fantastic. Unfortunately, the beer doesn't quite live up to the branding. Lots of head and perhaps as a consequence, a little too light on the carbonation. Not quite flat, but it wasn't a good mouthfeel at all. Taste was hoppy, but not in the typical American pale ale way - perhaps this is more of an English pale ale (BA has it pegged as an English Strong Ale). Not a horrible beer, but not something that I could really connect with either. I don't know, Wychwood beers seem to be hitting me the wrong way lately... C
  • Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale - An interesting example of the style as it seems to emphasize the pumpkin more than the spices (which are still there, but not anywhere near as prevalent as they typically are in pumpkin ales). Smooth, tasty, and easy to drink. Nothing revelatory, but a good example of the style. B
  • Ommegang Cup O Kyndnes - One of my contributions for the night, this is a really interesting combination. Basically a Scotch ale brewed with Belgian yeast, it features the hallmarks of both styles. Unlike a lot of style mixtures, I think these two styles complement each other well. Very sweet and malty, with that typical Belgian yeast character coming out in a prominent way. I actually have another bottle of this sitting around, so look for a full review at some point...
  • Fegley's Brew Works Rude Elf's Reserve - Another beer I'll probably review separately, but I will say that this is a hugely alcoholic (10.5% ABV) spiced beer. Kinda like an overspiced pumpkin beer without any pumpkin (I had one of these earlier, along with a pumpkin ale, and found this one sharing a lot of the pumpkin spices)... Look for a separate review sometime this holiday season...
  • Dana's Homebrewed Dubbel - A nice dubbel style beer, only recently bottled, so it could probably use some more time to condition, but it's still pretty good. Nice traditional Belgian yeast character with a medium body. Easy to drink.
We didn't get to try a few of the beers in the picture, including Troegenator, Hoptober, and Amish Four Grain Pale Ale. All in all, another successful outing for the beer club. I'm already looking forward to the next installment, as we will most likely be drinking all Holiday beers (aka, my favorite seasonals).

Damnation

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Damnation. No relation. Heh. Seriously, though, this is the bigger sister beer to Russian River's Redemption (a light Belgian Pale "single" or "Patersbier"). Russian River is famous for their crazy barrel aging and sour beer experiments, but this is just a good old-fashioned Belgian Strong Pale Ale. Don't let that fool you, though, as this is one fantastic beer. I've actually had it several times before, both in the bottle and on tap, and I've always loved it.

Russian River Damnation

Russian River Damnation - Pours a slightly cloudy light golden color with a finger of white head. Aroma is full of Belgian yeast spiciness and plenty of citrus, maybe even some lemony sweetness. Taste has lots of sweet malts along with typical Belgian spiciness and again, an almost lemony sweet twang. Not exactly tart, but it's there. Exceptionally well balanced flavors here. Complex, but no one element is overwhelming. Mouthfeel is on the light to medium side, which is interesting considering the strength of the brew. Perhaps if I didn't wait so long to open this sucker, the carbonation would have been a little stronger (not that this is bad or inappropriate, just different than I remember from previous tastings). Overall, it's a fantastic brew. I've had this several times before, and will most likely have it again. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.75% ABV bottled (375 ml mini-magnum, caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass. Batch #60, brewed 7/9/2010, bottled 8/5/2010, and drank on 10/1/11.

Normally I would say that Russian River continues to impress, but I'm pretty sure that Damnation was actually the first Russian River beer I was ever able to get a hold of a couple years ago. It turns out that this is one of the easiest to find RR beers in the area (heck, my local Wegmans usually has some of this in stock), and it's also relatively cheap (for a RR beer). Well worth trying out if you ever get a chance. I continue to devour whatever RR beer I can find, though at this point, I think I've managed to get my hands on most of the popular varieties (I think Salvation will be next on my list)...

Allagash Big Little Beer

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For Beer Advocate's Belgian Beer Fest, the Allagash folks apparently collaborated with the hallowed Alström Bros to create two beers. First was Little Big Beer, a funky 10.5% wild ale. Then, using the second runnings of the Little Big beer, they made Big Little Beer. This one turned out to be more like a straightforward Abbey single. At least, on paper, that's what it looks like. But damn, this thing turned out to be quite flavorful, almost like a Tripel without the alcohol:

Allagash Big Little Beer

Allagash Big Little Beer - Pours a very cloudy golden color with a finger of creamy white head. I actually didn't pick up a ton in the nose (I'm assuming that's more a function of the full glass and bar atmosphere than the beer), but it did have a typical Belgian yeast aroma. Musty and spicy. The taste, though, is very powerful. Full of spice and fruity citrus, almost perfectly balanced with a nice dry finish. The mouthfeel is light, refreshing, and compulsively drinkable, with that perfect dry finish. The amazing thing about this beer is that it seemingly packs the flavor of a Tripel (or at least a Belgian Strong Pale) into a very lightweight beer. At 5.5%, I would have expected this to be much less flavorful, but it's now obvious why it's called Big Little Beer. A

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a goblet on 10/8/11.

I totally lucked out in finding this beer. It just happened to be on tap when I went to dinner (though, granted, I went to the Station Taproom, which always has an interesting selection). According to Greg, Allagash is considering making this a year round brew, but I'm guessing that's just wishful thinking (I would totally buy tons of this stuff if it was readily available though, so if Allagash is reading this, please go for it). Greg's also got some additional details about the recipe used for Big Little Beer, in case you're interested...


Hop'solutely

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Ah, the delicious world of hop puns. I know lots of folks hate puns, but I always get a kick out of them, even though they're dreadfully overused, especially with respect to IPAs and hop puns. Smooth Hoperator, Hopacalypse Now, Hoptical Illusion, Black Hop Down (for an American Black Ale), Hoptimus Prime, Modus Hoperandi, Tricerahops, Hoptober, Hoppy Ending, Hopzilla, Secret Hoperative, Hopular Mechanics, Hopencrantz and Gilderhops are Hops, by Tom Hoppard and ok, fine, some of those are made up by people who hate hop puns, but most of them are actual beers. Ultimately, the only thing that really matters is how the beer tastes, so let's get to it, shall we:

Fegleys Brew Works Hop-solutely

Fegley's Brew Works Hop'solutely - Billing itself a "triple" IPA, this 11.5% ABV monster isn't exactly sporting my favorite hop pun, but again, it's what's in the bottle that counts, not what's on the label. Local beer critic Joe Sixpack actually named this his 2010 beer of the year, saying "Is Hop'solutely as good as Pliny the Younger? In a word, yes." Pliny the Younger is, of course, the other "triple" IPA - the exceedingly rare big brother of Russian River's Pliny the Elder. The general consensus is that both of the Pliny beers are among the best in the world, but there are always contrarians who will argue otherwise. And in the case of the Younger, a beer I've never had, I have to wonder if its rarity is part of the reason it gets ranked so highly. Well, my bottle of Hop'solutely was actually sitting on my shelf longer than it probably should have. I don't know if there's any substance to the notion that a caged and corked IPA degrades faster than a capped bottle, but if so, this one probably aged more than it should have. It almost certainly lost some of its hoppy character. But on the other hand, at 11.5%, it should be able to stand up to some longer-term aging. Well, regardless, here was my initial reaction:

Pours a dark gold color with a finger of white head that leaves lots of lacing as I drink. Smells nice and hoppy - pine, citrus, caramel and booze are prominent. There's even some earthy floral notes in the aroma as well. As it warms, the hoppiness fades a bit, but it still smells great. The taste is very sweet, nice flavor from the caramel malts, some citrusy notes, and just a little bitterness. Oh, and lots of booze in the finish, lasting through aftertaste. As it warms, that booze takes on an even more prominent position... A really nice warming effect coming from the alcohol. Mouthfeel is very heavy, almost chewy, but it remains smooth. Just a bit of stickiness in the finish. This is powerful stuff. Not quite a sipping beer, but not really something you want to gulp down quickly either. Overall, it's quite a good beer. I would really like to try this again when it's fresher, as the bottle I had was sitting around for a while. I'll give it a B+ for now, but I suspect it could be higher depending on my mood...

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on... um... sometime in early/mid September. I.B.U.: 100+. Hops: Cascade, CTZ, Summit, Amarillo and Chinook hops. Dry hopped with Chinook and Amarillo.

Someday, perhaps, I'll do a double feature of Pliny the Younger and Hop'solutely, declare a winner, then pass out because I'll be totally shitfaced. Speaking of double features, I haven't done one in quite a while. I'm not sure why this is, but I may have to rectify this grievous oversight this weekend.

Stoudt's Stout

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Sometimes I forget just how awesome the state of Pennsylvania is in the beer world. Oh sure, our liquor laws are absurd and draconian, but we have an amazing variety of brewers in this state, and especially in the Philadelphia area. Stoudts is out near Reading, about an hour and a half from here, which is close enough for me. I've had a few of their flagship beers before, but nothing that ever really blew me away. So I figured I should try out one of their bigger beers, an Imperial Oatmeal Stout:

Stoudts Fat Dog

Stoudt's Fat Dog - Pours an opaque black color with a small tan head. Smells of roasted malts and coffee, with perhaps a touch of sweetness. The roastiness is more subdued in the taste (something I like) and a subtle chocolaty flavor also emerges. Very sweet, but tempered by a well balanced dry bitterness in the finish. Full body, lots of carbonation, and a well balanced alcohol character. Overall, a very well crafted beer, but not something I see myself seeking out on a regular basis. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip on 9/10/11.

And of course, on their website, they mention a bourbon barrel version that's no longer available. Thanks a lot, Stoudts! But then, they "just might have do it again", so there's still hope for us barrel-aged fanatics.

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