Six Days of I.P.A’s – A North American Hop Bomb Comparison
The infamous India Pale Ale has been a staple for many craft breweries since the modern beer revival over the last few decades. Although originating in England, North America has taken this style leaps and bounds, and changed the way the world views hops and bitterness. The idea behind this article was to look at various North American versions of the style and do a slight compare and contrast. I would love to say that I scoured the earth, looking for perfect specimens to taste and analyze, but I simply don’t have the means or the time for such an meticulous endeavor. That being said, I still wanted to choose good representations of the style, and I think I’ve managed to do so with the selections below, which could not have happened without help from my traveling friends. The bottles reviewed below are all from different locations throughout Canada and the US, and all have great ratings on various online craft beer sites. Some of these I have had several times, and some will be brand new for me. There is representation from Quebec, Ontario, B.C, Nova Scotia, Oregon, and California.
The history of the IPA begins in early 1700’s England. British troops located in India rightfully wanted some good English ale, but the problem was that whenever they attempted to ship it to them, it spoiled along the way. They eventually came up with the idea at adding a much higher level of hops, as well as a higher level of alcohol content. Hops being a natural preservative allowed the beer to last the entire voyage without going bad. This being a purely circumstantial and utilitarian creation meant that once the Indian occupation ended, so would this particular beers production. However, luckily for us, there was a ship wreck and some of the beer was then sold in England. People ended up loving it so much that the birth of the India Pale Ale became imminent. What’s also interesting about IPA’s is that although hops are a natural preservative, and will keep beer from going “bad,” their flavor diminishes quickly, making IPA’s the most time sensitive beer style. Always resist holding on to these gems for too long, because they simply don’t age well, becoming muted, and more bland versions of themselves over time.
The semantics surrounding the term IPA has changed a bit over time. As new beer styles emerge, and the love of hops continues to prevail, the term IPA, when attached to a beer, has pretty much become synonymous with “loads of hops”. There are English IPA’s, American IPA’s, Double IPA’s, Imperial IPA’s, Belgian IPA’s, and more recently, Black IPA’s, which is kind of an oxymoron given that a black beer is hardly a pale ale. This just pretty much sums of the fact that when the IPA moniker is added to a style, it basically just means a hoppier version of said style.
Microbrasserie Pit Caribou – I.P.A Americane
I figured I’d begin with home base – Quebec. Quebec produces some incredible and fantastic beer, and arguably the best in Canada, with some other provinces not too far behind. That being said, when it comes to IPA’s, we seem to kind of fall short. That’s not to say that there are not good examples of the style here, but certainly other provinces as well as the US produce more impressive specimens. Microbrasserie Pit Caribou is a brewery out of Gaspe. I’ve had several of their beers; they produce a lot of variations, and seem to experiment as well, which I appreciate. They call this one an American IPA. It pours out a foggy orange yellow color with a quickly dissipating head. A slight ring remains around the rim of the glass, like most IPA’s. Aromas of earthy freshly cut grass hit my senses, mixed with some fruitiness – particularly strawberries come to mind. There is a funkiness on the nose too, which is hard to pinpoint. It’s bitter, quite bitter! So much so that I’m having a hard time picking out the other flavors. This is not a bad thing; it can be, but not in this situation. There are tons of grapefruit, mixed with that earthy grassy-ness from the nose, quite dry, and as i said, exceptionally bitter. Mouthfeel is creamy, but still kind of light. Carbonation is on the lighter side, which is okay, but I tend to prefer a bit more. This is an excellent American inspired Quebec based IPA. One of the better produced in this province and hope to see this limited release again on the shelves.
Sierra Nevada – Torpedo Extra IPA
Next on my list here is an actual American IPA from the craft brewery, Sierra Nevada, located in Chico, California. They are considered pioneers in the craft brewing scene and have been making hop forward beer since 1980. I was lucky enough to have a friend bring me back this one from Vermont a few weeks back. At 7.2%, it falls somewhere in between and IPA and a Double IPA. It pours our a dark amber orange color with a nice half finger head that sticks around. The aroma is quite sweet, earthy, and funky. There is lots of citrus grapefruit in there as well. It’s fruity, with some funky, grass smells. The aromas on this one are relaxed, but quite nice, with a subtle and calm complexity. On the taste front, there are a lot of similarities to the nose. Lots of citrus flood the palate, with and abundance of grapefruit, orange, and fresh strawberries. Some sugars come out, but are perfectly balanced against the hop bitter bomb that cuts through everything. The alcohol is perfectly hidden on this one. There is a beautiful carbonation here, it tingles the tongue after each sip.
Rogue Ales – Yellow Snow IPA
Rogue Ales is a craft microbrewery located in Portland Oregon, and since the late 80’s, they have been producing forward thinking beer. In the past I reviewed a couple of their other fantastic offerings, click here to check it out. They have grown quite substantially and are currently one of the larger craft breweries in the states. Yellow Snow IPA pours out a foggy deep orange color with yellow highlights, and a nice one finger head that stays around, clinging to the sides of the glass rather nicely. Quite a sweet aroma, almost like almond cake. This leads into a lot of fruit; strawberries, oranges, and lemons in particular. As it settles I get a lot of the usual predominant hop aromas, like pine, grapefruit and earthy grass.
After taking the first sip, the perfect amount of sugars emerge, giving forth an exceptional, multilayered tropical fruitiness that’s quickly cut down harshly, by a massive bitterness that’s not for the faint of heart. Let’s say it’s like a can of five alive meets biting into a grapefruit with the peel still on it. Let’s also say that it’s actually nothing like that, by rather, utterly fantastic. Only my third beer from Rogue (sadly), but loving ever moment. The mouthfeel is quite thick with a creamy carbonation that’s not to over zealous. It went down smooth and easy considering how big and bitter this one was. Although I can’t put my finger on what exactly, I felt like this one went outside the box a little, and really impressed me. It had a flavorful richness to it, without being a “big beer,” which is not easy to do.
Garrison Brewing Company – Imperial IPA
Garrison is a craft brewery out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’ve had several form their line up, and everything I’ve tasted so far has been great. The first time I tried this one was last year, I bought a bottle at the LCBO when visiting some friends in Toronto. I didn’t think too much of it, but when I cracked it open, I was floored. At the time I hadn’t had to many “good,” big IPA’s, and this was something else. I made sure to find it again and I’ve been arguably holding on to this one a bit too long. In terms of BA (Beer Advocate) scores, this one rates pretty high and lands on the top 50 Canadian beers, which is great to see because the bulk that land on the list are from Quebec or BC. Garrison’s Imperial IPA pours out an nice red amber color with a pretty big, soapy head that quickly regressed down to a small frothy ring that stuck around the whole time. The aromas are incredibly sweet, with loads of red fruit – especially strawberries and cherries. Smells of caramel, toffee, and some mild earthy aromas come next, followed by lemon citrus and pine. It tastes somewhat sweet with lots of fruit – apples and strawberries in particular. Some grassy, earthy funk in there as well, but not as much as some of the other examples. There is a hefty bitterness here, but not over the top. It has a thick, creamy body, with a subtle carbonation. This IPA was more subdued then I recall, and I’m almost 100% sure it’s because I held onto it too long. That’s not to say it wasn’t very tasty, but it could have been better. Lesson learned once again – DON’T HOARD IPA’S!
Lakes of Muskoka Cottage Brewing – Twice as Mad Tom IPA
Lakes of Muskoka Cottage Brewing produces some of the better beers I have out of Ontario. I have had their Mad Tom IPA several times, and would have liked to review that one here as it is a closer comparison to the other one reviewed above. At 8.5% and being a Double IPA means that this one is in kind of a category on its own. That being said, it is still an IPA and should carry similar attributes.
This one pours out a clear, amber orange with a nice two finger head that reduces down quite a bit, but sticks around. Right away my nose is hit with an over the top, big citrus punch, with some earthy grassy funk and candied fruit, like apricots and strawberries in particular. As well on the nose, I am getting big ruby red grapefruit aromas, with strong caramel sweetness.
Quite sweet up front, with a lot of alcohol, and a zesty strong bitter finish. Quite fruity as well, with loads orange, grapefruit, and lemon zest. Some berries as well. This one is quite nice, there is a lot of big flavor going on here, but it all is cut by a heavy bitter finish. You can, however, really taste the boose on this one, but it is slightly masked by the huge hop character. The body is think, and slightly syrupy, which give a good creamy mouth feel.
Central City Brewing – Red Racer IPA
Central City Brewing is located in Surrey, British Columbia. They began in 2003 as a brew pub and have now grown substantially, being able to sell in various provinces throughout Canada. Their flagship beer, Red Racer IPA, is a west coast style India Pale Ale that I have had the pleasure of tasting several times. They recently started selling it regularly at the LCBO in Ontario, so I’ve been able to grab some here and there while visiting. As you can see from the photos, they come in these little cans, which can be a bit deceiving, because a lot of us have a misconception about quality beer not coming from a can. This is certainly not the case here, or even in general; beer from a can will stand the test of time better than a bottle, and as well does not allow for light damage. Rad Racer pours out a beautiful ruby red orange color with a good sized three finger head that disappears pretty fast. The aroma is intensely fruity and sweet; fresh raspberries come to mind, with lemonade, and other tart fruits. Lot of citrus on the nose as well, reminiscent of candies lemons and finishing with a big ruby red grapefruit punch. There is some minor yeast funk there as well, and no perceivable grassy earthy qualities like the other examples of this style.
Tastewise, my first experience is ruby red grapefruit juice, minus the sugars. There are lots of fruit in the there, apples and tropical fruits mostly. However, also a large citrus hop presence making itself known. There are some herbal hop flavors floating around in there a well. Just the right amount of alcohol comes out, which sits beautifully with the hoppy, bitter finish. A perfect subtle sweetness emerges to balance a hefty but not crazy bitter kick. Bitterness lingers on the tongue though, for quite a while, resting in the back of your mouth until the next sip. There is an almost medicinal soapiness to this one, which is hard to explain, but works with all the other flavors. The balance here is key, all the right levels, working together to make a perfect IPA. Every sip makes you want more. It has a creamy, medium bodied mouthfeel, with average carbonation.
So although I wanted to do a “compare & contrast” type thing, the last thing I wanted do is insult any beer, or even claim a “winner,” really. I enjoyed every one of these IPA’s, and encourage anyone who has the bitter bug inside them to seek any of these out. That being said, I did enjoy some more then others, but given the fact that this style of beers quality quickly diminishes over time, it’s hard to really be able to judge objectively unless you knew you had a bunch of fresh specimens. If I had to pick one of the bunch, I have to say that Red Racer IPA is probably the best IPA I’ve ever drank that didn’t come from a fresh keg or cask. That could soon change though, as I’ve finally had a chance to get a big load of beer brought to me from the states. T.J. Blinn, one my best friends and a guest writer on this blog just got back from a beer road trip and was kind enough to think of me. It will be the first time I really get to dive into the American IPA scene, and I’m pretty damn excited.