Free Markets, Free People

The golden nectar (Updated)

Apparently, I’ve been far too depressing. Fine. Forget the collapse of the dollar, hyperinflation, exploding debt, moribund economy, etc., etc. I mean, why be so down?  In the long run, we’re all dead, anyway, right? So why worry? Let’s talk about something we can all enjoy, then: Beer.

Actually, not beer, as such. I generally don’t drink plain old beer.  If you enjoy the watery, bland flavor of of your Michelob Light or Miller Genuine Draft, then knock yourself out.  I wouldn’t touch any of that stuff, though. I like to go deeper into the catalog, and enjoy the stout, the porter, and the fantastic subset of beer known as India Pale Ale, commonly known as IPA.  I’ve actually been on a tasting rotation of several different IPAs in the past few weeks, and I thought I’d jot down a few notes about them. And, living in what is probably the epicenter of craft brewing in the United States, I have lots of choices.

Stone IPA

Stone Brewery, which is conveniently located several blocks from my house, has an excellent reputation, and they have some great products, particularly the Imperial Russian Stout, and the Oatmeal Chocolate stout. and they’re probably best known for their Arrogant Bastard Ale.  You’d expect the Stone IPA to be similarly enjoyable, but…I dunno.  It really seems like a bland and uninspired IPA to me.  It has just enough hoppy bitterness to be an IPA, but considering the premium price, and the quality of Stone’s other offerings, it should be better.  There’s literally nothing about the Stone IPA that sets it apart.

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA

Ballast Point is another San Diego brewery, and the Sculpin IPA is very hard to find.  If you do find it, I suggest you grab all of it you can, as it’s produced in small batches, and anything other than the 22oz singles are hard to find. As are the 22oz singles. This is a very complex IPA. The hoppy bitterness has a hint of pine, and the finish is complex and spicy. This is an recognizable IPA in flavor, but with lots of extra complexity and character at the finish. Highly recommended, if you can find it.

Widmer Brothers X-114 IPA

Widmer is just now getting into IPA brewing, and are starting off a "Rotator Series" IPA which will eventually consist of four different IPAs.  The first release is the X-114 IPA.  I imagine that the primary motive for brewing this was the thought, "You want hops? You want bitterness? Then stand by!"  This is a very bold IPA.  The nose is very redolent of pine, as is the taste. It’s just pure hops. I call it "Christmas Ale" because that’s what it reminds me of.  It’s the smell of a clean house with fresh Christmas tree in the living room. The flavor is similarly crisp. I’d say you really have to love a bitter, hoppy ale to enjoy this, but if you do, this is the one for you. [UPDATE: I had another one after writing this post. This is an enjoyable brew if you're an IPA fan, but if you're just starting on IPA, you should stay away from it. It really has a strong character of hops, and newbies will find it far too astringent to enjoy.]

Sierra Nevada Torpedo Double IPA

This is one of the most balanced IPAs I’ve run across.  Everything about it is just good.  It’s not as complex as the Sculpin, and not as bitter as the X-114.  It’s balanced, crisp, and refreshing, without going overboard in any direction. It has a nice, clean nose of hops, and just enough bitterness to bite. There’s no single element of the Torpedo IPA that’s outstanding. Instead, all of the elements are in balance, resulting in a marvelous IPA that’s more bold than, say the Stone IPA, without being overpowering. If you can’t find the Sculpin—and you probably can’t—then the Torpedo Double IPA is equally good.

New Belgium Ranger IPA

Ranger IPA is very close to the Torpedo in fine balance, strong, but not overpowering bitterness, and a clean, hoppy nose.  I’d put it between the Stone IPA and the Torpedo for complexity of taste. At the same time, it seems lighter, crisper, and more refreshing than the Torpedo. It’s like an extra bitter summer ale.

And, finally, not an IPA…

Deschutes Obsidian Stout

This one is hard. Try it back to back with a Guinness (Extra Stout, not Draft), which is a dry stout, and you’ll hate it. Try it by itself, and you’ll love it. It’s an unusual stout, in that it has these flavors of malt and barley sweetness that the bitter hops overcomes at the finish. Lots of dark chocolate and coffee notes as well. It’s a much bolder stout than usual.  I wouldn’t use it as a refreshing summer drink, because it isn’t. This is a sipping stout that’s very robust and substantial. I’d think that you’d really need to be a porter or stout fan to truly enjoy this, as it’s definitely not an introductory brew. Also, it’s available no further east than TX.

New Belgium Summer Ale and New Belgium Fat Tire Ale

Both of these ales are very close in flavor. They are much more lightly hopped than an IPA, and both have a fuller, more malty hint of sweetness in taste.  The Summer Ale, however is a bit lighter, and crisper, and is an excellent, refreshing hot-weather beverage. Both are very good pale ales. I was drinking the Summer Ale a few weeks ago when we were having a heat wave here. You can drink it like water, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that, unless you don’t need to operate heavy machinery. Or stand up.

I went to BevMo this weekend, and picked up a couple of six-packs of some British imports: Fuller’s London Porter and Extra Special Bitter and Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout, so I’ll be trying those out for the next several days. I’ll let you know how that goes. I’m especially keen to try the Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout.  This is the original modern oatmeal stout. First brewed in the 1750’s, Smith’s produced it until after WWII.  They resurrected this type of stout in 1980, and were quickly followed by others in the UK and US.

UPDATE

I put the two different bottles of Fuller’s in the fridge this afternoon, and I couldn’t wait to taste it this evening.

Fuller’s ESB (Extra Special Bitter)

It pours a dark amber, with a thin, tan head. The nose is filled with hints of apricot and dried fruit. The taste comes on with a very slight hint of bitterness that is quickly overcome by a full malt flavor with hints of toffee and caramel, and finishes with a taste of whole-wheat bread sweetness. it’s got slightly more carbonation than I remember from pub draft bitter in the UK, which is only to be expected from the bottle, which dissipates after the glass has been sitting for a few minutes. Other than that, it’s very much in the tradition of a draft pub bitter. Probably a good choice for people that find the bitterness of an IPA is too much, and prefer the milder, sweeter ales. Or people, like me, who just like to try different ales. Even The Lovely Christine, who hates beer, tasted this and pronounced it drinkable. It’s that good, and that mild.

Fuller’s London Porter

Oh. My. God. It pours black with a red flare.  Before you even sip it fills your nostrils with a strong essence of earth and wood smoke. The taste attacks with strong notes of coffee and chocolate and toast. And it finishes with the bitterness of roasted malts, rather than the astringency of hops, followed by sweet toffee aftertaste. It has a thick, substantial mouth feel, and is smooth and creamy. Under it all is this sweet, malty, richness. I’ve had a number of American "Smoked Porters", but nothing like this. The coffee and cocoa notes are so pronounced! It’s lightly carbonated. This is just absolutely fantastic. Rate My Beer gives this a perfect 100. Now I know why.

~
Dale Franks
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19 Responses to The golden nectar (Updated)

  • Next time at BevMo, check out Pilsner Urquell.
     

  • I can’t speak for it’s availability on the left coast, but St’ George’s brewery Russian Imperial Stout is very nice.

  • My current favorite IPA (and I pretty much only drink IPA) is Ranger, from New Belgium Brewing Company (same guys who make Fat Tire).

    If you can find it Noble IPA is the BEST I have had in a while (made with Noble Hops obviously). 

  • Happy to see you mention Deschutes Brewery. I live in Deschutes County and Bend has around 8 micro-breweries, I say around because more keep opening. Try 10 Barrel if you can find it.

    • I have a daughter…who presented me with a new granddaugter…living in Bend.  Beautiful area…but a LOOOONNNNGGG damn way from Texas, I must say!  Enjoyed by time there in June.

  • San Diego is probably the epicenter of the IPA today, but I’d say Colorado and Portland rival it for the general craft brewing title.
     
    Based on your description, of course, now I *have* to try the Widmer X-114.
     
    When is the SoCal blogger beer summit?  Do it in a homebrew-friendly establishment, and I’ll bring some of my own creations.

  • For IPAs, I would suggest trying Lagunitas. Their regular IPA is good, but they also have some super hoppy versions.
    I would also highly recommend their “Lil Sumpin” wheat ale and the seasonal “Lil Sumpin Wild”
    For Imperial Russian Stout, I would highly recommend North Coast Brewery’s “Rasputin”
     

    • I have heard that’s good, I haven’t run into it.  With the SG it has, I might be able to run <i>ON</i> it!

  • Anything I’ve tried from the Deschutes brewery is worth drinking.
    I highly recommend their Black Butt Porter, as well as Dale’s pick.
    I toured their very modern brewery in Bend just a few weeks ago, and was very impressed.
    If you can find it, which is doubtful, they also brew A Hop In The Dark, which was one of the hoppiest things I’ve ever tasted…including hops!!!

  • I loath IPA, never drank a good one yet. I do like some porters. I homebrewed my own porter, but you wouldnt like it, because I didn’t hop it up.  I just don’t like hoppy beers. and I always thought it silly that some people only think a beer is a real beer if it is so bitter it can be used as varnish.

  • Augh! The dreaded IPA.

    On one hand I should just shrug and say, “People like what bthey like. That’s cool.” However, there is a real sense in which the IPA craze has really damaged the quality of American craft brewing. 90% of what is coming onto the market tastes like an IPA, regardless of what the style is they claim to be making. I’m sorry but a “Scotch Ale” made with 15 pounds of hops is not a Scotch Ale. An “English style Brown Ale” that smells like a perfumery is not an English style Brown ale.

    It has gotten so bad I’ve basically stopped trying new craft beers and have been buying nothing but imports which still, for the most part, taste true to the advertised style.

    • One of my fav IPAs is Harpoon. They’ve been making it for at least 10 years, so it’s not a “craze” IPA. It’s well balanced and exhibits all the good characteristics of the brew in a very pleasing way.

      • C’mon Bruce! Where’s the logic there? It would be like someone saying “People were buying gold bullion in ancient times, therefore there is no gold buying craze today.”  Huh?

        I’m reading about IPA’s in my local paper (St. Paul Pioneer Press), and a solid 60-70% of the American craft beers in every liquor store within 20 miles of my home are IPA’s (or even more hop aggressive styles.) 

        Just today one can read of the <a href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/beer-makers-get-focused-one-variety-of-hops-at-a-time/2011/08/03/gIQAASrm4I_story.html”>new trend</a>: IPA’s made from a single variety of hop.

        And the economy tanking? Not if you are <a href=”http://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/36428/manufacturing-awards-2011-growth-food-beverage-lagunitas-brewing-sees-growth-accelerating/comment-page-1/”>brewing</a> admittedly “hops-heavy brews.”

        I’ll let this <a href=”http://www.mycentraljersey.com/article/20110727/NJLIFE07/307270010/Not-quite-an-immortal-beer>writer sum it up</a>:

        If there’s a single unifying cliche dominating the world of craft beer these days, it has to be the growing worship of hops.

        Some breweries don’t even seem to care what varieties of hops they use, or in what combinations, as long as they make sure to use a metric ton of them in every batch. Mediocre India Pale Ales fly off shelves everywhere, while excellent imperial stouts, pilsners and red ales languish for months. And don’t bother trying to think of a hop pun, because all of them already have been conjured up and copyrighted by breweries (although I will concede that some of them — Legacy’s Hoptimus Prime, Stoudts Smooth Hoperator, Sierra Nevada Hoptimum, for example — are pretty clever).
        It’s not as though I’m innocent of buying into the craze, though.

        So, the people who write about beer for a living have no problem calling it a craze.

        As I said before, people should drink what they want.  Still, I cant help wondering if I could sell some of these hop heads a $150,000 tulip.

  • The long-awaited beer thread!
     
    You’re lucky to live close to Stone, I have yet to make it there. Big fan of their IPA.
     
    I’ve been inspired in the last year and a half to start brewing my own. It’s reasonably easy if you follow a good set of instructions carefully, and you do get really fresh beer. This is a possible solution for those who don’t care for the IPA trend; always easier to brew to your own taste.
     
    If I’m buying, it’s usually Stone or Firestone Walker, a Paso Robles brewery that has a nice selection of beers (including Trader Joe’s house brands, which they brew under separate label) for a good price, usually $1/beer, which is not bad.