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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

WE RETURN TO ONE OF OUR FAVORITES!


As I may have mentioned a time or two in the past, we at BOTB have a decided bias toward hoppy beers. The very first style of beer we reviewed, not surprisingly, was IPA (India PaleAle), a style noted for its generous use of that most fragrant and tastiest of flowers - the hop. I
n our most recent meeting we decided to revisit IPA's, only with a twist. We took a look at IPA's brewed east of the Mississippi (or East Coast IPA's). The beauty of this is we have left open the possibility, nay the necessity, of a West Coast IPA competition. Then perhaps a Northern IPA and a Southern IPA - with the winners of each region competing against each other. The possibilities make one delirious with anticipation!

This month we gathered at the Harrington Estate on a pleasant summer evening. All charter members were present. As befits such a night, the main course would be grilled and a repast o
f gastronomic delights awaited us. But first, the business at hand...

As usual, we choose a random selection of brews with the only caveat that it be brewed east of the Big Muddy and it could not be an Imperial IPA (just wouldn't be fair.) We don't prete
nd to have fairly or completely represented East Coast Breweries, but we tried to hit some we haven't included before. The contenders were (listed alphabetically):

Alexander Keith's English IPA - From Alexander Keith Brewery in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Hurricane Kitty IPA - From Keegan brewery in Kingston, NY.

Long Hammer IPA - Redhook Brewery - Although Redhook is located in the state of Washington (decidedly not the east coast) Long Hammer gets in on a technicality as one of its breweries - Portsmouth Brewery - is located in Portsmouth, NH.

Mike's Home Brew IPA - From Grindstone Brewery in Richland, NY.

Sly Fox Route 113 IPA - From Sly Fox Brewing, Phoenixville, PA.

Troeg's Pale Ale - Troeg Brewing Company, Harrisburg, PA.

Wagner Valley IPA - Wagner Winery and Brewery, Lodi, NY.

Victory Hop Devil Ale - Victory Brewing Company, Downington, PA.

How We Rated Them

We went back to our original method where we ranked the beers from 1 to 8. As we tasted we jotted down notes, paring it down to simply Aroma, Mouthfeel, and Taste. The quotes listed below are a conglomeration of these notes written in a sort of collective stream of consciousness style. It's interesting to see that virtually all of the brews have both positive and negative comments. In the end, as in with golf, the low number wins. Of course, as usual faithful reader, we were the true winners.

The Results


Number 8 - Alexander Keith's English IPA
This was an interesting one, because had the words "India Pale Ale" not been on the label, I would not have pegged it as an IPA. It lacked that distinctive hoppy kick that you expect from an IPA. ABV is 5%. Here are the comments:

Aroma - "A bit fruity; blooming flowers, flowery scent, earthy, light."

Mouthfeel - "Light; over-carbonated; dry; soda-like."
Taste - "Thin, light - but drinkable; pale ale - didn't make it to India; undertones of b
anana; not a lot of hop presence; little substance; somewhat bitter aftertaste."

Overall Impressions - "A good session beer; a hummingbird would love it; thin; wouldn't buy; not my favorite; doesn't really hit what I think of as IPA; little substance; not overly impressive; drinkable for guests!"

Number 7 - Mike's Home Brew IPA
Mike has boldly brought his own brew to compete in our Battles several times. It's a gutsy thing to do and we applaud him for it. I have, over the years, had the opportunity to try different home brews from various friends and relatives and more often than not, the experience is less than satisfying. Mike is the exception. Mike uses hops he grows himself (see above photo) and takes the whole brewing process very seriously. The whole BOTB gang eagerly an
ticipates Mike's next batch. This is the first time his has not come in among the top two or three. Still, it was a very good beer, as you'll see. ABV comes in around 6.5% or so.
Aroma - "Very little; big head but not a strong nose; complex; not distinctive."

Mouthfeel - "Velvety; bubbly; light; smooth; soft."

Taste - "Smooth, clean, thin; not enough hops; leans toward the malty side, hops comes forward toward the end; easy to drink; sweetish."

Overall Impressions - "Good head, balanced brew with more of a leaning towards malt - some coffee notes even; tasty, drinkable beer."
Number 6 -Long Hammer IPA from Redhook Brewery.

As I mentioned earlier, Redhook Brewery is located in Seattle, Washington. However they do have a brewery in NH and I would assume that any of their beers which we get around here are produced there. It weighs in at 6.5% ABV.
Aroma - "A bit hoppy, not much; citrus hops with bready undertones; yeasty."
Mouthfeel - "Hoppy taste on side of tongue; slightly over-carbonated; smooth mildly
carbonated; light."

Taste - "A little bitter; good balance; middle-of-the-road hoppiness for an IPA; small back end flavor; sweetly refreshing."

Overall Impressions - "Nothing to write home about; good, pleasing - nice bitter aftertaste; smooth; nice bitter finish; light with a slightly hoppy kick, very drinkable."

Number 5 - Troegs Pale Ale
Okay, technically a Pale Ale (5.4% ABV), but Toegs is generally not stingy with the hops and they didn't really have an IPA per se, so...
Aroma - "Fruit - citrus; spices and citrus; fruity nose."

Mouthfeel - "Initial citrus taste, Blue Moon-like; nothing to dislike here; flavorf
ul." (Okay, most of this fits in with taste more than mouthfeel, but I'm just reporting the facts, ma'am.)
Taste - "Balanced between bitter and citrus; like a Blue Moon but not balanced; good-hoppy; nice bitterness with a grapefruit-citrusy hops kick; flavorful with a clean finish."

Overall Impressions - "Very easy to drink; I like it; would buy; nice balance again - very noticeable hops, nice citrus hops; a keeper; great flavor, satisfying fullness; good for friends."

Number 4 - Hurricane Kitty from Keegan Brewing

Keegan Brewery produces just three beers: Hurricane Kitty is their IPA, they also have Capital Ale and Mother's Milk, a milk stout. Judging by the IPA, I am anxious to try the other tw
o. The ABV on this is 5.5%

Aroma - "Hoppy, smells of hops; spicy; nice nose; hopalicious."

Mouthfeel - "Oh, so good; smooth; warming; Yes! Tongue pleasing."Taste - "Maybe a little spicy; nice residual taste; good balance; hoppy with more of an alcohol presence; nice solid bitterness; big early flavor, clean finish; delightfully heavy."

Overall Impressions - "Hammer time! I like it - would buy; the boldest so far, a real full-bodied beer; strong alcohol comes through - almost overpowering at times but in general very satisfying; nice bitter, nice beer, great drink."

Number 3 - Slyfox 113

Slyfox is one of the growing number of craft brewers who are selling their beers in cans as well as bottles. There are times when a can is just more convenient. Will we see someone go really retro and produce a can that requires a "church key" to open it? (Those of you under the age of 40 or so: that doesn't refer to a key to the church.) At 7% ABV and an IBU of 113, this one is the strongest of the bunch.

Aroma - "Hearty, definitely; earthy, nice earthy bitterness; fresh, firm smell."
Mouthfeel - "Strong, happy; smooth carbonation; warming; ale-like; satisfying fullness."

Taste - "Hearty, heavy, Yes!; Good balance, possibly not IPA; strong - deep full, earthy bitterness; yummy, very flavorful."
Overall Impressions - "Taste hangs on, stays with you; I like it; nice color; another really bold, full bodied brew; malty, complex; flavorful and delightful - could drink this all day."

Number 2 -Wagner Valley IPA
A very surprising second place winner since Wagner is noted more as a winery than brewery. This IPA tips the scales at 6% ABV.

Aroma - "Flowery; malty."
Taste - "Malty with hops; nice malty taste; thin; balanced; malty taste up front with a bitter aftertaste; nice balance; fir (?) flavor." Not really sure what that last one means.

Overall Impressions - Very balanced; capital beer; okay; balanced and drinkable - maltie
r than most IPA's; bold beer; very drinkable - alone or with someone."

Number 1 - Victory Brewing's HopDevil

Not a real surprise here. Victory produces some excellent beers and HopDevil is my personal favorite. HopDevil has garnered more than a few awards (other than our number one ranking, which they are free to use in their promotional material.) In 1998 it was "Malt Advocate"
magazine's Domestic Beer of the Year; in 2002 it was crowned the Champion American Beer in the Great British Beer Festival in London; and in 2008 it took the silver medal in the Australian Beer Awards. Using imported German 2-row malt and whole flower American hops, H
o
pDevil weighs in at a solid 6.7% ABV.
Here's what we thought of it...

Aroma - "Herbal, citrus; good, not too aromatic; malt."

Mouthfeel - "Smooth, lively; Okay, but not really smooth."

Taste - "Hoppy; strong citrus hops presence; nice bitterness; grapefruit hops flavor."

Overall Impressions - "Tada! Would buy; very good beer; a definite IPA; bold, tasty: not for the faint of heart; big beer; satisfying - need a cigarette."



-An interesting phenomenon was noted. Once the scores were posted and we began the important job of finishing off the
remaining beer, if was clear that there was a distinct difference with some of the beers when poured into a larger beer glass (as opposed to the s
maller sample glass). I for one was surprised at how the larger vessel seemed to affect some of the beers. Some which I had not scored terribly high just seemed much better, much fuller, in the larger glass. I might have expected the aroma to be affected, but not so much the taste. But the truth was there was a distinct difference. Very interesting. (Didn't help Alexander Keith much, though. Really is mislabeled. Should be a golden ale or something.)

-Part of the fun of traveling around the country is seeing the growth of craft beers in areas where you would have been hard pressed to find any just a few years ago. We recently
returned from Phoenix, AZ to visit our son and daughter-in-law. While there we took a
weekend trip to Flagstaff and then the Grand Canyon. We had a great time and I began to notice that we could get a good craft beer in pretty much any bar or restaurant we entered. When we were last there only a couple of years ago, that was not the case. I was able to sample some of the brews from a couple of the Arizona Breweries.
The Grand Canyon Brewing Company is located in Williams, AZ. We found their beers widely available at bars and restaurants as well as in grocery stores throughout our travels. They produce six beers on a regular basis: Sunset Amber Ale, American Pilsner, Horseshoe Bend pale Ale, Raspberry Wheat, White Water Wheat, and Starry Night Stout. I was able to sample the first three.

American Pilsner - I found this to be light golden in color with a full head and good lacing. It was a pretty typical Pilsner in that it was light with a hint of Saaz hops. Somewhat balanced, though it tended toward a lighter malt. A decent beer, though it would not be my first choice.

Sunset Amber Ale - Again a nice head and good lacing. A nice creamy malty taste. Not real strong on the hops. A nice session beer.

Horseshoe Bend Pale Ale - Ditto on the head and lacing. This one had a nice flowery hops aroma that jumped out at you right away. There was a very distinct hoppy bite right off, though the hop presence was not  overpowering by any stretch. Again, a balanced brew. This was the best of the three in my opinion.


Four Peaks is out of Tempe. I had the opportunity to try their Hop Knot, Kilt Lifter Scottish Style Ale, and their Oatmeal Stout. They produce quite an array of beers. Unfortunately, once out of Tempe it was difficult to find them.

Hop Knot IPA - Really good beer. Nice strong hops kick to it. I liked this a lot. 6.5% ABV.

Kilt Lifter Scottish Style Ale - 6% ABV. Another good one. More malt that hops as you would imagine, but it was a tasty brew just the same.

Oatmeal Stout - This was very much like a typical Irish Stout - low carbonation, pitch black in color. Had definite coffee and chocolate notes in there. Very smooth.

WHERE'S DAN?

Our version of "Where's Waldo?" Dan's "Beer-dar" (Beer Radar) has come through for him again. What city?

CHEAP BEER THAT DOESN'T SUCK

Alright, so I'm damning with faint praise here, but seriously - $2.99 a six-pack! The beer is called Mountain Brew Ice Beer. It's brewed by Genesee Brewing Company out of Rochester, NY. I saw this in a local Stewarts convenience store and the price made me do a double-take. I think a case went for $10.99. Anyhow, on a whim I picked up a sixer, fully expecting a fairly tasteless lager. Now granted my expectations were considerably lowered, but I tried to keep an open mind. The first thing that surprised me was the pour. A full, thick head sat atop a brew slightly darker than your typical lager. And there was more flavor as well. Don't expect much in the way of hops, but there's a decent malt presence with a hint of a spice of some sort. Arguably it's the best beer you can get for $2.99 a sixer.



UPCOMING EVENTS!!!
- Saturday September 25th - Boat Beers! Charter member reviews. 

- October 24th - Join us for our bar party. Details: Buy your own drinks and Uno's will supply free appetizers. And our charter members will supply sparkling conversation. RSVP ASAP so we can give Uno's a number. Reply to our gmail account (battleofthebeers@gmail.com) by October 15th.
See you there!

- November 17th - At Syracuse Suds Factory - Jazz night featuring Oswego Jazz Project. www.oswegojazzproject.com



Sláinte,
The BOTB Guys