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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Harpoon, Eddy and Arizona Beer

Beer on the Run Con't
Arizona Redux

If Arizona has a state color, it has to be brown: amber, beige, buff, burnt sienna, chestnut, coffee, dust, ecru, fawn, henna, mahogany, ochre, russet, rust, sepia, sorrel, tan, terra-cotta, toast, umber. Multiple shades of brown - and Arizona has them all. The yards are brown, playgrounds are brown, the multitude of stucco buildings are brown. Arizona's mountains' majesty is not purple but brown. 

The landscape is the very definition of hardscrabble. It is rocks and dirt and spiky plants. If the cities of the Northeastern rust belt are known for their "mean streets" then the deserts of Arizona are the "mean plains." Life is harsh. Water is sparse.                      

 It's adapt or die.

But it is the contrast of the burnt earth with the brilliant blue sky that creates a dramatic, severe beauty that is the American Southwest.

So,after a quick and profitable (beer-wise) trip to Florida, we headed to the this arid land for a few weeks, just North of the Mexican border in the little town of Sierra Vista, Arizona. We were on a grand-kids sitting mission while our daughter and son-in-law flew to Korea to pick up their new son.

So while there, I thought I'd check out the state of craft beer in the state of Arizona.

Last time here I found a limited number of craft beers - primarily Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada. However, in just a short period of time, the choices have grown exponentially, especially in the local Safeway and Frys grocery stores (local restaurants for the most part have yet to fully embrace craft beers). Safeway particularly has a nice selection in their fairly extensive craft beer section. It's not up there with Wegman's, but it's decent. The biggest surprise was something called "Double Take." There was an Amber and an IPA. I immediately checked them out and to my surprise, found that the beers were brewed in Rochester, New York (about an hour west of the BOTB home base)! I picked up a six pack of Double Take IPA. The packaging shows a curvaceous blond with the slogan, "It's a Head Snapper" (you are free to infer any double entendre you wish). The price was quite reasonable at under $7.00 for the six pack. I also grabbed a sixer of O'Dell's India Pale Ale as well. 
Once back at the ranch I did a little Googling and found that Double Take is brewed by Genesee Brewing. While Genesee has been brewing its Dundee series for a few years now, most of those beers are not particularly hoppy, so I was a bit concerned. It poured a kind of honey-amber in color with a full, rich head. The piney hops aroma leaps out of the glass. Hops absolutely dominate this tasty West-Coast style IPA. Brewed with Chinook, Centennial, and Columbus hops, the brew weighs in at 6.9% ABV with a very impressive 70 IBU. Pale, Chrystal, and Wheat malts balance somewhat, but, really, this beer is all about the hops. Unfortunately, for some reason the beer is not available in the very state in which it is brewed! Genesee sells it through Safeway, Vons, Pavilions, and Carrs. Hey, Genesee, what gives? Wegmans?

O'Dell's IPA, from O'Dell Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado is  a more balanced beer than the Double Take. It's a tad bit stronger (7% vs 6.9%) but with less of a hop kick (60 IBU's vs. DT's 70). It's a clear honey gold in color with a nice head. It tends toward the more traditional English IPA brewed with American hops. It's a very smooth beer. Full flavored with a rich, malty backbone, nicely hopped.

But what about beer produced in Arizona? There are some good ones. Nimbus Brewery in Tucson has a nice bunch of brews. I was able to get hold of their Old Monkeyshine Strong Ale at a restaurant. Very nice beer. It's fairly potent at 8.2% ABV, yet you wouldn't know it. It's quite smooth with hints of raisin and dark fruit. Tasty.

Further north (we were down near the Mexican border) in Chandler is SanTan Brewery. I had a number of their beers - the best being their Devil's Ale (American pale ale), and their Hop Scotch IPA. Devil's Ale had won a gold in the GABF and Hop Scotch a silver. Both are excellent beers. Wish we could get hold of the IPA up our way.

Why Oh Why Gen X and Gen Y?

A recent article in USA Today on the craft brewing boom was quite interesting. It covers some of the points we mentioned previously concerning increasing sales and popularity of craft beers. The article then speculates on the causes of this increase. One theory proposed by Anheuser-Busch's vice president of marketing is that it is the Gen Y and GenXer's who are spearheading this growth. He feels that members of these groups are used to a lot more variety. Implied here is that the baby boomers are the ones who stick with the same old same old when it comes to beer. It seems an odd theory coming from A-B, the company whose concept of variety is to put the same basic beer in a variety of different containers. And if this is indeed the demographic driving the craft beer revolution, why do all of the Budweiser ads aim squarely at those age groups, ignoring the ones they consider their loyal consumers?

Personally I think the GenX/GenY argument is nonsense. It implies that after a certain age, say North of 50, everyone becomes hopelessly stuck in their ways and is unwilling to try anything new. I think it has little to do with age. There are those out there who seek out new and interesting experiences in food and drink at all ages. For years there was little for these people to choose from in American beer other than light lager and lighter lager. With the increasing availability of craft brews, they are discovering the joy of beer with real flavor. The bad news for A-B and the other mega-brewers is that once you develop a taste for good beer, there's no going back to the same old same old.

No matter what generation you're a part of - X'er, Y'er or Boomer.


Alas, I was not present for this particular meeting. We were, as I mentioned, in Arizona awaiting the arrival of our newest grandson. From the sounds of it, we missed a great meeting. At this time, therefore, I will turn the controls over to Ron, our peerless statistician and recorder of comments.

I'm of the belief that we just plain live right. For the umpteenth consecutive meeting, the weather was just beautiful for the latest Battle of the Beers tastings. The meeting was at our place in Pulaski. We were down a man, but we carried on.
As the heading indicates, the tastings this particular evening were mostly beers from Harpoon Brewery, which is located in Boston, Massachusetts. The samples Harpoon sent us were: Summer Beer, UFO, Rye IPA, IPA, Black IPA, Catamount Maple Wheat, Uber-Bock and Imperial IPA.
But before we get to these, a couple of shout-outs need to be acknowledged. Firstly, to Tom Stevens, who is a friend of Hal with a condo in the Grand Tetons. He sent a 12 pack of Grand Teton sampler. This included: Teton Ale (an amber), Howling Wolf (a weisse beer), Sweetgrass (American Pale Ale) and Bitch Creek (Extra Special Brown).  We didn't rate these, but enjoyed them prior to our official ratings. These are not available east of the Mississippi except to a distributor in Massachusetts and South Carolina. Although we didn't actuallly rate these samples, we did enjoy them and seemed to gravitate to the Sweetgrass.
A second shout-out goes to Leinenkugel, who sent us a sample of their Imperial IPA from their Big Eddy series. We did rate this after the Harpoons and the results will follow the main event.

Harpoon Summer Beer

Our meeting commenced with Harpoon's Summer Beer. This is a Kolsch style ale witha 5.0% ABV. It is available from April through August.

     Color: Pale yellow
     Pour: Decent head, fizzy and carbonated
     Aroma: Yeasty/bready
     Taste: Not much, a good lawn mower beer. Balanced - neither malty nor hoppy.
     Overall Impression: As would be expected - between "Can't stand it" and " I could drink this."
     Comments: "Good example of the style; A nice golf cart beer; Could be a boat beer; It's a good light summer beer; I would take this on a golf course before Coors Lite; It has a nice bitter, clean finish."

Harpoon UFO

     Rick's Notes: Thanks to Dan, I was able to sample some of the beers - including the Summer Beer. I felt it reminded me of a Pilsner - both in aroma and initial taste. Light, unoffensive beer. Best ice cold.

Our next beer, form Harpoon, was their UFO, a white unfiltered wheat beer. It has year-round availability in six-packs. It has an ABV of 4.8%.

     Color: nice looking, unfiiltered, cloudy, pale
     Pour: decent head, lasting lace
     Aroma: fruity, citrus
     Body: thin/light 
     Taste: sweet with notes of citrus, orange and spices
     Overall Impression: Midway ("I could drink this")
     Comments: "Mysterious translucency; Serve this really cold; I've tasted a lot worse; Light flavor and light malt; Not bad for a wheat beer; Similar to Blue Moon; Better than Circus Boy."

Harpoon's Rich and Dan's Rye IPA

Next on our agenda brought us a nice charge of hops, trying to overcome our deficit brought on by the first two samples. Harpoon makes a delicious Rye IPA, from the brewery's 100 Barrel Series. It has a 6.9% ABV and 70 IBU's.

      Color: honey
      Pour: Decent head with staying power, sort of an off-white foam
      Aroma: citrusy and piney hops
      Body: toward full/thick
      Taste: Very near bitter, hoppy
      Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough!
      Comments: "Oh my God, I could drink that!; The best I've had from Harpoon; It's better than their regular IPA; I used to keep Harpoon IPA in my fridge, but now I'll keep the Rye IPA; I want more of that."

      Rick's Notes: Excellent beer! Nice hops punch. Even though this is a hops forward brew, there is a nice balance with a warm malty base. Hoppier than their IPA, which I feel is a fairly balanced IPA. I felt it compared nicely with Ruthless Rye for S-N. I'd like to try the two head-to-head some time.

Harpoon IPA

A perennial favorite of the BOTB Guys, we next sampled some Harpoon IPA. A bit less high-octane than the Rye at 5.9% ABV and an IBU of 42.

     Color: Copper
     Pour: Average white head, moderate to little lacing and head retention
     Aroma: Toward the hoppy end
     Body: Between medium and full/thick
     Taste: Somewhat balanced though hop bitterness is in there 
     Overall Impression: Between "I could drink this" and "Can't get enough!"
     Comments: "The Rye kicks its ass; A great IPA; If we'd have had that before the rye, we'd have said, 'Oh my god, that's a great beer'; Nice, clean finish."

     Rick's Notes: Harpoon's IPA is a much more balanced beer than many IPA's and certainly not as hoppy as their Rye. It's a good beer, an easy drinking IPA that aims for a broader appeal than the more intense IPA's out there.

Harpoon's Black IPA
100 Barrel Series

From their 100 Barrel Series, Harpoon Black IPA was next on our palates. It has a 7.0% ABV and 67 IBU's. It is available in 22 ounce bottles and, if you're luck, on tap at your favorite tavern.

     Color: dark, dark - toward black
     Pour: decent chocolate milk color head with good retention and lacing
     Aroma: a nice nose with a cacophony of hops
     Body: toward full/thick
     Taste: hoppy and near bitter
     Overall Impression: Can't get enough!
     Comments: "The best black IPA I've tasted yet; Most other are too malty; Pretty darn good; Smooth...; Nice hop presence; Nice balance."

     Rick's Notes: Had an interesting discussion with Friend of BOTB Jeff over the use of the name "Black IPA" or "Dark IPA." His contention is this: "Since IPA means 'India PALE Ale,' how can something be a black or dark pale ale." Jeff makes an excellent point of course and, as a former English teacher, I appreciate the oxymoronic implication in the name. To me, however, IPA has become a somewhat generic term (like Kleenex or Scotch Tape even when the tissue of tape is produced by neither Kleenex nor 3M), letting the consumer know that the beer is hoppy. I have a much bigger problem with brewers who call their beers IPA when they are clearly not (see Alexander Keith's IPA). Anyhow, I suggest perhaps IDA or IBA (India Dark Ale or India Black Ale) to avoid confusion. 

Harpoon Catamount Maple Wheat
100 Barrel Series

We were under a hops spell, and to help snap us out of it for awhile, we were next offered up some Catamount Maple Wheat. That, again, is from the 100 Barrel Series and available, again, in 22 ounce bottles and on tap. The Maple Wheat has a 6.8% ABV and 21 IBU's.

     Color: Amber - like Grade A maple syrup
     Pour: Off-white head that disappeared fairly quickly and left a lingering ring around the glass
     Aroma: Malty to syrupy sweet
     Body: Full/thick
     Taste: Sweet, the maple syrup is evident.
     Overall Impression: I could drink this - a tribute to Harpoon after drinking a few of their fairly hoppy beers.
     Comments: "I'd put it on my waffles; I'd make some jack wax out of it; You could freeze it and make a Popsicle out of it; Has English yeast - tastes like bananas even though they try to disguise it with maple syrup; It's a good introductory beer to craft beers; Good to take to Thanksgiving dinner or other family gatherings."

      Rick's Notes: Didn't get to try this one either, but had a sudden craving for pancakes after reading the reviews.

Harpoon Uber-Bock
Leviathan Series

         Next up (and a month late) was from the Harpoon Leviathan Series: their Uber-Bock. It is pretty big at 9.0% ABV and 26 IBU's. Beers from the Leviathan Series are available in 22 ounce 4-packs.

     Color: brown
     Pour: Decent white head with fairly good retention
     Aroma: yeasty/malty and sweet
     Body: nearing full/thick
     Overall Impression: I could drink this!
     Comments: "It slams you initially; Like a Scotch ale; Very malty, there are no hops in there; Very sweet beer; It reminds me of Troeginator; It's a dessert beer; It reminds me of our brief deviation into Bocks; I could cook with it; It would have fit well into the Doppelbocks series; It's a good, big bock; A winter brew, a by-the-fireplace beer."

     Rick's Notes: Hints of toffee. Detected English yeast. Big, warm beer. Dark fruits in there. Mostly malt and a bit sweet. I agree with the "dessert beer" analysis. Not a session beer. Nice change-of -pace beer.

Harpoon Imperial IPA
Leviathan Series

Finally, from Harpoon and, again, from their Leviathan Series, was their Iperial IPA. It has a 10.0% ABV and claims to weigh in at 120 IBU's. Except for a couple of beers that strayed into the sweeter realm, on would think Harpoon read our blog (and our minds) by supplying some pretty hoppy beers. We thank them mightily.

     Color: amber
     Pour: fairly white and moderate with less than decent head retention
     Aroma: hoppy -citrus and pine
     Body: Full, thick
     Taste: Bitter
     Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough!
     Comments: "Oh my God, that's a big beer!; Wow!; You can't have more than a few of these; This is a beer and a half; It should have a skull and cross bones on the box; It's like DogfishHead 120; M-m-m-m, that's good; That's a real good double IPA."

     Rick's Notes: Yowza! Really good, complex beer. Amazingly easy to drink despite the aggressive 10% ABV. Nicely hopped, yes. But beyond that, it is one of those beers that just grace the entire palate, it seems.    

Big Eddy Imperial IPA
Leinenkugel Brewery

But, not so fast! Today was bonus day for us. Acoulple meetings ago we had some selections from Leinenkugel Brewer. At that time their Big Eddy series Imperial IPA wasn't available. Now it is, andhere it was. It is brewed with 5 different hops which accounts for its 78 IBU's. It also has a 9.0% ABV.

     Color: Tawny copper/deep honey
     Pour: Decent white head
     Aroma: Way toward hoppy, "Smells like something I could drink."
     Body: Full/thick
     Taste: bitter
     Overall Impression: Can't get enough!
     Comment: "I'd like to put it in a spritzer and just spray myself with it (admittedly this comment came at the end of 5 big beers and 2 IPA's - so we'll cut the reviewer some slack); I like the hoppy assertiveness; It's justice for their Shandy: That's not bad - very smooth; It's bitter, hoppy and smooth."

Up next, some Sam Adams and a few of our favorites.

The BOTB Guys

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