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Thursday, March 6, 2014

East Vs. West IPA Challenge

This month the BOTB Guys took on the daunting task of comparing East Coast and West Coast IPAs. We intend this to be the first of several bits of coastal hop warfare. We took this on a man down as Herb was searching out good beer in warmer climes.

Gerry, this month's host, assigned three of us to seek out a favorite East Coast IPA, while the other three were to seek out a favorite West Coast IPA. There was a caveat, however: we were to stick to regular IPAs, not doubles or Imperials. We also decided to match the beers up by roughly the same ABVs and send them into battle one-on-one, as opposed to trying to rank all six beers against each other. Ergo, we would have three separate battles, with three winners. The Coast with the most wins the battle.

The line-up:

Round 1

    Brown's Brewing Company, Hoosick Falls, NY
Lagunitas Brewing Company, Petaluma, CA

Round 2

Custom Brewcrafters, Honeoye Falls, NY

Ballast Point Brewing Company, San Diego, CA

Round 3

Flying Dog Brewery, Frederick, MD

Green Flash Brewing Company, San Diego, CA


The Beer Facts: STYLE: IPA; ABV: 6.5%; MALTS: Two-Row Pale, Caramel, Carapils; HOPS: Chinook, Cascade, Fuggle, Summit, Crystal.

What the Brewer Says: "Our I.P.A. pours an amber gold with a distinctively rich flavor, significant hop aroma and soft, white and creamy head."

Color: Unfiltered cloudy golden or buckwheat honey

Pour: Decent creamy off-white head

Aroma: Malty/grassy

Body: Medium

Taste: Slightly bitter/crisp and clean. There are notes of malt early, then slight lemon and caramel, and bitter on the back end. Overall it has a balanced character.

Overall Impression: Well toward "Can't Get Enough!"

Comments: "This tastes good!; I could drink this; It doesn't disappoint; It's a good, solid beer; It isn't overpowering in any way; I'd be proud to have this in my fridge - and thrilled to see it on tap; I got this at Marcy Beverage in Marcy, NY, but it's tough to find; This is a good start for the East Coast."


The Beer Facts: STYLE: IPA; ABVs: 6.2%; IBUs: 45; MALT, HOPS etc. - "Ounces and ounces of malt, hops, yeast, and water."  

What the Brewer Says: "Lagunitas IPA was our first seasonal way back in 1995. The recipe was formulated with malt and hops working together to balance it all out on your 'buds so you can knock back more than one without wearing yourself out. Big on the aroma with a hoppy-sweet finish that will leave you wantin' another sip."

Color: Filtered honey

Pour: Decent head that is slightly off-white

Aroma: Grapefruit/hoppy (big nose)

Body: Medium

Taste: It is bitter, but not as bitter on the end as the Brown's IPA. There are also piney notes.

Overall Impression: Well toward "Can't Get Enough!"

Comments: "Hops attack the nostrils - it is aggressive; I wish it tasted as good as it smelled; There's a hop in there that I don't particularly care for; The hops presence goes all the way through."

ROUND 1 RESULTS: Split Decision. Three of us went with Brown's and three of us went with Lagunitas. As fans of 'Cuse Basketball we were all used to nailbiters, so we were right in the zone.

Next up were two terrific beers. I am a big fan of both of them but have never had them side-by-side to compare. I felt this would be one of the more interesting match-ups of the night.


The Beer Facts: STYLE: American IPA; ABVs: 6.5%; IBUs: 65; MALTS: Pilsner, Melanoidin, Carafa II; HOPS: Falconer's Flight, Apollo, Chinook, Experimental 05256

What the Brewer Says: "Watch out! This huge IPA is coming at you ready to literally cram hops down your throat. This monster uses 4 different hop varieties, in whole leaf and pellet in 6 different additions. We used a healthy dose of Caramunich malt to give this beer a bright orange color and enough body to balance the hops. Cutting edge hop varieties create a crazy mix of pineapple, grapefruit and pine aromas that just screams American IPA.

Color: Translucent amber honey

Pour: Better than decent, off-white head, with ample staying power

Aroma: Big hoppy aroma

Body: Medium moving toward full

Taste: Deliciously hopped with a strong malt backbone. There are notes of citrusy grapefruit

Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough!

Comments: "A nice malt background; It's balanced with a bitter back; OMG; One terrific beer; From pour, to aroma, to taste, it doesn't disappoint; Fills your mouth like Dolly fills a sweater; A lot bigger than the 6.5% would lead you to believe; A 'GOOD' beer."


The Beer Facts: STYLE: American IPA; ABVs: 7.0%; IBUs: 70; HOPS: Hopped at 5 separate stages; AWARDS: Multiple awards including a gold in the 2010 World Beer Cup.

What the Brewer Says: "Our Sculpin IPA is a great example of what got us into brewing in the first place. After years of experimenting, we knew hopping an ale at five separate stages would produce something special. The result ended up being this gold-medal winning IPA, whose inspired use of hops creates hints of apricot, peach, mango and lemon flavors, but still packs a bit of a sting, just like a Sculpin fish."

Color: Lightly filtered wheat

Pour: Decent off-white head

Aroma: Hoppy - grassy/fresh hay and pine

Body: Slightly more than Medium

Taste: Nice - tastefully bitter, not sharp, with citrus notes.

Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough!

Comments: "Tastes like a double; Full flavor; Fills all the senses / hits all the spots; This is s-o-o-o-o-o good; I'm thinking this is the best IPA on the planet; As a battle - maybe I'd like to put it up against Flower Power from Ithaca Brewing and see how it fared."

ROUND 2 RESULTS: Though it was not unanimous, Sculpin won the day, but Alpha Monkey put up a good fight. While we rated both of them an enthusiastic "Can't Get Enough!" West Coast won Round 2.

Round 3 pitted a couple of craft brew heavyweights against each other: Flying Dog and Green Flash.


The Beer Facts: STYLE: American IPA; ABVs: 7.1%; IBUs: 60; MALTS: 60L Caramel; HOPS: Warrior, Columbus; YEAST: American Ale

What the Brewer Says: "Big citrus (notably grapefruit) hop aroma and flavor with caramel malt notes."

Color: filtered golden IPA color

Pour: Decent, tight effervescent, almost bridal white head

Aroma: Slight hay/grass and hoppy

Body: Medium to full

Taste: It has a taste bigger than its aroma. There are some notes of citrusy grapefruit.

Overall Impression: Between "I Could Drink This" and "Can't Get Enough" - but leaning toward the latter

Comments: "There is not a real strong alcohol taste; It has a sharp hop character; Not much of a malt backbone; A slap you up 'side the head taste; It has a nice label - sharp; The taste is not overly strong, it's pleasant; there is an aftertaste of bitterness or maybe a slightly metallic taste."


The Beer Facts: STYLE: West Coast IPA; ABVs: 7.3%; IBUs: 95; HOPS: Simcoe, Columbus, Centennial, Cascade; AWARDS: Multiple including 2008 champion of the National IPA Challenge.

What the Brewer Says: "A menagerie of hops is layered throughout the brewing process: Simcoe for unique fruitiness and grapefruit zest, Columbus for strong hop pungency, Centennial for pine and citrus notes and Cascade for floral aroma. A multi-dimensional hop experience."

Color: Unfiltered honey brown, a dark IPA color

Pour: Off-white, near Guinness class head

Aroma: West Coast IPA nose - citrus, pine, lemon.

Body: Full

Taste: Bitter - the most of the day as indicated by the 95 IBUs - but pleasantly so. Additionally, there is a bit of a malt taste.

Overall Impression: "Can't Get Enough!"

Comments: "This is quite smooth, despite the 95 IBUs; A West Coast hops, definitely; There's a taste that lingers; It has serious IBUs; Very impressive; You can't get to 7.3% ABV without a malt presence; It finishes very well; It's the most complex taste of the day; And with the biggest hops presence; It has more of a malt character; Wow, this is good!"

ROUND 3 RESULTS: Green Flash won in a 5 to 1 vote over Snake Dog.

At least with this small sampling the West Coast beat the East Coast by a score of 2-0-1. The real winners, I must say, were the BOTB Guys. How can you go wrong with six delicious IPAs?


Three Great Escapes From the Cold - Only Two With Great Beer

This has been a great year to get out of the Great White North as much as possible and a few of the BOTB Guys were able to do just that. Herb and Pat have been on the road for some time now and recently

reported back from Tampa Bay that their annual Tampa Bay Beer Week was about to start. I'm sure we'll get updates.

Mike and Diane spent a week in Costa Rica and had the opportunity to check out the Lake Arenal Brewery and Restaurant La Huerta and Hotel Minoa while there. You can check it out HERE for a little musical guided tour of the place.

Opened in 1998, Lake Arenal Brewery was the first microbrewery ever in Costa Rica. The accompanying Hotel Minoa is home to the Global Renewable Energy Education Network (GREEN) begun in 2009. GREEN offers 12 day programs for students, giving them access to the renewable energy technology and sustainability industry.
The accompanying farm practices what GREEN preaches. The cows dine on the spent grain from brewing and the pigs get all plate left-overs from the restaurant. Locally grown coffee is made on a methane gas stove using methane produced from pig waste.

The brews on tap while Mike was there were:
Lake Arenal Brewery Pale Ale
Lake Arenal IPA
Morenita (an American Brown Ale)
Guapote (an American IPA)
Nut Brown Ale

Mike had the opportunity to try the Pale Ale and the Nut Brown. The Pale Ale is 5% ABV and 48 IBUs. The Nut Brown is 4.8% ABV and 21 IBUs. Mike said that both beers were very tasty. His next trip down he intends to check out Volcano Brewery, also on Lake Arenal as well as Beachfront Brewery in Tamarindo.

Are there are there hops in Mexico?
Quoth my taste buds "I say no!"

Rick (that would be me speaking to you in the third person) and Les, meanwhile, headed down to Cancun, Mexico for a week of fun in the sun (and a little Mayan history, as well). Cancun is a beautiful place, as is nearby Isla Mujeres. With temperatures in the low 80's and lots of sun, it was a welcome relief from the bone-chilling cold we've been experiencing in that other Mexico up here in Central New York. And, yes, we did mess with people's minds a bit when they asked where we were from and we told them "Mexico."

The only downside to the whole trip was the total unavailability of craft beer. Mexico is about where the US was in the early '80s as far as beer goes. Virtually all of their beers are produced by a few big brewers and they are all lagers. Corona is the big dog down there, but Dos Equis, Medola, Pacifica, Tecate, Sol are all popular. Like the mega-brews in the US, most of the beers are produced by two large conglomerates: Cerveceria Modelo / Grupo Modelo and Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc-Moctezuma / FEMSA.

Grupo Medolo et al, which is half owned by Anheuser-Busch, produces Corona and Medola.  FEMSA et al produces Tecate, Sol, Dos Equis, Carta Blanca, Superior, Indio, Bohemia, and Noche Buena. The best of the bunch is Bohemia which actually has a bit of a hop profile to it. I ordered that whenever possible.

There are microbreweries in Mexico, but relatively few. Day of the Dead brewery was one Ron and I discovered while in South Carolina of all places. Their Hop On Or Die IPA is excellent. But the ironic truth is that most Mexican craft beers are exported to the US because it is so difficult for them to compete with the Mexican mega-breweries.

So even though we had a terrific time, enjoyed the wonderful weather and were awed by the Mayan pyramids, I couldn't help but email back to the rest of the BOTB Guys that I was suffering from HDS - Hops Deficiency Syndrome.

Of course, then I actually did get sick (curse you Moctezuma and your vile revenge! What did I ever do to you?) only to find out upon returning home that a viable treatment was brewer's yeast (seriously). What a strange and wonderful world we live in.

 I knew the perfect delivery system for brewer's yeast, too.

The song below (sung with liberal interpretation to the tune of The Beach Boys' Kokomo) I felt nicely expressed my dual attitude on the trip.


Corona, Modelo - the beers are really mellow;
Dos Equis, Tecate - with bodies thin and yellow;
Sol and Pacifico - hops not so terrific, no.

        On the Mexican Gulf,
A place called Cancun, ya' know
It's a great place to go, but no craft beer here at all.

I love the sun and sand,
The beachside views are really grand;
But if you want tasty beer,
You'll need to go to a dif'rent land;
Not much in Mexico.

Corona, Modelo - the beers are really mellow;
Dox Equis, Tecate - with bodies thin and yellow;
Sol and Pacifico - hops not so terrific, no.
Down in Mexico,
The beers are cheap
So you can drink a lot,
If that's what you really want
Down South in Mexico.

Coladas on the beach;
Margaritas always in reach;
Miss the hoppy brews back home,
But not the snow nor the icy cold;
Back home in Mexico-
      - New York, that is.


Samuel Adams has released it's latest IPA - Rebel IPA - and it is a terrific beer. I've always said that one of my favorite Sam Adams beers is their Latitude 48. Now that fine beer may have some competition from its own brewery. Rebel IPA is Sam Adams version of a West Coast IPA. It would have been interesting to see how it stacked up in this month's battle, but we already had the line-up set by the time Rebel hit the stores. I'm thinking of a head-to-head against Latitude 48 some time. A kind of East Coast vs West Coast by a single brewery.


This summer Saranac slipped a little something extra in their 12 packs. Nestled right on top was a pint can of Legacy IPA, a beer brewed to celebrate 125 years of brewing. The brewery originally known as The West End Brewing Company and later as Matt Brewing Company has become a huge player in the craft beer industry with their Saranac line of beers. It is the second oldest family owned brewery in the United States and the 6th largest craft brewery in the US. Therefore the name of this specially brewed beer is quite appropriate. After trying it we lamented that it was too bad they didn't sell this on its own as it was a terrific beer. We feared it might go the way of Guinness 250 - a one-time celebratory brew that was gone all too soon. Lo and behold, Saranac has wisely kept Legacy alive and is selling it in 4-packs of 16 ounce cans. Thanks, Saranac.

Next month we pit brews from the country's midsection against each other in a battle for the middle.

The BOTB Guys