Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Beer Style #2: American IPA

Imagine, if you will, an American Pale Ale hopped up on steroids.  This is basically how I describe an American IPA to people.  APA's, if you recall from my previous post, have good hop character to them, but American IPA's the hops are kicked up several notches.  The flavor profiles can range from citrusy to herbacious to tropical fruits and so on.  Often some earthiness and floral tones to them as well.  The aromas of an IPA are incredibly intoxicating.  Common aromas again are citrus, pine, tropical fruits, and floral.  The aroma is what pulls you in to the beer.  There are few things beer that I like better than the aroma of a fresh, juicy IPA.  The color of an IPA can also be quite broad in range.  They can be a golden yellow to a deep amber color.  Many of them have a nice orange color to them.    .

IPA's really showcase the hops.  English IPA's are not as hoppy as American IPA's.  I remember trying Greene King IPA when in England last summer and my initial impression of it was that it was fairly light and the hops were minimal.  American IPA's also are medium bodied and have a nice malt backbone which holds the flavors together beautifully.  They often have a bitter finish, which is really what puts new IPA drinkers off.  Definitely an acquired taste, but once you get to the point where you appreciate an IPA, it is very likely to become your go-to style of beer.  This might be why the IPA is one of the most popular styles of beer in the craft beer world.

So what are some of my recommended IPA's....let's take a look:
1. Bells Two Hearted Ale:  A classic in the style and consistently one of the best rated IPA's in the world.  This is the beer that got me into IPA's and is always a good go-to beer.
2. Founders Centennial IPA:  Featuring the Centennial Hop in the very best ways.
3. Triton Railsplitter IPA:  Local from Indianapolis, this one packs an awesome hop punch with fantastic bitterness.  One of my favorites.
4. Ballast Point Sculpin IPA:  Another one that is consistently rated one of the best in the world.  But you won't find it in Indiana.  Definitely worth trading for or ordering online if you can find it.
5. Sun King Grapefruit Jungle IPA:  One of my favorite local Sun King brews.  Comes out twice a year and actually there is a tapping party for it on 8/30.  Amazing grapefruit flavor.  Crisp and refreshing.  Well crafted beer.
6. Surly Furious:  Possibly the best IPA I've had.  Can only get it in Minnesota. Again, very much worth trading for if you haven't had it.
7.  Stone IPA:  A classic west coast IPA and one of the most popular out there.
8.  Odell IPA:  Bold and complex.  Nicely bitter.  Not available in Indiana, but it's out there.
9.  New Belgium Ranger IPA:  A great starter IPA.  This beer renewed my faith in New Belgium as a brewery.
10. Three Floyds BrooDoo:  Only available in October, this fresh hopped IPA is one of my favorites from Three Floyds.  Be on the lookout for this one, don't miss it.
11. Fat Heads Head Hunter IPA:  Recently won an award for best in style beating out Sculpin IPA.  Massively hopped.  Can't get it in Indiana, but Ohio has it....and who doesn't love a road trip?
12.  Dark Horse Crooked Tree:  Definitely lives up to its description, crisp and dry.  Featuring the hops with a solid bitterness.  Great brew from Dark Horse out of Michigan.

Need some variation in your IPA life?  Well, there are some creative spins out there on IPA's.  Black IPA's, Rye IPA's, Red IPA's, and White IPA's have all really taken off in popularity.  Black IPA's are dark in color with roasted malts.  Rye IPA's are made with copious amounts of Rye malt.  Red IPA's are simply hopped up Red Ales.  White IPA's usually have a bit of funk to them. It's interesting to see brewers using creativity to create some of these spins on a traditional IPA.  Examples of these styles include:

1.  Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale:  Probably one of the best Black IPA's I have had.
2.  Firestone Walker Wookey Jack:  Not available in Indiana, but worth trying if you make it to Illinois or California.  Incredible Black IPA.
3.  Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA:  Don't sleep on this Rye IPA from Sierra Nevada.  It's really tasty.
4.  Troegs Nugget Nectar:  Is it an amber or an ipa? Always a debate.  For me I consider it a red IPA.  Seasonal from Troegs in Pennsylvania.  Just a quick trip to Ohio when it comes out and this could be yours.
5.  Grand Teton Pursuit of Hoppiness:  Strong ale or IPA?  In my opinion it's an IPA.  My second favorite to Nugget Nectar.  This hoppy red delivers all the goods.
6.  Anchorage Brewing Galaxy White IPA:  Massive funk and complexity....if that's your thing.

Of the variants, I would say that I enjoy them all, except White IPA's.  Generally they have been too funky for me.  My favorite IPA is Surly Furious and my favorite IPA variant is the Wookey Jack from Firestone Walker.

One more thing about IPA's.  One of the most important thing to consider when buying one of these hoptacular beers is freshness.  Check those bottle dates.  If it's old (3-4 months) or has dust on the bottle on the shelf, please pass it by.  Hop flavors fade over time and nothing is more disappointing that an IPA that has lost its hop punch.  So get those IPA's fresh if you can.  Look for a future post dedicated to the Double IPA.  What are your favorite IPA's?


Friday, August 24, 2012

Mothers Brewing IPA's

Beer trades can be a great thing.  They often allow you to have a taste of brews you normally wouldn't get to try.  That's the case with these two IPA's from Mothers Brewing out of Springfield, Missouri.  Usually I review one beer at a time, but since I received these two in one shipment I will look at them both simultaneously.  These are two of the IPA's from this little brewery, one is called Lil' Helper and the other is called Trouble Maker.  Lil' Helper is a standard IPA and Trouble Maker is a double IPA.  Here we go:

Choose Your Vessel:  Went with the 12oz Bell's Tulip glass for these two brews.

The Pour:  Trouble maker poured an amber-ish orange, slightly hazy as well.  Lil' Helper poured a nice golden orange.  Both beers showcased a nice looking head with decent carbonation and the Lil' Helper had better lacing...pictured below.  Both beers looked beautiful in the glass.  Advantage: Lil Helper, seemed to have better lace retention throughout consumption.

Aroma:  Lil' Helper for me had a nice aroma of citrus hops balanced with some sweet malt and biscuit aromas.  Trouble maker was all floral hops for me.  Further sniffing revealed the sweetness of candied citrus.   Pretty big hop aromas with some complexity.  Edge on aroma goes to the Trouble Maker.
Taste:  Here's where we separate these two beers even further.  The Lil' Helper tastes like a very nicely balanced IPA.  Good hop bitterness.  Citrus, Pine, earthiness with some good sweet malt to back it up.  Nice bitter and clean finish.  The Trouble Maker was somewhat all over the place for me.  Has the nice floral hop flavors, but also getting malt and what seems to be a touch of honey sweetness followed by boozy notes.  Edge goes here to Lil' Helper because it seemed to more complete.
Overall:  The Lil' Helper was a nice standard IPA.  Had balance in aroma and taste.  Finished quite cleanly and really was a refreshing version of the typical IPA.  Not quite as bitter as I like them, but really solid.  The Trouble Maker bordered on a mess of flavors for me.  I like the individual components of aroma and the complexity of the flavors, but there was a distinct booziness and honey sweetness in the finish that was slightly off-putting for me.  Just didn't come together as a cohesive brew for me.  The advantage here for me goes to the Lil' Helper.  Both beers were good brews, no doubt, and I feel like the Trouble Maker could be something phenomenal with some more development.  Hopefully I get the chance to try it down the road.  
Lil' Helper in glass
Lacing from the Lil'Helper....beautiful

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

20 Tap Anniversary Celebration

Late in August of last year, my buddies Matt and Tom and I were talking about having a guys night.  Guys night was a fairly common thing for us.  We decided to go to Moe and Johnny’s at 54th and College Ave.  After all, it was one of our favorite places at the time because they had good beer and free peanuts.  As we were walking from our parking spaces, we noticed what appeared to be a new bar in the area.  We all peered inside and liked what we saw.  I saw a guy in the bar having a pint, but the doors were locked and they were clearly not open yet, so on we went to M & J’s.  After a couple beers and a bunch of peanuts, we headed back to our car.  On the way, the gentleman who was inside enjoying a pint was outside the building.  We asked about the place and he informed us that this would be an all craft beer bar called Twenty Tap and it would be opening next week.  He also informed us that it would be a non-smoking environment and they would also have a nice food menu.  We were quite thrilled about this new development.  Made me wish I still lived in that area.  After talking to him, I remembered my buddy Kevin telling me about the place a few months prior to actually seeing it. 

One year later, Twenty Tap has easily become my favorite Indianapolis spot to enjoy a pint or a flight and scrumptious eats.  In just one year, they have grown from 20 Tap lines to 38 Taps of delicious craft beers.  Mostly regional, but occasionally you will find some of the bigger craft breweries represented….like this week they have had Stone’s 16th Anniversary IPA on tap.  They also feature some of the best food in the city.  The spicy Cuban Sandwich, The Burn Burger, and Cheese Curds are my go-to items.  They post their tap list daily on their Facebook Page and I’m hoping someday they do the same with their twitter feed.  They have drink specials all week, usually a special beer at a cheaper price, and one day (Tuesday) each week where all pints are at a reduced cost.  Needless to say, Tuesdays are particularly busy.  It’s a fantastic place whether you want to sit at the bar and enjoy a pint or grab a table and have a meal with friends while enjoying and celebrating craft beer.
When I have friends come to town it’s one of the first places I recommend and we usually try to go.  I remember sharing a Stone Vertical Epic 11.11.11 with Jason from Cavalier there one evening.  I remember talking smoked turkey and beer around Thanksgiving with a server from Brugge around the holidays last year.  Countless times I have met up with buddies for a quick drink or two just to connect and have a place to enjoy quality beer and company.  I have even talked about social work with one of the employees over the summer while sipping my Stone Imperial Russian Stout at closing time.  When I have been there, I have always really enjoyed not only other patrons, but the employees that work there are some of the most endearing people I’ve met at any establishment I’ve been to.

But Being a busy father of two and working two jobs makes it quite difficult for me to be there on a regular basis.  I think I currently average about 1 trip every 2 months.  So I am certainly not a regular there.  If we still lived in that area of town I mostly likely would stop by every day for a pint after work.  Bottom line, I would be there as much as I could be if given the opportunity.  For me getting there takes planning ahead.  Coordinating with my wife so that she knows I’ll be away for a few hours.  So when they announced their 1 year Anniversary Party slated to happen a week from today I immediately informed my wife of my desire to attend.  Not only will they be having epic beers on tap, including Founders KBS, CBS, and Bells The Oracle, but they will also have some live entertainment, great food, and of course, the people that make that place the best bar in the city.  The party doesn’t start until 6:00pm, but I plan on being there around 4:00 or as soon as I am done working so that I have a shot at a seat at the bar.  Hope to see many of you there as well!!  Cheers to Twenty Tap, awesome beer, and many many more years of being able to enjoy those delicious beers at the best bar in the city!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Beer Style #1....The American Pale Ale

People often ask me what my favorite beer of all-time is.  I struggle, usually, to come up with an answer.  I obviously have favorites, but comparing Two Hearted to KBS for me is like apples and oranges.  Both are awesome in their own ways.  So this got me to thinking about different beer styles and I decided to start writing about them.  Not sure how many styles I will write about, but at the end I will provide recommendations and some of my favorites.  Today let's talk American Pale Ale.

American Pale Ales are usually quite different from British Pale Ales.  Typically with an American Pale Ale you get a significantly higher hop characteristic.  Not enough to make it an IPA, but the lines between the two styles are much more blurry.  British Pale Ales generally have a much more prominent malt profile, making them sweeter, a good example of this is Bass Pale Ale.  The American Pale Ale tends to usually have a more dominant hop presence.  Still, the APA is usually clean, crisp, and refreshing.  The American Pale Ale is also usually relatively low in alcohol content.  They typically hover in the 5%-6% range, which makes them quite drinkable.  The balance of hops and malts make the American Pale Ale a perfect beer for those drinkers who aren't quite ready to have their palate thrashed by an IPA or a Double IPA.  I have a buddy who generally hasn't been all that into craft beer, but then I introduced him to Sun King Osiris and he loved it.

The American Pale Ale is a great "gateway" style to getting into craft beer because it's usually suitable to many palates.  It's not intimidating in the flavors it puts out there.  There are some that are hoppier than others, but that's the fun in trying things out.  Probably the first true craft pale ale I tried was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.  It definitely has a more dominant hop profile, but upon my first sip I did not find it to be offensive.  But there are lots of great APA's out there.  So let's take a look at some of my favorite American Pale Ale's.

1. Three Floyds Zombie Dust:  Generally only available at Three Floyds Brewpub, this is in the conversation for me of my favorite beer of all time.  If you ever have the opportunity, it's highly recommended, and it consistently ranks as one of the best American Pale Ales in the country.  If you can't find it, then I suggest...
2.  Three Floyds Alpha King:  Usually easier to find and just as awesome in its own way.
3.  Schlafly Dry Hopped APA: Generally easy to find and full of awesome flavors.  Great beer.
4.  Upland Helios Pale Ale:  One of the less intimidating APA's out there, very drinkable and rather easy to find in Indiana.
5.  Victory Headwaters Pale Ale: Nice citrus hops to this Pale Ale.
6.  Founders Pale Ale:  Some crisp malt and hop flavors.  Well balanced.
7.  Flat 12 Walkabout Pale Ale:  If you are ever in Indianapolis, this one is a must try.  The use of Galaxy hops gives this APA a distinctly sweet and passionfruit hop profile.  The sweetness plays well with the malt tones.  Truly an awesome APA, but only available at the brewery.  My favorite local APA.
8.  Sun King Osiris Pale Ale:  My second favorite local APA.  A really good every day drinking pale ale.  My buddy Matt really enjoys it, so trust me, you will too.

Those are just some of my favorites, and most of them are easy to get if you are here in Indiana.  My favorite American Pale Ale is Zombie Dust, by just a hair over Alpha King.  If you are unsure about craft beer and pale ales, my recommendation is to go to your local shop and do a mix and match six pack of pale ales, have some friends over, and have a good tasting.

Cheers to the American Pale Ale....what are some of your favorite American Pale Ales?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lancaster Brewing Rumspringa

I love gifts.  More than regular gifts, I love beer gifts.  The next beer for review was a gift given to me by my good friends Matt and Erin Milanese.  They thought this beer was amusing and I'm happy to drink it.  This one is made by Lancaster Brewing and is called, Rumspringa.  Those of you familiar with the Amish culture know what a Rumspringa is, but if you aren't, here is an explanation.  I love witty beer names and this one definitely provides some humor that will last forever.  But will the beer be something to be taken seriously?
First let's look at the style.  The can states that this one is a Golden Bock.  This is really a hybrid between a couple of styles in the Lager family.  If you are looking around for information on Golden Bocks, you won't find much.  This beer falls more into the category of a Heller Bock, which to me is kind of like a cross between a Maibock and Helles Lager.  It's all a little confusing, but what you should know is that this is a lager, not an Ale, which already puts this one at a disadvantage for me because I'm not a huge fan of Bocks in the first place.  Fun fact, did you know there are really only two major families of beer?  Ales and Lagers. That's it.  Every beer out there falls into one of those 2 families.

What do the beer geeks think of this one?  Read more here.

Choose Your Vessel:  I went with the standard pint glass with DMB firedance logo today.  The style doesn't really require anything special, although a Lager glass may have been more appropriate.....I don't have a Lager glass....so Pint glass it  is.

The Pour:  True to its name, this one pours a Golden color with maybe a slight amber hue.  Thick white head, zero lacing on the glass.  Typically, these beers would be fairly clear, but this one is definitely not.

Aroma:  My first note was "Smells like a Golden Lager".  Noticeable are the pale malt aromas, smells a little of fermented corn.  Maybe a touch of caramel and toffee.  Incredibly sweet smelling, which may be due to the unmistakable presence of that Lancaster honey.  Minimal hop aroma.

Taste:  Sweet.  Some earthiness to it.  Honey present throughout.  Light to medium bodied with a good amount of carbonation.  Lots of pale malt and corn flavors, reminding me of a light lager.  Rather unpleasant for me mostly.  I keep searching for those "feisty" hops the brewery claims are in this one, but I can't find them much at all.  Maybe a touch in the finish.  The honey in this brew helps me get halfway through it before turning the rest of the glass over to my wife to finish it off.  I did intentionally plan to share it with her.

Overall:  Just not a lot going on with this one.  It was already disadvantaged because of my dislike for the style, but I imagine that the honey makes this one a more interesting brew in its family.  My wife, on the other hand, took her first sip and stated "Oooooh, I could drink that".  She very much appreciated the sweetness of the beer.  I appreciated the gift and the opportunity to try a rather unique beer....but I don't need to have it again, unless it's for shits and giggles.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Seasonal Shmeasonal....

The calendar recently changed from July to August.  But you wouldn't know it based on what I've seen at the local liquor stores recently.  Perusing the beer aisles I have noticed several beers you don't normally see on the shelves in early August.  Recently I have spotted Sam Adams Octoberfest, Shipyard Pumpkinhead, and have been hearing that my favorite fall beer, Southern Tier's Pumking, is slated for shelves very soon.

Browsing various message boards, the consensus opinion on releasing these "fall" beers is that it's way too soon.  Various beer geeks say that it's still summer, so the IPA or the pale ale, lager, or pilsner should be the easy choice for those hot August days.  Why in the world are beers that are supposed to conjure up memories of leaves changing and pumpkin pie being released in the middle of the summer?

My response is quite simple:  "Who Cares?".  "seasonal shmeasonal".  The beers are good.  I'll drink them whenever they come out.

For me, the season or weather really has no influence on my beer selection.  You better believe I'll grab some Octoberfest beers in August if they are available because I love the style.  And when I see Pumking on the shelf, I'll snatch that up quickly.  The notion that you have to have a certain beer for a certain weather pattern to me is blown completely out of proportion.  I mean, those poor folks in southern California or Arizona must never enjoy a thick stout because obviously people can only drink stouts in the dead of winter right?

I enjoy many styles of beer.  I'm not going to let the weather or the season change how and when I choose a frothy beverage.  Make no mistake, there certainly are beers that lend themselves well to the season.  I mean, a Pumking on Thanksgiving sounds fantastic.  Alpha Klaus Christmas Porter is incredible around Christmas time.  There are few things I enjoy more than a crisp IPA or pale ale after mowing the yard in the summer.  But I have zero problem mowing the yard, getting cleaned up, and then rewarding myself with an awesome stout or porter.  Look, 90% of my drinking is done inside the comfort of my house or my favorite bar.  Inside.  Not outside.  And while I wish I was able to drink more outside on various patios and such, I can't, and that still wouldn't change my selection of beers.  In the summer, my house is set inside at around 70 degrees.  In the winter we are around 68 degrees.  So 90% of my drinking is done in the same environment.  When I can drink outside, I don't choose my beer based on the weather.  I base it on what sounds good.

It's been nearly a year since the last release of some of these "fall" beers.  Let's not get caught up in what we should be drinking seasonally, just get caught up in drinking good beers....there are lots of them coming.  Don't let the season or the weather cause you to miss out on the various craft offerings.

What are some of your favorite "Fall" beers?  Do you live by the seasonal mentality like many others?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Strawberry Shorts Cake

Michigan is well known for amazing breweries.  I don't know what it is about Michigan breweries that makes their beers so divine, maybe it's in the water.  Who knows.  Regardless, I have come across several breweries in the giant mitten that produce sensational beers.  Founders, Bells, Dark Horse, Greenbush, Saugatuck, and for this blog I will focus on another quality Michigan brewery: Shorts Brewing.

My first introduction to Shorts was following a visit to Bells this past spring.  I ventured into a bottle shop and the beer guy recommended a couple brews from Shorts.  Huma-Lupa-Licious IPA, which is a pretty solid IPA, and Pandemonium Pale Ale which I found to be rather mediocre.  I met up two weeks ago with a buddy that I've met through Beer Advocate to exchange a couple bottles, and upon the exchange he surprised me with this brew from Shorts.  It's called Strawberry Shorts Cake.  When I first heard of this beer, I knew it probably wouldn't be my thing, but figured it might be one that my wife may enjoy.  I'm not big on fruit beers, but there have been a few I have liked and I figured Shorts would deliver.  Let's dig in:

Choose Your Vessel:  For this one I went with two larger tasting glasses.  One standard half pint glass and one Greenbush taster.  Sharing the bottle with my wife.  My taster, seen below was the Greenbush vessel.

The Pour: Amber-ish in color.  Slight off-white head.  Just a small tint of light pink.  Head disappeared almost immediately and there was minimal lacing throughout consumption.

Aroma:  Lives up to the name.  Smells exactly like strawberry shortcake.  Reminds me of enjoying strawberry shortcake at home when I was a child.
Taste:  Hits you right away with strawberry and milk sugar.  Extremely sweet and tart.  The strawberry and candied sugar flavors really  overwhelm the palate with this one initially.  As I continue to drink my small sample,  the strawberry and sugar flavors start reminding me of something unpleasant.  After many more sips I figured out that what I was tasting was more like a strawberry flavored medicine.
Overall:  This one, surprisingly, missed the mark for me.  My wife also found the flavor to be somewhat off-putting, although she seemed to enjoy it more than I did.  The strong medicinal quality of the beer made this rather unpleasant.  Initially it was tolerable, but as I progressed through it the beer became almost undrinkable.  I can imagine that people who really enjoy sweet and tart beers probably would love this one, but for me it's definitely one I likely won't try again.  Despite the negative experience, I welcome trying more beers from Shorts.  They are, after all, in Michigan, and I fully believe that they have many other quality beers.  One thing I admire about this beer and this brewery is that they don't seem afraid to take risks when brewing unique beers like this one.

Anyone have a different experience with this beer?  What are other fruit beers I should try?