Monday, September 20, 2010

Tales of Summer Part 1: The IPA Taste Test 2010

As I write this, my face is red from some of summer’s last rays of sunshine. By the time you read this, the skin on my forehead will be horribly peeling and I will either look like a participant of some plastic surgery reality show on the E! network, two days removed from a chemical peel/age-defying laser treatment, or like someone you might see scratching his head, looking at the options Head and Shoulders has to offer, at your local CVS.

The idea of my future wretchedness, along with the sexy tan lines that my spectacles have provided me, has inspired me to celebrate my favorite season by recounting a few beer related stories from this past summer. I will call this series “Tales of Summer” and it will consist of three parts: “The IPA Taste Test 2010“, “Five Pounds of Pabst versus the Rattlesnake“, and “Whadya have to go and wave for?!”.

The IPA Taste Test 2010

The idea behind the IPA Taste Test was to see if other people held similar opinions of beers that I had been trying. Was my palate tasting the same things as other people, specifically people similar to me (because who really cares what people not like yourself really think anyway, if they had any thoughts at all they would clearly be more like you)? Or were my mental descriptions of what I was tasting way off? Please don’t mistake this need for assurance as a lack of confidence - it is actually due to a lack of olfactory senses.

My sense of smell is weak, to say the least. A summer of raking asphalt while in college left me smelling nothing but blacktop well after that season’s ship had sailed. Once that scent had finally dissipated, I found that I was now down to only 4 senses. This obviously was followed by a period of depression as I was expecting to gain senses (and superpowers) as I moved into adulthood, not lose them. My depression was marked with frequent listens to Social Distortion’s “Born to Lose”, along with the Bouncing Souls cover of Ted Daffan’s “Born to Lose”, while intently gazing into eyes of Mike Ness as he hung mid-air on my “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell” poster, all while dreading that at any moment I may lose more senses such as listening and intently gazing.

Thankfully, my sense of smell has started to return over the last few years, which has been both a confusing and exciting process - think Harrison Ford in Regarding Henry but with more of a focus on being able to smell Ritz crackers rather than paint pictures of them.

For the IPA Taste Test, I went out and purchased four IPAs that are easily obtainable in the Eastern PA area and invited my brother T-Bone (an avid Rolling Rock drinker), Dave (an avid drinker), and Dave’s brother Dan (a former brewer for Appalachian Brewing Co.). For the taste testing, I split a bottle evenly between 4 plastic cups, we each tasted it, discussed for a minute and then moved on. Wife filmed the process for posterity. I would have included some clips here but the video quality was not good due to the lighting and the settings on my digital camera. No worries, I have since changed the settings on my camera and purchased a lamp. Only Wife and I knew what beers were being served, so the testing was essentially blind for T-Bone, Dave, and Dan.

Before I get into the beers and the reactions they elicited, perhaps a quick explanation of what IPA stands for is in needed:

IPA = India Pale Ale

Why the name? Well back in the day when the sun never set on the British Empire, brewers needed to ship beer all over, specifically India. Because the trip was such a lengthy one, the British stationed or living in India were frequently the recipients of skunky beer. To solve the problem, brewers added more hops, which essentially act as preservatives, to their brews so that they could make the journey without going rotten. This increase in hops had the side effect of increasing the overall bitterness, among other things, such as flavor and aroma, depending on the hops being used.

After drinking these hoppy beers in India for years, Brits returning home probably found the less hoppy brews of the homeland to be lacking and a demand for IPAs began to grow in the pubs of England. And now IPAs can be found all over the place, with most American craft brewing companies offering at least one IPA. I, for one, am a fan, however not everyone finds the bitter floral flavors as appealing. These people generally have sore vaginas, short attention spans, and nicknames like T-Bone. Perhaps it is more of an acquired taste. 

Beer #1: Victory Hop Devil 6.7% ABV

Brewed in Downingtown, PA, this IPA by Victory is an award winner both nationally and internationally. It has a very aromatic hop taste up front, more of a floral flavor than grassy like some IPAs, that is followed by a rich, well rounded, big flavor the whole way through. After sampling the Hop Devil, our taste test participants had the following to say:

Dave: “Good head.”

T-Bone: “Thanks.”

Dan: “Nice bite.”

T-Bone: “I don’t think you gave me enough.”

Me: “You weren’t supposed to chug it, it’s a taste test.”

T-Bone: “Oh yeah, I forgot what we were doing.”

Dan: “I’ve had better.”

Dave: “I wouldn’t get drunk on it.”

T-Bone: “It’s not Rolling Rock.”

Dan: “The end has a skunky edge.”

Dave: “Yeah.”

I agree with all of the above. The beer is very flavorful and it does have a bit a finish that might make it difficult to drink this for a full session. I was out this past weekend and was pleased to see it on tap but after 3 (or was it 4?) I was ready for something else. Overall, Dave, who insisted on a rating system, gave this a B-. Flavor-wise, I’d give an A-, and C+ or B- for drinkability.

Beer #2: Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA 6.0% ABV

Like Victory’s Hop Devil, Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA is pretty easy to find around the East Coast. Brewed in Milton, Delaware, the 60 minute IPA, according to the Dogfish website, “is continuously hopped - more than 60 hop additions over a 60 minute boil,” hence the name. The flavor is less robust than the Hop-Devil, offering a more citrus hop flavor along with a more grassy aroma.

Someone (not sure who): “This one is brighter up front.”

Dan: “Doesn’t finish as funky.”

T-Bone: “Not as much going on (compared to Hop Devil).”

Dave: “I could drink more of these.”

Dave: “There is a taste here that I recognize…Jasmine? No…”

T-Bone: “Vinegar?”

Dave: “No…I can’t put my finger on it but I… (trails off).”

It turns out that Dave had bought a case of this a few days prior so perhaps the flavor he is recognizing is just the beer itself…who knows. In the end, Dave rated this a C. After tasting the Hop Devil, the flavor of the 60 minute can seems a bit lacking. However, the flavor is still very good, I’m thinking B, and the drinkability is definitely an A. I love a good beer that I can drink a lot of and this is that beer.

At this point this in the Taste Test, the participants began discussing the merits of the last Indiana Jones movie. I believe this began by either Dave or Dan relating that originally they gave The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a C rating but after a second viewing they had felt it was more deserving. T-Bone would not have any part of any rating higher than a C for the film, and when asked why, he brought up the part of the movie with all the ants. And while we all acknowledged that the scene with the ants was not the strongest part of the movie, the ant scenes that T-Bone described were not actually from The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull but rather from a fictional movie called “The Ants” that he had been thinking about. No one was fooled. Incidentally, the movie on the TV throughout the entire Taste Test was Coyote Ugly. Don’t judge.

Beer #3: Lancaster Brewing Co. Hop Hog 7.9% ABV

Let’s just get right to the dialogue:

Dan: “Very mild for an IPA, creamy.”

Dave: “Very drinkable.”

Dan: “I think this is my favorite so far.”

Dave: “Me, too.”

Me: “It has a toastiness with the hoppiness.”

T-Bone: “I don’t think I’m an IPA guy.”

T-Bone: “I am hammered right now.”

So impressed was Dave that he changed his rating system for this beer, giving it 4 stars (I’m assuming this is either a 4 or 5 star system, however this was never specified). Considering this is an IPA with an ABV of almost 8%, this beer is pretty mild but also has a lot of nice flavors, like caramel, that go very well together. Very drinkable as nothing here is too overpowering. I agree with Dave’s 4 star rating.

Beer #4: Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA 9.0% ABV

I wrote about this beer a little bit in a previous post, so again, let’s get right to our Taste Testers:

Dave: “Whoa. Wha. Whoa.”

Dan: “Hoppy ending.”

Me: “Happy ending.” (Awkward forced laughter followed this comment, both from myself and my friends. We are nothing if not polite.)

Dan: “Is this Hops Infusion?” (another Weyerbacher beer I wrote about here.)

Dave: “My favorite.”

Dan: “Me too.”

T-Bone was absent from this conversation because he was scouting places in my house to do pull ups. We found him in the kitchen eyeing up my backdoor. Literally, the back door of my house, not my backside, you perverts. I revealed the beers we had sampled and offered everyone another. T-Bone took a Victory Hop Devil. Dan, Dave, and myself went for the Weyerbacher Double Simcoe. We finished those, Dan and Dave went on their way and T-Bone and I headed over to our local fire company social quarters where we drank Rolling Rock all night. T-Bone had this final bit of wisdom say about the Taste Testing:

“For me, if I could come to the bar, order a water, catch a buzz and hang out for awhile, then that’s what I would do. But I can’t. So I drink Rolling Rock.”

Spoken like a sunflower among dandelions. Amen.

General information about IPAs and their origins was found in The Naked Pint by Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune.  Thank you.

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