Beer Review 0157: 21st Amendment Brew Free! Or Die IPA

I’ve reviewed a couple of 21st Amendment brews lately, so I’m going to continue the trend and have another from the San Francisco, California brewery.

Founded in the year 2000 by Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan, 21st Amendment is named after the repeal of that total American buzzkiller — Prohibition. After meeting in 1995, both Freccia and O’Sullivan gave up their successful careers and took a brewing science course at UC Davis.

The 21st Amendment Brewpub is located in San Francisco’s historic South Park neighborhood, just two blocks from where the Giants play baseball.

Brew Free! Or Die is 21st Amendment’s year-round IPA, and is their most popular offering at the brewpub. Brewed west coast style with six varieties of hops (Warrior, Columbus, Cascade, Amarillo, Ahtanum, and Simcoe), this India Pale Ale is made to achieve balance rather than overloading the palate with crushing bitterness. Brew Free! Or Die comes in at 7% ABV (alcohol by volume).

The pour produced a large and lasting head, creamy in texture and billowing over top of the glass. The liquid was clear in body with no particles or sediment, and the color was a nice deep golden-orange. There were a few bits of lacing as I drank, but nothing much to get excited over.

Right from the first sniff, the aroma indicates that if you don’t like hops, you won’t like this beer. This is literally a hop bomb — and I know that is an overused expression on beer reviews like these, but the hops explode out of the glass here. Big, juicy, sticky smelling grapefruit, pine, and resin greets the nose, with a supporting cast of citrus (orange/lime) and tropical fruits (pineapple/mango). This beer is also slightly catty, giving off that cat urine aroma sometimes found in highly hopped beers. And while this might be a superbly balanced brew, I have nothing to report but the hop category, because it totally dominates.

On the taste, there is a very soft orange up front, which slowly leads to some sweet pineapple, before hitting the tongue with just a touch of the 70 IBUs (International Bitterness Units) this beer possesses. The key word to this beer seems to be slow — all these flavors unfurl themselves rather dramatically, which is a bit strange for an IPA, but this was nice. The finish showcases an odd mild tobacco note that turns more bittersweet than bitter as it opens up. Then, on the last bit of finish, there’s a faded fruity taste, along with a display of sweet malt, specifically caramel.

I highly enjoyed this beer and thought it had a high drinkability. Before I knew it, half my glass was gone, and I was just loving how the flavors took their time to display. And the finish was superb; delightfully complex and unexpected. This isn’t an IPA that will hammer you with bitterness; hell, this isn’t even an IPA that will hammer you with hops (but the aromatics sure do). This is an IPA that will surprise even the most seasoned lover of India Pale Ale.

21st Amendment Brew Free! Or Die IPA, 92 points. Price: $2.29 for one twelve ounce can.

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