Beer Review 0293: Cottonwood Frostbite Black IPA

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Cottonwood isn’t an actual brewery — it’s a brand name, which was purchased in 2011 by Foothills Brewing Company, located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Carolina Beer & Beverage used to produce beers under the Cottonwood and Carolina Blonde names, but since the sale, Jamie Bartholomaus, president and brewmaster at Foothills, has taken charge. The original company started in 1997. In the transition, Foothills gained all of Carolina Beer & Beverage’s equipment, plus the brands; some of the beers are still made with the same recipes. No jobs were lost.

One of the changes Foothills has made to Cottonwood is reflected in their winter seasonal offering — Frostbite, which used to be an American Strong Ale, coming in at 8.5 % ABV (alcohol by volume), is now a Black IPA, registering 6.5% ABV. The IBUs (International Bitterness Units) are 74. The original Frostbite had a hoppy finish, so the changes are minor; same idea, just a slightly different style.

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Pouring issued up an average size head, soapy and sudsy in texture. Look quickly because it disappears quite fast. This beer has some trickery in the looks department; out of direct light, it is black and opaque, but in the light, you find it is actually ruby-brown and translucent. There were no particles or sediment to be found here, and the lacing was fair, leaving a few patchy suds clinging to the glass.

For a Black IPA, the aroma focuses solely on the hops. There were big notes of resinous dark pine, touches of grapefruit and a lot of grass. This is one astringent aroma, and it also has hints of lemon peel.

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But the malt backbone is the first thing to hit your taste buds, offering up some general roasted notes, coupled with ample fresh grapefruit and lemon rind. That grassy aroma comes through in taste by the middle of the mouth, flexing its full muscle, and also serving as a gateway for some pine. The finish starts monstrously hoppy, crashing with astringency and loads of Christmas tree pine — but there is some balance as notes of coffee and dark chocolate support this nicely. But the wave of bitterness wins out in the end, transitioning from a light bitter to full bore, drying the palate and almost hitting the crushed aspirin level. Frostbite is medium-bodied, with a thin to medium mouthfeel that is foamy when swirled around the tongue.

I like the balance here; this is still an IPA, so the hops do win out. However, I question the hop usage here; there’s simply too much of that grassy taste for my liking, and the final bitterness is almost too much. In the closing stages, as this warmed and I was on the final couple of ounces, the taste took on a hemp-like flavor. I probably won’t return here, but I still think you might want to give this a shot. There are better examples of this style out there.

Cottonwood Frostbite Black IPA, 81 points. Price: $1.79 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

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