Beer Review 0446: No-Li Jet Star Imperial IPA

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No-Li Brewhouse recently began distribution here in North Carolina, so let’s dig into some of their beers and see what’s up with this brewery from Spokane, Washington.

Founded in 1993 by Mark Irvin, No-Li began life as the Northern Lights Brewing Company. Irvin fell in love with beer in the 1980’s while in Germany, living with his military family abroad. He brewed beer for Coeur d’Alene Brewing and Hale’s Ales before starting his own company.

For the first eight years, Northern Lights produced primarily draft beer and self-distributed kegs to local restaurants. In 2002, the brewery moved on the Spokane River and opened a brewpub

Enter the second player in this story: In 2012, John Bryant, a veteran brewer who previously worked at Deschutes, Odell, and Oskar Blues breweries (quite a reputation there!) had a glass of Northern Lights beer and wanted to work with Mr. Irvin. About the same time these two hooked up, there was a trademark dispute with the name “Northern Lights.” East coast brewery Starr Hill had been using the name on an IPA for many years — in an attempt to settle the issue, Irvin and Bryant contacted Starr Hill, but never received a response. They changed the name of the brewery to a shortened form of Northern Lights, “No-Li,” and named their Pale Ale ‘Silent Treatment’ (my review: 87 points) as a wry nod to the cold shoulder given to them by Starr Hill.

Jet Star is No-Li’s Imperial IPA, brewed to 8.1% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 90 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). Advertised as a showcase for hops, the malt backing is dialed down and the beer is supposed to have a soft mouthfeel to counterbalance the jarring hop bitterness. Let’s see.

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Jet Star pours an average size, soapy and frothy head, looking like whipped frosting. The bright white foam is long lasting, and sits atop a beautifully colored golden-orange beer that is very cloudy, so clouded that you can’t see through it. (No-Li says it shoudl be clear, and this isn’t a chill haze.) Although it is cloudy, there aren’t any visible particles or sediment. Lacing is first class, leaving thick sheets after every sip.

The aroma features a strong, hop-forward scent, with a heavy dose of grapefruit and pine. There are some nice tropical fruits here, especially pineapple and mango; the malts play a decidedly more mellow role, bringing in caramel sweetness. Even with the sweetness, it still smells like this brew will pack a bitter punch. This nose is fruity and a bit grassy, and is nice.

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The palate is a perfect battle of sweetness against bitterness: at first, the sweetness dominates with grapefruit, mango, and pineapple, and a large amount of sticky caramel. But the middle of the taste is where a massive wave of bitterness creeps in, and fights to overtake the sweet; while this battle plays out, the flavors are most excellent: bitter and sweet grapefruit combine with pineapple, sugary mango, dry pine, and a significant kick of alcohol. In the end, the bitterness wins out, leaving the palate dry and thirsty for another sip, and feeling like it has been hit with a dark pine Christmas tree. Jet Star is full-bodied, with a medium, creamy mouthfeel.

This No-Li beer tastes great and is impressive. Two points to note here: I think the 8.1% alcohol actually drinks more like 10%, and the big bitterness at the end starts to get so bitter after one glass that it nearly turns medicinal, which starts to upset how the more subtle fruity notes interplay with each other. Still, an outstanding beer and a great value.

No-Li Jet Star Imperial IPA, 93 points. Price: $8.49 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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