Beer Review 0481: Pisgah Vortex I Imperial IPA

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Pisgah Brewing Company is located just east of Asheville, North Carolina, in Black Mountain, and they have an emphasis on using local and organic ingredients. Once designated a USDA certified organic brewery, the company recently lost that status due to the limited availability of organic hops. According to Pisgah, other, much larger breweries with more monetary influence gobble up the scarce amounts of organic hops, leaving them no other choice but to use hops from sources that aren’t certified organic.

Nonetheless, Pisgah soldier on, brewing a lot of their seasonal and limited release offerings with local ingredients, while still using organic malts. Pisgah’s flagship beer, their Pale Ale, accounts for 75-80% of its sales. The brewery is rapidly expanding, but still does most everything by hand. The beer up for review today, Vortex I, is subject to some confusion on the Internet — listed as an American Strong Ale on some beer websites, this beer is actually an Imperial IPA, comes in at 9.2% ABV (alcohol by volume) and is hopped with four varieties of high alpha acid hops to the tune of 3.5 grams per glass. They call it the “hoppiest beer in Buncombe County.”

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The pour produced an average size, soapy and slightly off-white head that stuck around. The beer was golden-orange in color, very typical for this style, and was hazy. There was sediment at the bottom of the bottle, but none of it was visibly present in the beer, although it was far from crystal clear. Lacing was excellent, a perfect example of solid sheets of thin suds.

The aromatics of Vortex I are quite amazing. This is truly a hop showcase, delivering a ton of orange-forward citrus up front, along with an undercurrent of complex and heavy tropical fruits. There’s passionfruit, papaya, mango, and a squeeze of pineapple juice; this really is like Hawaiian Punch mixed with beer. The malts are very mildly present and enforce the overall sweetness of the beer with a suggestion of caramel and biscuit. As the brew warms, the hops offer a definite touch of onion and garlic.

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On the palate, Vortex I doesn’t quite stand up to the excellent aromatics. Immediately, the flavors start with some grassy pine and grapefruit, none of which are really found on the nose. It’s not a bad flavor, by any means, but I was really looking for those tropical fruits to hit my taste buds with a fury…alas, they never do. The hops open up into orange peel and lemon, almost herbal, and the beer quickly transitions from lightly sweet to moderately bitter. The bitterness lays down a finish with a flash of red fruit punch, then lots of grapefruit and pine. This is an Imperial IPA that continues to get more and more bitter as you drink it, starting moderately bitter and ending up giving off menthol cough drop-like bitterness toward the end of the glass. I found Vortex I to be medium-bodied with a medium, creamy mouthfeel.

For the high ABV, I found this highly drinkable and the alcohol was completely hidden. It’s sad that the flavors don’t really match the complexity of the nose, but the taste here is still quite good and will please the lupulin lover nicely. That said, the bitterness tends to collect and become a bit medicinal the longer you drink it, so take that into account.

Pisgah Vortex I Imperial IPA, 92 points. Price: $8.75 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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