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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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Beer Review 0424: Stone RuinTen Imperial IPA

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Exactly one year ago today, I reviewed Stone’s Ruination Tenth Anniversary IPA, and awarded it 98 points. Ruination Tenth Anniversary was produced in celebration of Stone’s Ruination IPA, one of the first Imperial IPAs to be bottled and widely distributed in the United States. I rated Ruination, which Stone says is a “liquid poem to the glory of the hop” 93 points.

Ruination Tenth Anniversary was an amped-up version of regular Ruination — at 10.8% ABV (alcohol by volume), the beer was brewed with FIVE POUNDS of hops per barrel! The hops used were Columbus and Centennial, while dry-hopping introduced Citra and even more Centennial. The IBUs (International Bitterness Units) pegged out at a massive 110. I was so floored by the beer that I named it third on my Top 25 of 2012 list.

Well, apparently I wasn’t alone in my love for the beer. Stone (Escondido, California) have decided they will make Ruination Tenth Anniversary a yearly limited release — renaming it RuinTen IPA, the beer keeps the same recipe and dry hopping schedule as before. Everything is exactly the same except for the name and bottle art. So, why review this beer again? Well…beer can vary by batch, and technically this is a different beer since it has a different name…

But I’m not going to kid you. Ever since I had this beer last year, I’ve been dreaming of having it again. This is an impressive brew, and I couldn’t NOT review it again — know that I’m going into this review with high expectations, expecting RuinTen to match the same feeling I had one year ago…

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The pour rustled up a small, creamy, slightly off-white head that had lasting power and was easily regenerated when swirled in the glass. The beer was golden-orange in color, but more towards amber when held out of the light; the body had a slight haze to it, and was clear, featuring no particles or sediment. Lacing was excellent, leaving behind thin, wispy sheets of foam.

Pop the crown on this bottle and you’re immediately going to smell a ton of hops. RuinTen is heavy on the tropical fruits; think: mango, pineapple, papaya — much like Hawaiian Punch juice concentrate. While the hops are heavy, there’s also a significant malt backing, and it’s quite sweet, featuring our old friend caramel. But that malt backing does a phenomenal job propping up all the hops and alcohol here: dark, dank notes of pine, classic grapefruit, and a cattiness that intensifies as the beer warms. There’s also fleshy orange and dry orange peel. And the alcohol is here, not overwhelming, but a nice team player that reminds you this beer does indeed pack a punch.

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The first thing you notice on the taste is how astringent this brew is; talk about a palate wrecker or enamel ripper! This drink rustles over your taste buds like a tongue scraper, but it also delivers a truck load of initially sweet pineapple, mango, and peaches; the booziness is immediately felt but that sharp taste combines excellently with a minty flavor that lingers throughout the taste. By the finish, it has turned moderately to heavily bitter, and when clicking the tongue to the roof your mouth, there’s plenty of dark pine, grapefruit, and menthol lozenge. It’s crazy how the mint flavor in this beer turns into a nearly overwhelming burst of HELLO, PAY ATTENTION to me! Wow. What a ride. RuinTen is full-bodied, with a medium, foamy, and dry mouthfeel, and it leaves me nearly breathless after each sip.

If you couldn’t tell by my gushing preamble, my gushing review from last year, and my even more so gushing review this year — you must get this beer, and you must get it now. Hop lovers, your beer life isn’t complete until you try this “stage dive into a mosh pit of hops,” as the bottle calls it… I’m really close to a perfect score here. A classic now, and for many more years to come, hopefully. Thanks, Stone, for giving this a repeat play.

Stone RuinTen Imperial IPA, 99 points. Price: $7.49 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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Beer Review 0408: Clown Shoes Muffin Top Belgian-Style Tripel IPA

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It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a beer from Clown Shoes — if you’ve been reading my reviews for any length of time, you’ll know that I shied away from Clown Shoes for the longest time because I didn’t particularly care for their bottle art, but after trying a couple of their brews, I was highly impressed. I don’t think I’ve had a mediocre beer from them yet.

Clown Shoes beers are contract brewed by Mercury Brewing Company, located in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Mercury produces beer for several different companies, and they even make craft sodas.

Muffin Top is a year-round offering from Clown Shoes, and will soon be available in 12 oz. bottles — it is a Belgian-style Tripel, brewed with a burst of American hops. The beer comes in at 10% ABV (alcohol by volume).

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The pour tells the story of two beers: at first, this produces an average size, soapy and frothy head with a lasting quality. The beer is golden-orange in color, with a cloudy body, but no particles or sediment in suspension. Lacing is extremely good, leaving thin but solid sheets, like a heavy frost. At the bottom of the bottle, mixing all the yeast cake in with the beer, you get a larger head that is creamy and tends to last in significant quantity. The beer becomes highly clouded, and there is a noticeable sediment — so much so that the beer becomes opaque. Very nice!

On the nose, Muffin Top is quite complex, and very balanced for this style of beer. The hops are sweet, offering candied orange, lots of general citrus, especially lemon, and tropical notes of pineapple and even some bitter grapefruit. The malts add to the sweetness, with some biscuit and bread notes, and the yeast is contributing common Belgian qualities of clove and bubblegum. The 10% ABV is here, but it adds a nice sharpness to the aroma, not an overbearing booziness. As this warmed, and as I poured the remainder of the bottle in, the yeast components came more to the front, and the hops began to get a little catty.

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Tasting, and right away, this is straight pineapple juice with a bit of fleshy grapefruit cut in. The Belgian yeast comes in to break up the initial fruitiness, giving a layer of funky clove and dry bubblegum. This is a strange but pleasant combination of flavors; in the middle, some dark pine hops come out, along with orange peel and a touch of caramel. The finish is moderately bitter, balancing notes of the yeast with candied orange peel and a heavy alcohol presence. Not quite boozy, but it’s there. The yeast is actually more funky than it is typical Belgium — when the rest of the bottle is poured in, the mouthfeel becomes creamy. I found this to be medium-bodied, with a high alcohol warmth but not boozy in taste.

When I first looked at the style of this brew, I nearly rolled my eyes. Belgian IPAs can tend to be a mess, but this one is not only interesting, but exceptionally drinkable and combines the large amount of flavors really well. This bottle is worth it, and I was pleasantly surprised, although I shouldn’t have been: Clown Shoes know what they’re doing. Pick it up!

Clown Shoes Muffin Top Belgian-Style Tripel IPA, 94 points. Price: $7.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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Redux Review 0011: Stone Enjoy By 05.17.13 Imperial IPA

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I feel like I’ve written a thesis about this beer — oh, wait, I have! I’ve reviewed this beer twice already — I awarded it 98 points for the Enjoy By 04.01.13 version, and 05.17.13 got 96 points.

Stone’s Enjoy By IPA (Escondido, California) is brewed not to last. Showcasing the importance of bottle dating on IPAs, Stone brew this with a shelf life of 35 days; if any is remaining on the shelf past the enjoy by date, bottle shops are instructed to send it back to the distributor. But that simply doesn’t happen, because the beer is so good and people buy it up at a fast pace to enjoy NOW.

This beer does vary slightly by batch — for instance, the 04.01.13 batch produced more head, more lacing, and had more peaches on the nose than 05.17.13. Stone use whatever hops are in season at the time of the brew, which is why I wanted to review at least two different versions of this.

But a funny thing happened when I had several bottles of 04.01.13; I let one go a couple weeks beyond the expiration date and when I sampled it, I actually thought it was better than during the “enjoy by” period! Not that I was expecting it to be horrible by any means, but I did think I would see a significant drop in hop flavor and aroma. To the contrary; what was left was a well-rounded beer that had its rough edges polished.

So, my experiment with the 05.17.13 batch was to give it a full month after the enjoy by date. Here we are, exactly one month beyond the suggested consumption period, and we’re going to give it a redux look. I have stored this beer like all IPAs that are put away (if your tastes prefer them this way) should be: refrigerated.

My initial review:

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Appearance: 13 of 15 points
Aroma: 15 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 34 of 35 points
Drinkability/Overall Experience: 34 of 35 points

Final Score: 96 points, or classic on my rating scale.

And now, same beer, but sixty-six days old instead of twenty:

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The pour delivers a small head, soapy and lasting. The beer is a nice golden color, is translucent but has a hop hazy body that is free of particles and sediment. The appearance pretty much mirrors what this beer was a month ago, with one exception: the lacing is better, leaving behind patchy spiderweb suds down my glass as I sipped.

The nose is still incredibly hoppy; the peach notes have taken a major step forward, making this quite sweeter than before. The usual suspects of tropical fruits and grass are also here — these mix nicely and sort of ground each other, and give a base layer of grapefruit and pine. Malts seem to have dialed up a notch, too, issuing up more sweetness in the form of light caramel and some grainy straw. Still really nice but definitely not as pungent as before. I can tell a hop fade has happened.

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Peaches. Lots of peaches. The taste starts with a load of sweet peaches, so sweet that it’s nearly like schnapps; it’s not cloying but you aren’t expecting that much sweetness out of this beer. But that quickly fades; the grassy/tropical fruit notes take over, which bring in ample bitterness in the middle of the mouth, along with a light alcohol presence. The bitterness allows the beer to finish more traditional, with notes of grapefruit and pine, and very little to no malt backing. The bitterness ramps up after the swallow, especially when you click your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Medium-bodied, Enjoy By 05.17.13 is also medium in mouthfeel, creamy but quite drying.

Do I like this beer better with a month of age? No, I don’t — three big things have happened here. There’s been significant hop fade, as in this beer is just doesn’t have the hop ‘pop’ it once did. The sweetness is also considerably higher, and believe it or not, the bitterness on the finish is more pronounced. But while the transition from moderately sweet to heavily bitter is interesting, the complexity of the hop flavors have been lost and what’s left is somewhat one-dimensional. I’m thinking the sweet spot for Enjoy By is within 14 days of the expiration date. That being said, this beer is still mighty, but be forewarned if you are just trying it… it’s not what it once was, by design.

In redux:

Appearance: 14 of 15 points
Aroma: 13 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 32 of 35 points
Drinkability/Overall Experience: 32 of 35 points

Stone Enjoy By 05.17.13 Imperial IPA, 91 points. Price: $7.49 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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Beer Review 0403: Central Waters Illumination Imperial IPA

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Central Waters brew beer in Amherst, Wisconsin. In 1996, Mike McElwain and Jerome Ebel bought an old brick building and spent two years restoring it — when it was ready for beer production, the home brewers acquired some used dairy equipment and retrofitted it into a brewery. Using their own recipes, the pair produced many different styles of beer, most notably, an award winning Barleywine (91 points).

The brewery continued to grow, even as ownership changed. In 2001, McElwain and Ebel sold the facility, and shortly after, the main brew kettle cracked beyond repair. So on its fifth anniversary, Central Waters purchased what amounted to a new brewhouse.

Today, Central Waters is owned by Paul Graham and Anello Mollica, who together have 24 years brewing experience. Another move took place in 2007, which saw Central Waters locate to Amherst.

Illumination, an Imperial IPA, resides in the Brewer’s Reserve series, a group of beers that are limited release. Brewed with Centennial, Chinook, and Simcoe hops, Illumination hits 9% ABV (alcohol by volume). Another plus: out of all the Brewer’s Reserve beers I’ve reviewed, this is the only one that carries the bottling date and the ABV. Thumbs up for that!

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The pour kicked up a small, soapy head that had a lasting quality. The color was golden-amber, just a touch darker than your typical Imperial IPA, and the body was clear with no particles or sediment. Lacing was fair, producing wispy soapy suds on the upper portion of my glass.

As expected, the nose delivered heavy hops — the grapefruit here is awesome, giving you both the fruit and the rind, and mixing with sweet tropical fruits. Mango and pineapple seem to bring out the grapefruit astringency, and a touch of lemon serves to round things out. I noticed a floral note, and even some hot garlic as the beer warmed from fridge temperature to room temperature, and the malts are here, very lightly with some bready caramel. Overall, the aroma is inviting and a dream for a hop lover.

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The taste issues up expert use of grapefruit, which is juicy and bitter right from the initial sip. The astringency mellows with sweet mango and a tart pineapple, and the malt backing balances out the tart tropical fruits with some bready sweetness. Illumination finishes moderately bitter, riding the grapefruit rind but the beer has a sweet side too, presenting orange peel and white sugar. There’s just a touch of garlic in there, and the bitterness dries out the palate with an almost medicinal quality. I found the beer to be medium-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.

Central Waters deliver an extremely solid and highly drinkable IPA that I think would please even the most timid of Imperial drinker. The hop flavors strike me as delicate but forceful — there’s a solid side of sweet here, but in the end, the bitterness creeps up and makes you smile. I’d recommend this in a heartbeat.

Central Waters Illumination Imperial IPA, 91 points. Price: $3.89 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

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