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Beer Review 0599: Stone Go To IPA

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With session IPA becoming a growing trend in craft beer, you had to know a low-alcohol hop-bomb made by the hop geniuses at Stone Brewing Company (Escondido, California) would soon be on the horizon. In March of this year, they released ‘Go To IPA,’ named such because many claimed this would be the beer they would most often reach for when session drinking.

Session beers often stir up a bit of controversy — what alcohol percentage do you define as “session?” For most, it seems around 4.5% or lower fits the bill. Stone’s version of an all-night pounder comes in right at 4.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) and is made using the “hop bursting” technique. Hop bursting is when the majority of the bitterness found in the beer (65 IBUs or International Bitterness Units, here) comes from late addition hops, typically added with 15 minutes or less to go in the boil.

Mitch Steele, Stone’s brewmaster, says there is a small bittering charge added just before the wort comes to a boil; the late additions are comprised of El Dorado, Mosaic, Citra, Cascade, and Sterling hops. The beer is finished with dry hops that are comprised of mostly the same additions used late in the boil.

The problem with most session IPA is that the low alcohol often makes the beer thin and lack mouthfeel, becoming more of a hoppy tea rather than a traditional beer. Let’s see if Stone has found balance that truly is a ‘Go To…’

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The pour issued up an average size, bright white head that was soapy and frothy in texture. It quickly diminished, leaving one finger of foam atop a golden beer that had just a hint of orange to it. The beer was brightly clear, free of particles and sediment, and lacing was excellent, leaving solid sheets of suds after each sip. It’s a very nice looking beer.

The nose is a knuckle sandwich of hops; we’ve got a big Mosaic presence — sweet melon is tackled by oranges, pine, and dankness. There’s some light grapefruit and lemon peel. Overall, I found the hop aroma to be sweet in nature, resinous, and completely covering any malt backing this beer might have. But…there probably isn’t much malt here to begin with; I detected perhaps some grainy sweetness. It’s clean, extremely hoppy, and just as advertised.

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Tasting brings on a light bitterness, reminiscent of grapefruit rind, then the middle of the taste explodes with all sorts of hop delight. Pine, melon, light tropical fruits, peaches, very fresh and clean. But things get a little muddy without a malt backbone — the hops fall apart some, and garlic/onion begin to take over the flavor profile. The bitterness, while only 65 IBU, is intense, especially with the lack of any sweetness and the bone dry finish. As it warms, the finish became more pleasant with dank notes of pine. Go To IPA is light-bodied, with a thin, drying mouthfeel. The bitterness, while heavy, isn’t too much, but it borders upon it.

Like many of its competitors, Stone’s Go To IPA lacks body and packs a heavy bitterness. It’s a nice beer, certainly drinkable with some interesting hops, but I’m not sure I could session this due to the hop tea thinness. I know Mitch Steele is a big fan of using 95-100% base malts in IPAs and (especially) Imperial IPAs, but I’m not sure that’s the right approach to take on a beer of this sort.

Stone Go To IPA, 84 points. Price: $1.79 US for one 12 oz. bottle.

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Beer Review 0598: Samuel Adams Rebel IPA

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The Boston Beer Company decided to add a new beer to their year-round lineup for 2014, and it’s a popular take on the India Pale Ale: they’re doing it “West Coast-style,” using hops popular in many IPAs that come from the left coast.

Founded in 1984 by Jim Koch, Boston Beer Company are the makers of the Samuel Adams brand, named for the American patriot famous for his role in the Boston Tea Party and American Revolution. Koch, a graduate of Harvard University, was connected to the brewing world by his great-great-great grandfather Louis Koch, who was a brewer. Jim became the first in his family to follow in the brewing footsteps of Louis; Boston Lager, Samuel Adams flagship brand (84 points) was an original Louis Koch recipe and was once called “Louis Koch Lager.”

Rebel IPA has slick marketing copy behind it. We’ll avoid all the glitter and just tell you the basics about the brew: it uses Cascade, Simcoe, Chinook, Centennial, and Amarillo hops, comes in at 6.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), and hits 45 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).

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The pour made a small, soapy head that diminished quickly. Color of the beer was golden with darker hints of copper out of light. The body was perfectly clear, filled with zooming carbonation bubbles; there were no particles or sediment, and lacing was excellent, leaving trails of suds as I sampled.

The aroma features a moderate dosage of hops — not a hop bomb like you might be expecting. There’s lots of grapefruit and spicy citrus, especially orange peel and lemon, and there’s definitely some pine. The malt backing is toasted bread with just a touch of caramel sweetness. It doesn’t gain in complexity as it warms; if anything, only the spicy citrus notes ramp up just a touch. Overall, I was expecting more hop aroma, especially for the five varieties this beer employs…

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As for the taste, well… let’s just say this isn’t a “West Coast-style” IPA. There’s spicy grapefruit up front that is quickly overtaken by a dominant lemon peel — the lemon becomes steady and coupled with the bitterness, turns to furniture polish. The malts are light and mostly toasted, with only a bit of caramel and residual sweetness. The finish comes on strong, providing lots of bitterness, but not in a good way. Rebel IPA may only say 45 IBU, but they’re packing tons of medicinal, salty, sharp bitterness in, which would be fine…IF THERE WERE SOME HOP FLAVORS TO GO ALONG WITH IT! There’s not — just spicy citrus and some dry, soapy grapefruit. Sigh. This beer is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy texture.

I would really hate for an inexperienced drinker to get one of these bottles and this be his or her first introduction to a “West Coast-style” IPA. This is just another American IPA, and not even a very good one, at that. To me, Rebel IPA tastes like it has the bittering down solid, but they must have forgotten the aroma/flavor hops. Not to mention…dry hops. And those two things are two of the defining aspects of “West Coast-style” IPA, late addition hops and dryhopping. I’ve had IPAs that hit double the IBUs found here yet still taste sweeter.

It’s not a bad beer, by any means, but don’t expect a West Coast IPA.

Samuel Adams Rebel IPA, 76 points. Price: $1.79 US for one 12 oz. bottle.

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Beer Review 0587: Oakham Ales Citra IPA

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Oakham Ales is located in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, England, and is home to the largest brewpub in Europe, The Brewery Tap. Opened on a Friday the 13th in October of 2006, the two partners involved were Paul Hook and John Bryan. Oakham started as a 75-barrel brewhouse and have steadily expanded.

You might be scratching your head a little bit at the name of this beer — Citra IPA? Yep, this is decidedly a west-coast of the United States style beer brewed by our friends in England. Citra IPA was Oakham’s fifth beer to become year-round, and it is a single-hopped IPA that uses, wait for it: only Citra hops. Citra hops are an aroma hop variety that were developed in 2008 by the Hop Breeding Company — the hop has high alpha acids, and impart citrus and tropical fruit characters. The beer is only 4.2% ABV (alcohol by volume) and won gold in the 2013 International Beer Challenge. Recently, the website RateBeer named Oakham one of the top 100 breweries in the world; only six breweries based in England made the list.

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The pour drew a small, soapy, bright white head that quickly fizzled away. Color of the beer was a very pale yellow, and it’s super translucent, with no particles or sediment. The body had just a touch of hop haze to it (not chill haze) and the lacing was fair, leaving behind a ring of weepy foam after I began to take sips.

On the nose, this beer is hop-heavy but retains a bit of lightness — does that make any sense? Let me explain that a little more: the hop aroma dominates, pretty much masking any malt backing, but it’s not an extremely pungent hoppy nose. We’ve got tons of grapefruit, citrus (oranges and lemons, especially) and a touch of grassiness. There’s a bit of herbal spice; if there are some malts here, there just light grains. As the beer warms, more and more lemon peel starts to show.

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The palate follows the nose, and this is a very pleasant, easy drinking beer to be so hoppy. Wonderful, juicy notes of grapefruit, orange, and lemon greet the tongue, sweet at first, even ripe…before the bitterness is turned on, and ramps up with the bitter side of all the above. Grapefruit rind, orange peel, and lemon zest, along with some herbal tea. The finish showcases the grapefruit and some juicy orange. Despite being so full-flavored, Citra is light-bodied, with a thin, foamy, and dry mouthfeel.

Color me impressed — not only is Citra one of my favorite hops, but this is impressive for a 4.2% ale that only uses one hop. The flavors are excellent and if you’re looking for an extremely drinkable IPA with loads of Citrus, check Oakham out. I didn’t expect this, but these English guys have made a session IPA that stands its own against some of the big dogs from here in the United States.

Oakham Ales Citra IPA, 89 points. Price: $4.99 US for one 500 ml. bottle.

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Beer Review 0565: Foothills IPA Of The Month – January 2014 ‘Ginger’

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Foothills Brewing (Winston-Salem, North Carolina) are taking on a new project for 2014 — they’re crafting a new, unique IPA for each month of the year.

Foothills Brewing is my local brewpub, located about fifteen minutes from my home. You may know them for their Russian Imperial Stout, named Sexual Chocolate, which is a highly-sought after brew that is released in limited form each February. I reviewed it in 2012 and gave it 94 points.

Foothills started brewing in 2004; now, nearly ten years later, brewmaster Jamie Bartholomaus is seeing his creations go into bottles more and more. The brewery has opened up a production facility across town, and many of their regular lineup options are now mainstays in six-pack form in grocery stores all across the state. With the opening of the production facility, it has freed the brewpub up for some experimental beers — not 100% sure, but the 2014 IPA project seems like it would be well-versed for a small batch production.

The first offering in the series, which was nicknamed ‘Ginger’ by drinkers on Facebook, is a 6.8% ABV (alcohol by volume) IPA that uses Horizon hops in the boil, and is then dry-hopped with Simcoe and Chinook. The IBUs (International Bitterness Units) are at 67.

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The pour drew up an average size, frothy head that turned soap-sudsy before it diminished, and it took its sweet time doing so. Color of the beer was a nice golden-orange, and the body was very hazy. While you can’t exactly see through it, there were no particles or sediment floating about. Lacing was excellent, coating the glass with thick patches of foam. This is a pleasant looking beer, especially for the middle of winter when the eyes are used to seeing darker fare.

On the nose, things are a little muted but still interesting — there’s lots of lemon peel on this brew, with more gentle and tamed notes of grapefruit and tropical fruits. But the most notable thing going on in the aroma is a Saison-like quality at play; the yeast is slightly musty and it just smells dry. Perhaps my nose is playing tricks on me, but Ginger has an aroma like a hoppy Saison, with a bit of straw and grain mixed in. Not your typical IPA scent, for sure.

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The taste opens with a blast of orange and lemon, along with dry grapefruit. The beer is dry throughout; swirl it in the mouth and you’ll get a juicy hit of tropical fruits and a slight peach flavor. Middle of the taste is somewhat grainy, preparing for a finish that offers dry lemon peel, orange, and grapefruit. This beer has a very nice mouthfeel; while it is foamy, it’s more on the creamy end without being, well, expressly creamy. The carbonation seems soft, which helps matters out…Ginger is medium-bodied.

My expectations for this beer weren’t very high, but color me pleasantly surprised. This is a tasty brew that showcases some very nice subtle nuances, especially the tropical fruit and peach flavors. Couple in the Saison-like dryness, this brew leaves you mouth feeling like you’ve licked an envelope flavored with Jolly Ranchers. You’re always prepared for the next sip…until the bottle runs dry. And it will, quickly. Nice job, Foothills — can’t wait to see what February has in store.

Foothills IPA Of The Month – January 2014 ‘Ginger’, 89 points. Price: $5.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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Beer Review 0559: Great Divide Lasso IPA

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Great Divide Brewing Co. is the vision of Brian Dunn, who during the late 1980’s, spent five years outside of the United States building farms in developing countries. Dunn had a passion for beer, and upon returning home to Colorado, started home brewing and graduated from college.

Dunn thought that he could start a brewery in Denver, and with help from family, friends, and a loan from the city, Great Divide started producing beers in 1994. At first, Dunn was the only employee — but his beers were outstanding, winning medals at beer festivals and catching attention by word of mouth.

Things got big, and today Great Divide has 47 employees, and has won eighteen Great American Beer Festival medals. Now brewing 10 year-round beers and 12 seasonals, Great Divide proudly says they have “something for everyone.”

Celebrating 20 years in 2014, Great Divide is adding the beer up for review today — Lasso IPA — to its year-round portfolio. Inspired by the recent trend of lower ABV (alcohol by volume) so-called “session” style India Pale Ale, Lasso becomes Great Divide’s lowest beer in alcohol, measuring just 5%. Whether you want to consider 5% sessionable or not is an argument for another time, and perhaps another website altogether.

Brewed with Columbus, Centennial, and Cascade hops, the beer ranks 50 IBUs (International Bitterness Units) and promises “it’ll go down mighty fine.”

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Lasso pours a beautiful bright white head, large and soapy atop a perfectly golden beer. The head lasts; the body of the beer is exceptionally clear and contains no particles or sediment. Lacing is excellent, leaving behind thick layers of foam as I sipped.

On the nose, what we have is fairly typical of lower ABV IPA — lots of grapefruit, a fair bit of orange and lemon peel, and significant grassiness. Grassy hops seem to be the dividing factor on these types of beer; here, it’s not overwhelming. The malts are nearly non-existent, only offering up some faint notes of grain. I’d call this one earthy, dominant in grapefruit, with a grassy undertone.

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The taste opens with a bit of a surprise. Bold notes of fleshy grapefruit and juicy orange delight, immediately making me smile and wondering how they got all that flavor in this relatively small package. Really nice right from the get go — middle of the mouth turns more toward the grassy end, and the grainy flavors start to come out as well. But the delicious hoppy flavors never die, as showcased on the finish with moderately bitter grapefruit, pine, and lemon. For 50 IBUs, this is much more bitter than I expected. I’d classify this beer medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy, and drying mouthfeel that hedges just a bit toward medicinal but isn’t off-putting.

Nicely done, Great Divide! Looks like year twenty will be a great one — but some thoughts: there’s a ton of flavor here for a 5% beer, and I love that. However, I wonder exactly who the target audience is — you’re certainly not going to hook a novice drinker with this beer, it’s too bitter! And for someone like myself, I probably won’t go back to this because there is a price issue here. I understand these type of “session” beers take more effort to brew because you are packing lots of flavor without having much alcohol to work with, but I’m not dropping eleven bucks for a sixer of this. Call me cheap if you want, but it’s the truth. That said, this is a very good beer and an impressive feat of brewing. I could easily drink many of these, and I recommend all to try it.

Great Divide Lasso IPA, 89 points. Price: $10.99 US for a six-pack.

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