What happens when you age a bourbon barrel-aged Imperial IPA in the best way possible? Today, we’re here to find out.
Without question, Founders (Grand Rapids, Michigan) Backstage Series brews are the hardest beers for me to obtain. Demand and hype are through the roof. Most shops only get one case, which in terms of the 750 ml servings these beers are doled out it, equals just twelve bottles per store. To make matters worse, these beers typically see release on a Monday, during what would traditionally be considered normal working hours. Last April, when Doom was released, I managed to snag two bottles. I immediately reviewed one while it was fresh, and scored it 94 points, one of the better Backstage Series beers that I’ve had.
I decided to squirrel one away, just to see what happens — and I aged it the best way possible; for one solid year, this bottle has remained in my fridge at a constant 38°F. With one year (and probably a few days), we’re going to crack the crown and see what we’ve got.
For those new to this beer, Doom is a bourbon-barrel aged version of Founders Double Trouble (rating: 93 points). It was previously known as “Hand of Doom” when served exclusively in their taproom; it was selected in 2013 to see a wide release in the Backstage Series.
My initial review went like this:
Appearance: 14 of 15 points
Aroma: 14 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 33 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points
Final Score: 94 points, or outstanding on my rating scale.
So, what’s happened to this beer over the span of a year while stored in optimal conditions? Let’s see…
The pour produced an average size, soapy head that diminished fairly quickly. There were lots of carbonation bubbles zooming to the top of the drink; the beer was golden in color and was brilliantly clear, with not even a hint of particles or sediment. Lacing was good, leaving weepy sheets of thin foam.
On the nose, not too much has changed since our initial visit — bourbon barrel collides with tropical fruit hops. We’ve got coconut, vanilla, and pineapple up front, with touches of grapefruit and orange peel. It’s almost like the barrel contributes some sweetness; there is a definite caramel malt backing, but the vanilla and somewhat woodsy/spicy barrel amplify the sweet level. As it warms, the vanilla and coconut notes show more, along with a dry twist of lemon peel.
The age of this beer shows up on the taste; it’s not wholesale radically different but Doom is now drinking more like an American Barleywine instead of an Imperial IPA — up front, grapefruit, coconut, and pineapple. It’s initially sweet but turns moderately bitter after the first couple of swishes in the mouth; the bitterness is balanced by a solid note of caramel. The once-juicy fruits have turned dry, leaving only hints of faded pineapple, grapefruit, and spicy vanilla. The finish is warm, with a hit of the 10% alcohol, a nice layer of bitterness thanks to grapefruit rind and pine, and a layer of hot bourbon. This beer is medium-bodied, with a medium, creamy mouthfeel.
This is still a very nice beer, and easily one of the better barrel-aged IPAs around… (barrels and IPA tend to rarely go together, in my opinion…) but as you might have expected, Doom was better fresh. I do think if you have a bottle of this and it hasn’t aged in a fridge, you will probably be in for worse results. While quite drinkable (and enjoyable!) you’ll find this is now more like a Barleywine than an IPA.
Founders Doom Imperial IPA, 89 points. Price: $12.99 US for one 750 ml bottle.
Fullsteam Brewery is located Durham, North Carolina, which makes it a local brewery for me. The craft beer world is going crazy here in North Carolina; not only have some of the big boys came to our backyard with east coast facilities (New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, and Oskar Blues), but we also have a ton of smaller, truly local breweries that are hitting home runs with their beer.
And while beer is exploding here in NC, Fullsteam are seeking to create an identity for beer created in the South: brews that celebrate the culinary and agricultural heritage of this area. Cack-a-Lacky Ginger Pale Ale is a collaboration with Cackalacky, a southern spice company, located in nearby Chapel Hill. The beer is described as a “zippy, hoppy ginger pale ale that’s enjoyable on its own and a perfect compliment to spicy food.” The beer is Fullsteam’s first ever canned offering, and the beer registers 5% ABV (alcohol by volume).
The pour issued up an average size, frothy and lasting head. The beer was orange-amber in color, and had an exceptionally clear body, free of particles and sediment. It’s a typical pale ale; very clear, a little past golden, and with a fair amount of carbonation. Lacing is excellent, leaving behind solid sheets of foam.
You want some ginger? Well, it’s here on the nose, large and in charge. In fact, it nearly overwhelms everything else; but there are some subtle things going on: hints of lemon peel and herbal spice show the way to some light and sweet caramel malt. But otherwise, this is mostly really fresh ginger with a dusting of complementary lemon peel. Reminds me of a nice sushi plate.
But the taste is much more than ginger; the initial notes ring out like a great Pale Ale, delivering dry and almost soapy grapefruit with a pinch of caramel. Then comes the ginger, along with lemon peel. The ginger is actually quite sweet in the middle of the mouth, but the hops tame it, crushing the tongue with bitter grapefruit and a touch of pine. In the end, the ginger wins out; the hops dry out the palate but the long, lingering finish of soft and sweet ginger remains. Cack-a-Lacky is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy mouthfeel.
Yes, I had my doubts: you see, I’m not the biggest fan of ginger to start with, but this is a very refreshing beer and the ginger plays the part of gentle giant. There’s a lot going on in this little beer, and I think you’ll be surprised by it. I’d love to taste the base beer without the ginger, and I’m not suggesting I’d prefer it without ginger, just that it tends to vanquish some of the softer hop flavors that I’m sure are here. This brew is a killer palate cleanser, and it’s no kidding that Fullsteam suggest pairing it with spicy food. I went in with reservations, but left really digging this one. Cool stuff.
Fullsteam Cack-a-Lacky Ginger Pale Ale, 89 points. Price: $1.79 US for one 12 oz. can.
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.
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.
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.
Red Seal Amber Ale is produced in Fort Bragg, California by North Coast Brewing Company. The beer is an award-winning Amber Ale that is often compared to Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale (85 points) in terms of balance and substance. Red Seal Ale is 5.4% ABV (alcohol by volume) and registers 42 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
North Coast opened in 1988, founded by Mark Reudrich, and quickly developed a staunch reputation for quality. Beers from North Coast have won over 70 awards in international competition. The brand features a core line, a California ale line, and “ultra premium” offerings. Red Seal fits in the core line, and is available year-round.
The pour served up a beautiful beer, topped with an average size, slightly off-white soapy head that was built to last. The beer itself is a nice light amber color with golden highlights. It’s very clear, with lots of carbonation bubbles, and no particles or sediment. Lacing is excellent, and the glass is covered with thick and solid sheets of foam when I’m done. Exceptional!
On the nose, the hops win out overwhelmingly — there’s pungent notes of pine and grapefruit, but they do mix with a solidly yet subtle sweet caramel and lightly toasted malt backing. I was surprised by the hoppiness as this is described as an “Amber Ale” — it certainly smelled like a traditional west coast Pale Ale to me. As it warms, more hints of citrus and a bit of grass reveals itself.
The flavor very much continues the Pale Ale theme; in fact, I’d just go ahead and call this one a full-fledged Pale. Piney and spicy hops blast away up front, immediately drying out the palate; there’s a rich, dark undercurrent of malt, but it’s no match for the hops. It’s bready and toasty, but those pine hops quickly turn resinous and bring in flavors of orange peel and grapefruit. The finish sees another kick of spicy hops, with exiting dry notes of orange peel, lemon, and grapefruit rind. Red Seal is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy, somewhat gritty mouthfeel. I also noticed a small touch of alcohol as the beer significantly (in the final sips) warmed.
Is this beer having an identity crisis? Maybe — North Coast classify this as an Amber Ale, yet the label says “copper-red pale ale” in the description. In my opinion, this beer is a classic example of a west coast Pale Ale, dry and hoppy, with just a kiss of malt backing; enough to make it NOT an IPA. And it has those classic spicy hop flavors going on instead of an all out alpha acid bomb. I can see exactly why this is often compared to Sierra’s Pale Ale — it’s astonishingly similar, if not a couple levels better. I enjoyed this beer and could see it pairing well with a variety of food options.
North Coast Red Seal Amber Ale, 89 points. Price: $1.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.
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.
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.
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.