Showing posts with label american IPA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label american IPA. Show all posts

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What is IPA?

When I managed to screw up my first attempt at the International Homebrew Project Burton Ale I was loathe to ditch all that wort and start fresh, so I chucked in a packet of Munton's yeast and decided to see what came out.

The other day I got round to bottling both that and the batch which hit the nail squarely on the head. I say the first batch was messed up, but in reality it just had less fermentable sugar from the mash than I wanted. In reality I had a 4.5% abv pale ale with an estimated IBU rating well north of 100. When I tasted the sample I took for a gravity reading I was actually quite surprised that my tongue didn't disintegrate, it was quite nice - and I say that as an avowed advocate of balance in my beer. This got me thinking, a dangerous pastime to be sure, and so I calculated that I had the equivalent of about 2.25 lbs of hops per barrel in my beer and whisked a quick email away to Ron to see if there was any precedent in history for a relatively low gravity, super hopped up beer. I am sure you have guessed already, there is.

India Pale Ale, that darling of the modern brewing industry and victim of an almost Protestantesque ignorance of a large chunk of its own history (for those not sure what I mean, for many Protestant denominations, Church History skips from about 313 AD to the late 16th Century without covering 1300 years of doctrinal development and ecclesiastical wranglings). For many in the beer world IPA was invented in the 18th century by George Hodgson to survive the long trip India, it then disappeared entirely until the nascent American brewing scene revived it and claimed it as its own. Shame the whole premise is utter bollocks, but why let facts get in the way of a good story?

One thing that gets lost in the miasma of misinformation and mythology is that IPA lingered in British brewing for a very long time before becoming the hop bomb it is today. At the turn of the 20th Century, British brewers were still making beers that they called IPA. Indeed, Whitbread brewed, in 1902, an IPA with an Original Gravity of 'just' 1.050, an ABV of 4.9%, and 2.65 pounds of hops per barrel. I am fairly sure that if a modern brewery made such a beer, it would be lauded as 'innovative' and 'ground breaking' or some such silly nonsense.

The truth of the matter is that beer styles evolve, as we saw with the development of Burton Ale, and that a modern beer like Green King IPA is no more or less of a 'traditional' IPA than Worthington White Shield or Starr Hill's Northern Lights, they are all expressions of the same tradition, just from different parts of the timeline.

Kind of makes you wonder what's the point of style guidelines and websites that advocate the rating of beer?

Monday, May 23, 2011

BrewDog vs The World

I spent Saturday up in Fredericksburg bottling the first Broederschap Brouwerij beer, Dissolution Dubbel, which I will write about later in the week, the beer that is, not the bottling. Just as a recap, the Broederschap Brouwerij  is a collaborative homebrew project between myself, Eric at Relentless Thirst and James from A Homebrew Log.

One the things I have been planning lately is to do a blind tasting on the theme of BrewDog versus the rest of the world. So I took the opportunity to get a collection of American style IPAs from various breweries, in three countries, and sit down with Eric, James and their respective significant others to do the tasting. Mrs Velkyal played the part of barmaid as she is an unrepentant non-fan of IPA.

The five beers sampled were:
We all took tasting notes, and then ranked the beers from 1 (best) to 5 (worst) and awarded points accordingly, 5 points for each 1st place ranking and 1 point for each 5th. With Mrs Velkyal acting the barmaid and bringing us the samples so we didn't know which beer was which, these are my tasting notes, as ever in a form of Cyclops.

Beer A
  • Sight - light amber, firm white head
  • Smell - pine, toffee, light citrus
  • Taste - a soft caramel, citrusy bite
  • Bitter - 3/5
  • Sweet -3/5
I found this beer nicely balanced with a soft mouthfeel. Very much the archetypal American IPA in my opinion.

Beer B
  • Sight - Hazy soft amber, off white head
  • Smell - Tangerines, toast
  • Taste - More tangerines, biscuits and an underlying medicinal note
  • Bitter -2/5
  • Sweet -2.5/5
If I hadn't known that I bought all American style IPAs, I would have thought this was more on the British end of the spectrum. It has a long dry finish which highlights the hops beautifully.

Beer C
  • Sight - Light golden, white head
  • Smell - cheese, sweaty jockstrap, acetone
  • Taste - Sharply citrus, not much else
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
  • Sweet - 2/5
Thin bodied but again with a long long bitter finish. In many ways everything I thing is bad about most American IPAs, all hops and not much else.

Beer D
  • Sight - Light copper, ivory head
  • Smell - floral, slightly herbal and very subtle grapefruit
  • Taste - lightly caramel, like drinking pith, harshly bitter
  • Bitter - 4/5
  • Sweet -2/5
The pithy harshness takes away from the sweetness of the beer, clearly unbalanced.

Beer E
  • Sight - Golden straw, white head
  • Smell - like spicy Seville orange marmelade
  • Taste - touch of sweet malt, hop bitter dominates
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
  • Sweet - 1/5
Far too bitter, astringent and wildly out of whack. The only sample I failed to finish, simply unpalatable.

I ranked the beers as follows:
  • B, A, D, C, E
When we tallied the ranking points for each of the beers, the order was:
  1. D - Flying Dog Snake Dog, with 19 points
  2. A - Sierra Nevada Torpedo, with 17 points
  3. B - Nogne ? India Pale Ale, with 17 points
  4. E - BrewDog Punk IPA, with 13 points
  5. C - Avery IPA, with 9 points
Given that the Sierra Nevada received more top rankings that the Nogne ?, it placed second as opposed to an equal second. The Avery IPA received more 5th rankings than the other beers put together. Both the Avery and BrewDog failed to record a single top ranking, though both did come second once.

Certainly an interesting exercise.

Monday, May 17, 2010

What is Innovation?

I have blogged before about how important context is to the appreciation of beer, thinking in particular about the context of being in a good pub with well cared for beer. Recently though I have been pondering over the wider context of drinking beers from outside their "sitz im leben" to use a term from hermenutics, basically drinking foreign beer out of the context that created it.

I have written often about the difficulty of finding a pilsner that comes close to those that I drank regularly in the Czech Republic, but also I find that drinking the pasteurised Pilsner Urquell that we get here in the States simply doesn't do the job either, though I find the Budvar holds up fairly well to the rigours of transportation.

This widened scope of thought raised the question in my head the other day of how valuable is it for non-American breweries to export to the US American style beers, and the phrase "carrying coals to Newcastle' immediately to mind. For those unversed in the delights of English phraseology, it basically means that taking coal to Newcastle would be pointless because there is so much of it there already. So it is with beer, especially IPA, in the American context. 

When I go to one of the various booze stores I like here in Charlottesville with a mind to get a nice, big hoppy IPA in the American style then I have a short list of beer that fits the bills, Sierra Nevada Torpedo being number 1 on the list (a seriously magnificent beer). The American IPAs sat on the shelf which were brewed in the UK simply don't get a look in, not because they are bad beer, they aren't, not because I don't like them, they are ok, but somehow it just doesn't feel right, almost like choosing Wimpy instead of Wendy's.

This line of thought then took to wondering about what exactly is "innovative" beer, and again that is contextually conditioned (approved by CAMRA for sure!). So big hop bomb IPAs are not exactly innovative any more in the American context, in fact they are almost the style of beer against which a craft brewery is measured, yet in the UK they are something new and sexy, and thus innovative. Innovative in the American context would be a dark mild, like that made by Blue Mountain Brewery recently, it would be a best bitter, again something that Blue Mountain has in the pipeline from what I understand. The "boring brown beers" of the UK are innovative in the American context, and much welcomed in the Velky Al context.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Gratuitous Liveliness

I think I mentioned this before at some point, but yesterday was the perform of Carmina Burana by the Virginia Consort Festival Chorus, featuring in the alto section one Mrs Velkyal, though obviously under her legal name. The concert was really very good, and after the singy bit, the participants had reservations at a local Italian restaurant called Vivace, which we duly attended. The evening was very pleasant, intelligent conversation, traveled table companions and decent wine and beer - I had Clipper City's Loose Cannon IPA, which was a typical American expression of the style, and perfectly acceptable. No I didn't take a photo or notes as I am perfectly capable of functioning as a regular human being. Mrs Velkyal's wine was also apparently rather nice.

However, last night also brought into sharp relief again one of the failings we have come across in many a restaurant in the US, or at least in those parts we go to regularly, namely that the cost is so distinctly unrepresentative of what you actually get. Basically we had a meal consisting of a pair of appetisers per table, one of which was fried calamari and the other was a "bruschetta" with melted mozzarella and a tomata salsa, and then ordering from a set menu. I had tomato and basil soup, followed by chicken parmigiani, which came with spaghetti marinara, and a New York style cheesecake for dessert; Mrs Velkyal had the same, other than a Caesar salad in the place of soup. The cost for this, plus 3 beers and 2 glasses of wine? $100 plus gratuity, more of which later.

I don't want to appear cheap, but the cost to value ratio in this case was piss poor. It's not that the food was bad, it was just uninspiring and something Mrs Velkyal could rustle up in our tiny kitchen for a fraction of the cost and to a far higher standard - for a start she would make the pasta herself and that alone would make a huge difference. To be fair, the cheesecake was nice, though I suspect it had been bought in before being liberally doused in a raspberry syrup, oh sorry, coulis. The soup was nothing special, my first reaction was that it came from a can and was just dressed with a touch of basil for effect. There was one truly excellent thing though and that was the service, polite, discreet (I hate having a waitress come by every thirty seconds or so and asking if everything was ok) and efficient. I would have happily given her a generous tip, had it not been for the gratuitous 20% unilaterally attached to my bill, or there even being a warning that in certain circumstances such a penalty would be plonked on top of my bill.

While on the subject of tipping and the gratuitous abuse of the customer, I have no objection to being generous in that department, when the service has warranted such generosity, but expecting me to pay an extra 20% for service is just down right wrong. 10% I don't mind paying, but expecting 20% is taking the piss. I guess the thing that really got my goat last night was being presented with the bill, having the 20% gratuity added to it, and there being a line on the credit card slip for an "additional tip" - I recently learned the meaning of being "nickel and dimed", and that's just how it felt, "to drain or destroy bit by bit, especially financially" according to the American Heritage Dictionary.

We still had a thoroughly good evening, but the cost did dampen things a bit, especially given the mediocrity that is apparently Charlottesville's "premier authentic Italian" restaurant. Things though this morning are much better as I sit in my favourite diner in town having a good breakfast, as much coffee as I can drink, free wifi and knowing that my bill for a far more satisfying feed will be a good 90% less than last night, and that is with the generous tip I always leave here, just because it is that good.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Challenge to Bloggers/Readers

My somewhat over active brain has been at it again, damned thing really should know when to quieten down and just let me get some sleep. Today's post really comes out of a conversation I had with a colleague from the Starr Hill Brewery yesterday in the tasting room. Sundays are usually seriously quiet and so we have more time to talk, one topic that came up was the kind of range of beers a brewery has, in particular the core brands, using Starr Hill as an example, the core range is as follows:
  • Jomo Lager - a Southern German style lager
  • Amber Ale - an Irish Red Ale
  • Pale Ale - erm, guess what, it's an American Pale Ale
  • Northern Lights - an American India Pale
  • The Love - a hefeweizen
  • Dark Starr - a dry Irish stout
Obviously some breweries have far larger ranges, but I think in general Starr Hill covers the bases of what most people drink in the US. Part of the conversation was what range of beers would we have if we had our own brewery? A challenging thought, especially given all the styles of beer that are out there, but it got me thinking, what kind of beers would I make if I owned a brewery or brewpub - which is in some ways like asking which of the beers I already brew at home would I carry over into a business?

The first thing that I would say is that I would want to push cask ale as much as possible. Having tried the same beer on keg and on cask at a brewpub near Washington DC recently, all I can is that Tandleman knows a thing or two because the cask was infinitely superior. Running concurrent to a commitment to cask ale would be insisting on bottle conditioning. I know of only one brewery that bottle conditions over here (admittedly there are huge gaps in my knowledge of the American scene at the moment), but I think it is no coincidence that Bell's Brewery make my favourite beers at the moment.

As for the range of beers, I would have a core consisting of:
  • Experimental Dark Matter - dark mild, very dark, complex and yet perfectly sessionable
  • Blondynka - a proper pilsner, yes, triple decoction, Saaz hops, only Pilsner malt, at least 45 days lagering
  • Copper Head - a best bitter, like many things British, a much maligned style because it isn't done properly
  • Old Baldy - an American IPA, big malty brew with hops galore, none of your thin hopbominations here
  • Skippy Porter - a smoked chocolate porter, hopped only with Fuggles and it tells
  • 94 - a Dortmund Alt, not a common style over here, but one that I love so it would have to be there
My challenge then to my readers and other bloggers is what kind of beers would you make if you ran or owned a brewery/brewpub? I know a few of my readers already do brew on a commercial scale, what do you think of my line-up?

Happy thinking!!

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...

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