If you are a fan of the India Pale Ale, then this is the Golden Age. Here in Los Angeles, we can get the Palate Wrecker from Green Flash in San Diego County all the way to 120 Minutes of hop madness from Dogfish Head in Delaware. There is no shortage of choices on tap or in bottles and if you want to take your IPA geekery to the next level you can hold an IPA tasting, like I just did.
I would not have believed even a year ago that IPAs had anything left to warrant a tasting, that the inventive craft brewers had maxed out on IBUs (International Bittering Units) and would have to settle into a rut, albeit a delicious one). But I was proven wrong. There are black IPAs. New hops like Nelson and Teamaster being used in new recipes. The Belgians are doing their version of American IPAs. Even the former birthplace of the style is getting back in the game, BrewDog actually sent their new IPA out onto the open seas to get the authentic experience of the old times.
I chose two San Diego IPA’s, one from Ballast Point and one from Alpine Beer Company. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination. You could do the Mikkeller Single Hop IPAss and find out which hop is your favorite. You can compare Blind Pig and Pliny the Elder from Russian River. You could have Oregon vs. California or West Coast vs. East Coast. Heck you could even do IPAs vs. DIPAs.
Back to the San Diego challenge that I posed, I recruited my friend and IPA connoisseur Richard to decide which was better, Nelson from Alpine Beer Company or Sculpin from Ballast Point. I chose these two because they have not only received rave reviews on the beer rating websites but also seem to have created a buzz that is normally reserved for the beers aged in bourbon barrels.
We started with Nelson, which gets its name from the Nelson Sauvin hops that are used in the recipe. It pours a light gold which is not the norm for IPAs. There is a strong grape/wine smell to me that to Richard smelled like the inside of a brewery. We both agreed that it had a spicy character to it and was certainly not a mellow beer. There was strong hop flavor in this even though the Nelson hop is a fruitier tasting hop.
Then it was on to the Sculpin (fish fact – the Sculpin stings) from Ballast Point. This is a lovely golden orange in the glass. Richard thought it tasted specifically of pink grapefruit. I detected that citrus flavor as well as a slight grain taste. This one seemed to have more carbonation and the hops really lingered in the aftertaste. It was strong but not a total hop bomb.
After getting our fill, we came to the conclusion that the Nelson was the winner of this challenge because it was a more complex set of flavors with grape and spicy notes that did not overstay their welcome. Interestingly enough, both beers were 7% alcohol but the Sculpin seemed the heavier of the two.
To learn more about IPAs then you would ever care to know, you need to pick up Pete Brown’s new book Hops and Glory. For insane reasons known only to him, he took a container of IPA on the original journey from Britain to India. It is quite the read. So much so that you forget you are learning. Don’t worry though, I will not ask for a book report.
Beer of the Week – Anchor Steam’s Humming Ale. This is the venerable San Francisco brewery’s take on the IPA. They also use the Nelson Sauvin hop so maybe you can do a tasting of only Nelson style IPAs.
Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.