Saturday, January 11, 2014

The rest of the American craft beers

Following from my last post about bottled American craft beers, brought to me as gifts by Scott, Elli and Hugh last year, here (without further elaboration or digression) are my tasting notes:

Avery Brewing Co., duganA IPA: this powerful pale ale from Boulder, Colorado, modest at 8.5% abv, is a slightly cloudy orange color with a lively but thin head of foam (recurring enthusiastically if you swirl the glass a little) and a biscuity aroma of both fruit and caramel. It's tangy with a berry flavor on the tip of the tongue, then rapidly spreading sour pith, like unripe orange or kumquat; a lovely mix of citrus notes sizzles all the way back in the mouth—some lime flesh, grapefruit pith and unwashed zest, with crushed pits in the back for that wince-making intense bitterness. Overall this beer comes with hints of buttered yeasty bread, malt cake or ovaltine, but all washed a bit to the rear by the rich, raw hoppiness, blended and complex to give the subtle IPA tones, plus that little something extra for the undiluted American double-drop intensity. A lingering wood-smoked meatiness in detectable in the aftertaste. Nice, though, and while too strong for a session ale, if you drink it at the pace of wine with something light to eat like omelette or stir-fry, it would go down very nicely of an evening. Clearly a lot of thought went into the production and presentation of this beer; it's just a shame that the label had to be so fetishistically objectifying and exoticizing, because otherwise it would have been worth keep as a monument to a fine drink.

Natty Greene's, Red Nose Winter Ale: a relatively gentle American ale at 6.8%, this North Carolina brew is a dark, dull red-brown with very little head. It offers a ripe smell of fallen fruit, forest berries and malty bread, and the sweetness is that of cider, fortified wine, turned apple, or honey-glazed game—slightly sickly, but not unpleasant in its savoriness. It becomes strangely watery in the mouth, with some yeast, some tart liqueur, but nothing very strong. The bitterness comes with another hit of dry cherry spirit and burnt fruits, like a raisin-cake set afire at the table. The yeast lingers more than the berries, settling to a fairly traditional old ale aftertaste. Overall this is a perfectly drinkable pint, not too strong or brutal tasting (some might consider it weak for a winter ale, but that suits me fine).

Bear Republic, Red Rocket Ale: this Californian "Scotch style" red ale, heavily hopped at 6.8% ABV, comes out of the bottle a dark ruby, almost burgundy in a clear light, with a thin, sparkly foam. The aroma is of sweet, pithy lime and red berries, just slightly smoky. It has a sickly sweet liqueur or Irish coffee first taste, and the mouth-feel is almost grainy, intensely yeasty, with a hit of late hops like crushed lemon pits. Not very bitter on the swallow though, but has a lingering aftertaste like cough syrup or those mountain-flower herby spirits; it's smoky, more chicory than coffee, like green barley gently roasted but then served unsweetened. Aside from the excessive hit of yeast (which might have been this bottle, especially), this isn't particularly strong or powerful in any department. Drinkable, for sure, but not really a keeper.

Hangar 24, Double IPA: one of the stronger IPAs in my cache, this Californian checks in at 9.0% and is a very light, cloudy apricot color with foam that soon settles down to little more than a meniscus around the rim of the glass. The aroma is of tropical grapefruit and mango, pithy and even a little earthy, like fruit collapsing fizzily on itself with ripeness; the first taste keeps those pithy tropical fruit tones, very slightly sweet, but an almost numbing quantity of raw hops bouncing all over it. In the mouth there's a better balance, both sweet fruit and honey, and the intense hit of hoppy citrus, like biting into a ripe orange without peeling it, chewing the peel, pits and all. The swallow is unsurprisingly brutal, with a lot of hops dominating, but also flowery, like inhaling pollen and swallowing the flecks that end up on your tongue; it lingers on your teeth as well as your tongue; after a hefty swig you can almost feel the pithy hop-flowers breeding in your lungs. You get the picture: this is potent. It's really nice. It's really strong. I'd drink it all evening (in fact, at a 22oz bottle of 9% abv beer, I may yet do!), but it's not a session ale in any realistic sense. Still a lovely pint, and one I'll look out for if I ever see it in a pub.

Coronado, Idiot IPA: this relatively strong (8.5%) Californian is a beautifully orange-amber beer, with a fruity, biscuity aroma, something like orange shortbread. There is a very ripe and sweet first taste, almost of chocolate orange, with a hint of sour berry and bitter pith behind it. A fruity and sparkly mouth-taste retains the sweetness and the red fruit overtones, but with less glaring contrast, and leads to a slightly medicinal bitterness, which is pithy rather than zesty, perhaps redolent of red grapefruit, lingering and poignant, interesting without being too intense. Overall, this pint was sweeter than usual for an IPA, leading to some gentle complexity; not especially life-changing, but a lovely drop.

Foothills, Seeing Double IPA: this is another powerful, 9.5% ABV, double-dropped North Carolinan IPA, which is honey-gold in color, cloudy toward the bottom of the bottle, and pours with almost no foam. Orange pith and a flowery honey odor precede a zest and sparkly first taste with some sweet, artificial orange and fresh grass. In the mouth are pith, hops and a hint of kale, a slight bitterness of burnt crust or popper black raisin; but the aftertaste doesn't linger very long for a beer of this strength. After several swallows, I have noted a lot of yeast (I'd gotten to the cloudy part at the bottom of the glass), extremely sour, green nuts, or bitter orange. Despite the range and intensity of flavors, this doesn't feel like a nearly 10% beer, but it is a little too bitter and harsh to be a session ale. It's very nice for a taster, though, and I'd try it again if it turned up in a pub.

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