Thursday 11 March 2010

IPA Night

Last time we had Stout Night, before that were two general Beer Nights, this time it was an evening dedicated to IPAs. Pete, Brad, Chunk and Matt (who is pretty much my only mate who doesn't have a blog or can't be reached by putting @ in front of his name - but he does feature 47 seconds into this video) came to my place last Friday with the promise of a fridge filled with hops and orders for them to bring pizza, snacks, and cheese, plus any IPAs they find.

The evening revolved around the IPAs I brought back from America, which I wanted to share with friends. These bottles had been in the fridge since then, teasing me every time I went in there. I also picked up a few bottles from the supermarket or beer shops to add to the collection. We did the usual thing of rating the beer out of 10 for a little interesting competition. Almost all the beers were IPAs, although a couple slipped in which weren’t, but we can excuse that. Here’s what we had, in the order we had it, and all scores are out of 50.

Why the hell not. We usually like to start with something middle of the road to set the benchmark score but Pete was driving over and we figured he wouldn’t mind missing this one. It’s an IPA because it says so in the name. It’s just not IPA as we know it to be now. Frankly, it was horrible. My scribbled notes say ‘it smells like a baby’s bib that’s got sick on’. Still, it was a fun start and made us all laugh. We saved some for Pete so he didn’t miss out. Score: 10.5.

This was an obvious one to use as we all know it so well. I have had indifferent bottles recently but this one was absolutely spot-on and perhaps the best I’ve had it in the bottle. It seemed slightly more honeyed than usual, less dry-bitter in the finish and better balanced. Score: 37.5.

We wanted a Punk/Jaipur-off but as soon as we poured them we noticed that something wasn’t right... when we checked we saw that the Jaipur had a best before date of November 2009 (despite the fact that I only bought it the weekend before – I also got an out of date Orval then, but that was a good thing... if you visit the Bitter End in Bromley, check the dates). It had suggestions of Jaipur but the hops had fallen in and the malt was pushing out. We stopped the side-by-side and didn’t give this a score as it wasn’t a fair representation (that same day a box of Jaipur and Kipling arrived from myBrewerytap, it just went to my parents' house, not mine).

Pete arrived, put beers in the fridge, caught up with the previous three and then we started straight on the big ones. Racer was my favourite beer in California so I was eager to see how well it bottled and lasted. Straight away, with that aroma of tropical fruit, mango and tangerine, I had a Proustian flashback of the Toad in the Hole on my last night in Santa Rosa. There’s so much fruit, a great long, dry finish and wonderful balance and drinkability. I need more Racer 5, I love it. Score: 43.5.

No messing around, straight from Racer to Pliny. This is a new Californian classic brewed a few towns away from Bear Republic. It was the first and the penultimate beer of my US trip and there were many in between. Bottled on the 2nd February, it was five weeks old. Pliny is full of pine and grapefruit, resinous and fruity with a long, dry, almost-herby finish. There’s less sweetness than the Racer and less ‘balance’ but that doesn’t matter, it’s a wonderful beer and that aroma-finish book-end is so inticing. Score: 42.5.

We jumped around between US and UK beers all evening. Old Empire may have suffered from coming after Pliny... although I was surprised as I didn’t expect much - it had a crisp, bitter finish which would work well with spicy food. This is more of an Old School IPA, compared to the US New Skool. It was perfectly drinkable, I just can’t imagine buying more and keeping them in the fridge. Score: 26.

This one left us divided with some hating it and others not minding it. It poured a murky gold and had a sweet, doughy nose of fresh bread which carried through into the taste. It’s big and warming, a little tannic and dry with a bitter finish and hints of slightly sour fruit. This was probably the most authentic IPA we had and I thought it was really interesting in a not-quite-right, sort of way. The initial taste reminded me of Pete Brown’s Calcutta IPA and if you left this long enough I think it would develop similarly. Score: 21.

This is a once-yearly release which I was given by Ken Weaver in California. This is also not an IPA, instead it’s an Imperial Amber. We can overlook that as it’s got shit loads of hops in it and was the same colour as all the others anyway. This was very good. Lots of caramel and c-hops to begin, fruity, piny and perfumed with a big hit of floral and orange in the quenching finish. The floral quality and extra sweetness marks this apart from the West Coast IPAs. Score: 41.

Another famous US IPA, this one from Ballast Point, a great Californian brewery. This one had a nose-full of oranges, peaches, apricots and sweet floral. Taste-wise it’s spot-on, clean and smooth and bitter-sweet and delicious. Score: 41.5.

Like Nugget Nectar, this is a once-a-year release, which came a few weeks before I flew out. The bottle is another courtesy of Ken. This is a biggie. The image on the front says it all: a man squashed by a giant hop. It starts with citrus and pine and then opens into mango and tropical fruit. I didn’t write much down because I was too busy falling in love. It’s just a wonderful beer and my personal favourite of the evening. Score: 43.5.

Last week I wrote about Black IPAs so it seemed fitting to have one in for the evening. This one is a Double Black Belgian IPA, a typically renegade style, given its brewers. Whenever I’ve had this it has tasted different and others agreed that they’ve experienced the same thing. This was nice, smooth, a good level of roastiness and estery, tropical fruit. Score: 33.5.

Pete is the brewer at Hopdaemon so of course he brought a few of his beers around. This is the bottle-conditioned version of their IPA and it’s straight from the brewery. It’s the first time I’ve had it bottle-conditioned and it makes a big difference. The flavour was fresher, smoother and had a delicious underlying bready-fruity quality. It wasn’t big-hitting like the others but it’s still a very nice beer and one that I will always serve with a curry. Score: 37.

As we are all from Kent (except Brad but he lives close enough now) we needed some Gadds in there. This is a fairly old bottle but it’s holding up well; the hops are integrating and adding lots of flavour without bitterness, a sweet yeasty quality comes through, it’s mellow with hints of sour fruit. This got mixed reactions. It’s another old school-style IPA and it’s interesting to see how they all develop in similar ways with the hops retreating, the body filling out, a doughy sweetness and stone fruits – if that’s how all the traditional IPAs developed then I imagine I would’ve liked them too. Score: 33.5.

I was looking forward to this one but left a bit flat and disappointed. There’s nothing wrong with it, I just wanted more. It has a simple aroma of earthy-citrusy hops, it has a base of caramel flavours and a little bite at the end, it just didn’t wow. Score: 35.

Lovely, cheeky nose of peaches and apricots, fruity and inviting, floral. It’s very drinkable, very tasty and very nice. We liked it a lot and it’s one of those beers to keep in the fridge, if you can find it. Score: 40.5.

There’s a lot of hype around this beer but I’m not sure I get it. It’s an IPA with Belgian yeast and it’s fruity, estery, interesting, but something in it doesn’t work. I want to like it more than I do and there’s something about the hops and the yeast which seems to clash. We split two bottles between us and talked about the beer the whole time, which added something to the enjoyment, even if we were trying to work out what didn’t quite work. Score: 36.

I had this in the fridge so we decided to try it directly after the Bitch to see a comparison between IPAs made with Belgian yeasts. This one was much better and I really like what BrewDog have done (I’ve written about it here). It works perfectly well and the spicy, fruity character from the yeast adds a lot to the final beer. Score: 39.

A big bomber of year-old IPA. This is a big beer all around: big malt, big hops, big bitterness, big flavour. You can taste that it’s old and we felt that it either needed to be drunk fresh or a couple of years old, as it was it was in a bit of a transition, but it was still very good. Score: 38.5.

Not an IPA but it’s an ale and it’s pale so it’s okay. I didn’t write anything down for this one so it must’ve either been very good or very bad. Judging by the scores we all liked it. Score: 38.

Bottle 191 of 1080. Matt brought this around because he’d never seen it before and we both love Mikkeller and De Molen. This is definitely not an IPA and it’s not even very pale and possibly not even an ale - it’s a wheatbock with US hops. It’s smooth and malty, spicy, and then big c-hops come through, fresh and juicy and then leave a long, dry bitterness. We couldn’t quite work it out (style-wise) but enjoyed it (we did have to rush this a bit as it was time for everyone to dash down the High Street to catch the last train home). A good end to the evening. Score: 36.

Not bad going – 20 beers between five of us in under four hours, and great fun it was too. Pete stayed over on the sofa and we enjoyed a Leviathon after the others had left. I haven’t liked this much in the past but (I think) he’s made some tweaks and this has a great dry finish to balance the sweet, malty body. It’s also worth mentioning the other stars of the evening: the pizzas. Brad was in charge of these and he spared no expense by going to Iceland. The classic flavours he chose were Bolognese, Fajita, Hot Dog and Cheese & Onion (just in case we had a veggie). It may have been the beer talking but the pizzas were disgustingly good. I can still remember cracking into laughter as I bit into the Bolognese pizza and it tasting exactly like Bolognese! The other revelation was squeezing French’s mustard onto the Hot Dog pizza before cooking. Incredible. We decided to rate the pizza too: Bolognese scored 39, Fajita scored 30.5, Hot Dog scored 40.5 and Cheese & Onion 31. If you have a spare pound go to Iceland, buy the Hot Dog pizza, put mustard on it, cook and eat with a smile on your face.

IPA is such an interesting and varied style. All these beers were different and shone in their own way. Some were big-hitting on the bitterness, some were full of tropical fruit, some were floral, some were earthy, some were fragrant, some were malt-dominant, some were imperial and some were not. The best beers were seriously good, the worst were totally forgettable. The overall winners according to our ratings were Racer 5 and HopSlam, which is a good result, I think. Now I just need to work out a plan of how to get some more of them...


  1. I wasn't expecting to read about a full 20 beers this morning and I'm a little green with envy if I'm honest (my own fault to be fair!)

    And I'm glad you gave the pizzas scores as well, although I'm duly disappointed that Fajita didn't impress.

  2. Nice one Mark.

    I've always found Marston's Old Empire is miles better on cask. It's one-dimensional, thin and pissy in bottles.

    I haven't tried a Pitfield bottled beer since they moved out of London, but that 1837 used to be favourite. If I recall, though, it can become a bit of an alcohol bomb if you lay it down for too long.

    Haven't heard about any more draft Bear Republic coming over...

  3. Beer in the fridge! I hope it was turned off.

  4. No Russian River Blind Pig?? WTF Dredge?!!

  5. You're missing my two favorite California IPAs: Green Flash's West Coast IPA and Anderson Valley's Hop Ottin IPA. In your defense, it's probably a bit hard to find those in the UK, I'd imagine. Overall, job well done by you.

  6. Fletch, you could've been there too, you got the invite! I've still got your Pliny in the fridge (teasing me), when it's opened we can get a fajita pizza to go with it.

    Sid, I haven't had Old Empire in cask for ages but the bottle wasn't too bad - I wasn't expecting the dry bitterness at the end, so that was good. I can imagine the Pitfield turning into an alcohol bomb, either that or just going off in the bottle... And no more Bear?! Keep your ears to the ground and let me know. I'm hoping they might send some stuff over for GBBF. Fingers crossed.

    DJ, I even turned the bridge up to make it colder - you need to refrigerate the hops!

    Sausage, I like Blind Pig a lot but I couldn't bring back EVERY beer I wanted! Blind Pig is very good.

    David, I had the Green Flash in California and liked it. All of these US ones I brought home with me in my luggage, so I was limited. I wish we could get them in the UK!

  7. Mark what's a 'bridge' got to do with it? seriously you recommend IPA's cold I don't like my beer warm but surely even IPA's suffer from being too cold.

  8. Oops, bridge/fridge... If the beer is stored colder then it stays fresher for longer and this is a big bonus with US IPAs. I like my beer nicely chilled, not cold, but certainly chilled. They were probably about 8-10C when poured. Darker, stronger beers I would serve warmer.

  9. This is why I have to keep making my boring point that drinking bottles at home isn't necessarily a miserable, anti-social experience -- sounds like great fun!

  10. I'll bring as much pizza as you can eat!