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The Hop Brief: 7 Seas Ballz Deep Double IPA

Yeah, going deep.

Enjoyed on 2/28/2011

Brewery: 7 Seas Brewing

Location: Gig Harbor, WA

Beer: Ballz Deep Double India Pale Ale

Web: http://www.7seasbrewing.com/

Presentation: 16 oz. – Can

Vintage: 2011

Style: American Style Double India Pale Ale

Barrel: N/A

ABV: 8.4%

IBU: 84

Hops: N/A

Malt: N/A

Commercial Description:

A mash tun packed mostly with Pale Ale Malt and several different varieties of Crystal malt provide a firm, slightly sweet malt flavor while copious amounts of resiny Yakima Valley hops go berserk on bitterness, flavor and aroma.

Beer Advocate: B- (3.45)

Rate Beer: 79 (3.37)

Timperial’s Notes:

Background.

Clearly, the canning trend is blowing up around the country.  It would take far too long for me to name them all, but I think we all know that when highly respected breweries such as Oskar Blues, New Belgium, Surley, Maui, Anderson Valley, and Big Sky are doing it, everyone wants a piece.  Not to mention the fact that it creates less waste, it easier to transport, and it is completely impenetrable to UV light.  I would be surprised if there was a brewery out there today that wouldn’t admit that they would love to can if they could.

To my knowledge, 7 Seas was the first WA brewery to can with any regularity, and they went straight for 16 ouncers.  Bad-ass fellas!  Bad-ass!  With any luck, the contents of said bad-ass pounder will be equally wicked.

Appearance.

This big Northwest IPA pours from the tall boy can (!) a clear, dark reddish amber color that is very much on the darker end of the SRM scale for IPAs.  The glugging pour that is inevitable from the opening in a can produced a surprisingly small head of just off-white bubbles.  The crown quickly subsided and left a few splotches of lace on the glass.

When held to the light, this brew is very clearly filtered and in the all too common way of the Northwest, very lightly carbonated.

Odor.

The nose is pretty subtle and by no means screams double IPA.  I find it to be quite fruity, both from the hops and the malt.  I get a sense that there might be some wheat in the mash, but that could just be a sensory connection with the banana notes that I perceive.

There is definitely a tropical fruit wafting off of this unique brew.  I pick up some papaya and pineapple and citrus rind, as well as a bit of plum and red grape that could come from the darker crystal and munich malts that I’d assume lend the reddish hue.

Grains are very prominent in the nose as well and come across with a fruitiness that prompts Belgian thoughts.  I always revert to thought of Special B when I sense this attribute, which is really just a Euro crystal malt.

Mouthfeel.

The mouthfeel is very smooth and full.  Overall the body is impressive and seems to benefit from the minimal carbonation.  With that being said, I think there is enough depth in body to withstand quite a bit more effervescence and not lose points.  I strongly feel that more carbonation would assist the drinker in perceiving the flavor nuances here.  I feel the bubbles really awaken the taste buds.  I would make this suggestion to any lightly carbonated beer.

Flavor.

Am I drinking an IPA?  Yes, it’s pretty bitter but this is a much more malt forward beer that I expected.  I’d call it more of an Imperial Red.  There is little to no hop flavor to this beer.  There is a fruitiness, no doubt, which could be from the hops, but for me it comes across as being a product of a specialty grain heavy mash with a slightly higher than normal fermentation temperature for an IPA.

I hesitate to use the word “estery” because it’s not a wine-like fruitiness.  It’s more of a barleywine like experience.  In fact, this could easily turn into a barleywine with a fairly minimal increase to the grain bill.  This is a very well brewed beer in my opinion, it’s just not a double IPA.

Aftertaste.

The finish is super dried out by the bitterness and what I would imagine is a fairly low final gravity.  The corners of my mouth and the bottom of my tongue are actually being constricted by the dryness, which is distracting.  Once I get past that I find that the malty depth lingers for some time and is, again, very barleywine like and pleasant.

Summary.

Overall, this recipe has a lot of potential but seems to be slightly misguided.  It kind of breaks my heart because I want this beer to be so much better.  It has a bad ass name, it’s packaged in a tall boy can which houses some pretty killer artwork, and it’s a high IBU beer of the Northwest.  There is so much potential there for this to be a beer that us Pacific Northwesterners are wicked proud of.  I’ve had plenty of other 7 Seas beers that I thoroughly enjoyed, so who knows, maybe this beer I’m searching for will still come from the boys in Gig Harbor.

Color/Head/Retention [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.79

Odor [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.84

Carbonation/Mouthfeel [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.83

Hop Flavor [maximum of 3.00 points possible]: 2.10

Malt Flavor/Balance [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.90

Finish/Aftertaste [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.81

Total [maximum of 10.00 points possible]: 8.27

The Hop Brief: Speakeasy’s Double Daddy Imperial IPA

February 10, 2011 Leave a comment

WA contraband

Enjoyed on 2/7/2011

Brewery: Speakeasy Ales and Lagers

Location: San Francisco, CA

Beer: Double Daddy Imperial IPA

Web: http://www.goodbeer.com/

Presentation: 22 oz. – Brown Glass Bottle – Capped

Vintage: 2010

Style: American Style Double India Pale Ale

Barrel: N/A

ABV: 9.5%

IBU: N/A

Hops: N/A

Malt: N/A

Commercial Description:

Doubling down on malt & hops, DOUBLE DADDY raises the stakes. With it’s good looks & No-Limit style,DD takes the pot every time.

Beer Advocate: B (3.65)

Rate Beer: 96 (3.61)

Timperial’s Notes:

Background.

This shit is contraband yo!

It’s rare that a brewery exits a market, but that’s just what Speakeasy did to Seattle about a year ago.  Obviously it sucks to lose the distribution of a great brewery, but I think I took it extra hard.  I have a lot of wonderful memories that revolve around this brewery.  This very beer was a long-standing number 1 favorite IPA of mine.  Speakeasy is one of the first breweries that I discovered in which I really liked every beer that they made.  They are one of the first breweries outside of the North Atlantic that I visited and toured.  Every time that I fantasize about my future brewery, I think of the aura, the people, the tunes, the beers, the setup of the Speakeasy brewery in San Fran.  I want mine to be like theirs.

I stumbled across this bottle at John’s Marketplace in Portland and I had a mini freak-out.  God, I really hope that they send their outstanding wares to Seattle again in the near future.

Appearance.

DD is much lighter in color than most IPAs.  I’d call it gold or pale orange.  Based solely on the color, if I didn’t know better, I’d think it was a lager.  It’s maybe just one shade darker than most lagers.  It’s also very clear and displays a fairly soft carbonation rising from the bottom of the glass.  The head is full on white and is pretty subdued on the pour.  It fades quickly down to a thin sheet on top of the liquid but manages to leave a fairly dense lacing on the inside of the glass.  It is this lacing that is really the only impressive element to the appearance.

Odor.

The odor kicks ass!  It’s so perfectly balanced that I want to lift my glass high and toast the brewers of Speakeasy.  It has become all too common lately for the hops to completely dominate imperial IPAs.  Often, it seems the hops are used to cover up what would otherwise be a highly mediocre beer.  Here, with DD, you know that you have a quality crafted beer before you, prior to even tasting it.  That’s impressive.

I’d tend to concede that the grainy element of the scent is most prevalent here and that the hops are actually just slightly positioned in the background rather than the much more likely foreground.  The malty element seems very natural and almost uncooked.  It’s a bit confusing because I’d estimate that the boil would be, at least, in the 90 minute range to allow for various hop additions but there is little caramelization noted.  Clearly the crystal used, if at all, is very low in intensity.  It’s like sticking your head in a freshly opened sack of 2-row.  Pure, unadulterated malted barley.

At first, the hops lend a sappy, pine like earthiness with a little bit of grapefruit tang.  The malts are very round and soft within the nose, but the hops are sharp, as is the booze’s heat.  It’s a contrasting experience that might just be a text-book worthy anecdote for “balance” in beer.  As the beverage warms, the pine bite seems to fade a bit and bitter orange peel is all that I can think about.

Mouthfeel.

This beer feels like 100% silk in my mouth.  The low carbonation and heavy body cause the liquid to glide down my pipes with ease.  Dare I say too much ease.  There is nothing negative to speak of here.  I’d say that this is well on the more viscous side of the scale, which can be read as a higher score for me, at least when it comes to impy IPAs.

Flavor.

The flavor of DD is all about balance.  Do we sense a theme?  Probably the best theme possible when reviewing an imperial IPA.  The interesting thing about this one is that the “imperial” element is only really found in the abv.  I can understand them not choosing to use the word “double” because that may be misconstrued as double the hops.  Don’t get me wrong, I do not doubt that DD has more hops per barrel than Speakeasy’s standard IPA, Big Daddy (named after the owner of Toronado in San Fran), but hops really do not dominate this beer in any way.

The whole experience of this beer is soft, mellow and soothing.  The bitterness is dampened by the hefty grain presence (there’s your imperial).  The alcohol isn’t fucking around, but it’s not harsh, simply warming.  The hops are all sorts of bitter orange and grapefruit, which kind of brings thoughts of a cool breeze on a hot summer day.  With each sip, I wonder… if a thirsty bee may have fell into good graces, only to be awakened when slurped and bring a foul sting to my tongue, awakening me from this much-needed fantasy escape from the chilled clutches of winter.

The malts continue to exist in a very unencumbered fashion.  This is beer in its purest sense, and that gives me goose bumps.  How a brewer is able to encapsulate that within such an extreme style category is highly impressive.  I feel like the recipe is probably built on a lager platform.  The grains were magnified, the yeast was shifted to that of an ale, and it was all intensely hopped.  Pretty simple and wildly successful.  Why didn’t I think of that?

Aftertaste.

The aftertaste is most hot with booze and lingers for quite some time.  Both graininess and bitterness can easily be perceived.  It all blends itself so pristinely that details fail to manifest.  It just exists as a brilliantly developed beer that had sadly departed from the pleasure sensors.  Each and every sip tragically leads to a swallow and each passing swallow tragically leads to an empty glass.

Summary.

Lately, few beers have transported me to far away places like DD has tonight.  I feel stimulated, provoked, inspired.  It’s amazing!  If I could give extra credit I would.  The oddest part about this review is that I have given very high scores to almost every area except for the area with the most weight, hop flavor.  That’s pretty rare.  Though I fucking love this beer, it probably deserves to be punished for that fact.  This is The Hop Brief.  Or, maybe my scoring system is flawed and an exemplary beer deserves an exemplary score.  I’ll mull over this existential question and happily field your thoughts on the matter.  Email me or comment below.

Thank you Speakeasy, and please, come back to WA.  You are missed.

Color/Head/Retention [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.80

Odor [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.98

Carbonation/Mouthfeel [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 1.00

Hop Flavor [maximum of 3.00 points possible]: 2.52

Malt Flavor/Balance [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.98

Finish/Aftertaste [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.98

Total [maximum of 10.00 points possible]: 9.26

The Hop Brief: Bend Brewing’s Hop Head

January 14, 2011 1 comment

Sorry for the weak pic, computer issues...

Enjoyed on 1/11/2011

Brewery: Bend Brewing Co.

Location: Bend, OR

Beer: Hop Head Imperial India Pale Ale

Web: http://www.bendbrewingco.com/

Presentation:  22 oz. – Brown Glass Bottle – Capped

Vintage: 2010

Style: American Style Double India Pale Ale

Barrel: N/A

ABV: 9%

IBU: N/A

Hops: N/A

Malt: N/A

Commercial Description: Unavailable

Beer Advocate: A- (4.17)

Rate Beer: 98 (3.92)

Timperial’s Notes:

Background.

My mother lives in Bend, OR.  Periodically, I visit.  When I do, you better believe that I’m going to makes stops at Deschutes, Cascade Lakes and Bend Brewing.  Ever since I learned that Hop Head won a bronze metal at the 2008 GABF, I knew I had to have it.  Unfortunately, it’s a seasonal for Bend, and every time I’ve gone there, it has been the wrong season.  This year BBC bottled the hoppy wonder, and they still had some left when I was there for Christmas.

Appearance.

This beer fills my pint glass with a very clear, light amber color.  In fact, I’d say that it’s one of the lightest colored IPAs out there.  Though I recently purchased this beer from the brewery, I believe that it’s a summer, or at best fall seasonal for them, so I have a slight fear that the lack of freshness could have negative effects tonight.

I did get a slight hiss when the cap was unhinged, but there wasn’t much of a head on the pour.  There is, however, a respectable rising of bubbles from the depths.  What head is produced on the pour quickly dwindles to a ring and faint wisps, but lacing is evident as I drink.

Odor.

The nose is fairly subtle in volume but with effort, an intensely pungent odor is detected.  There is an earthy, almost skunky nature to it, but that seems to come in waves, where the receding tides allow for a citrusy aroma to bloom.  Tangerine and grapefruit rind stake claim, and a balancing effect is noted with a buried and exhumed malty sweetness.  As the beer warms it’s as though our seemingly endless paddling has finally propelled us beyond the breakers, and a much-needed calm inundates the scene.

Here we find a melding of seas, or, as it were, scents.  At this point I’d say that the grapefruit dominates and that carries enough earthiness with it to legitimize earlier notions.  The malt side is not playing a major role and only really imparts a sugar-coating on top of the hop flavors.  I guess, with that being said, age is more likely than not… not an issue here.

Mouthfeel.

The mouthfeel is nice with this one.  The carbonation is appropriate and the viscosity is within the range that I expect.  It goes down easy and lingers for just the right amount of time.

Flavor.

Unlike the nose, the flavor is better at colder temperatures.  The bitterness seems more subdued, as does the maltiness.  Pine flavors were most prevalent to me, which played as a pleasant contrast to the fruity nose.  At warmer temperatures the bitterness becomes overwhelming.  The flavors shift more toward earthy presenting an almost wood like experience.  It becomes more like chewing on grapefruit peel than simply enjoying the zest’s essence.  Yes, there is a shit ton of hops in this beer, but I don’t know how successful they were blended.

The malts are present early on and accent the experience with powdered sugar dustings, but later, as the beer warms, they become uber-pronounced in their grainy, biscuity nature.  I’m not surprised that there isn’t much of a caramel or candy-coated element to speak of.  The color of the fluid did its part to foreshadow this.  I’d much prefer to see some higher lovibond crystal malt in the grain bill.  To use the word balanced would be accurate, but for my tastes, this is a bitter bomb with too much of the wrong grains.

Aftertaste.

The aftertaste is a well blended bitter and malty existence.  Thankfully, it’s not completely dried out by the IBUs, but they are doing all that they can.  It all lingers for quite some time, reminding you that you just sipped down a pretty bold IPA, but the 9% continues to be mostly hidden, even into near ambient temperatures.

Summary.

This one has its fair share of bumps in the road, but it finishes on a high note, and in the grand scheme of things, I wouldn’t mind having it in my corner to represent just how the Northwest rolls when it comes to hop monsters.

Admittedly, I am giving this beer a pretty low score.  One important thing that I’d like to state, no matter how obvious it may seem, is that I have a fairly unique take on what makes a stellar IPA.  Apperantly, what makes my palate most happy is in stark opposition to what the BJCP says an IPA should be like.  I can only assume that because of the award that was given to BBC at GABF.  It is always healthy to question the authorities that be, but it’s also important to realize that the standards and rules are there for a reason.  I guess my point is that I can respect this beer and the brewers deeply, but Hop Head just isn’t for me.  The question then becomes, is it the one for you?  Let me know at timperial@beerblotter.com

Color/Head/Retention [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.85

Odor [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.78

Carbonation/Mouthfeel [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.95

Hop Flavor [maximum of 3.00 points possible]: 2.58

Malt Flavor/Balance [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.58

Finish/Aftertaste [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.93

Total [maximum of 10.00 points possible]: 8.67

The Hop Brief: Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA

<3 <3 <3

Enjoyed on 1/4/2011

Brewery: Weyerbacher Brewing Co.

Location: Easton, PA

Beer:  Double India Pale Ale

Web: http://weyerbacher.com/

Presentation: 750 ml – Brown Glass Bottle – Corked & Caged

Vintage: 2010

Style: American Style Double India Pale Ale

Barrel: N/A

ABV: 9%

IBU: N/A

Hops: 100% Simcoe.

Malt: N/A

Commercial Description:

Double Simcoe IPA, 9.0% abv, is our incredible reward for Hopheads seeking the intense hop flavor in a Double IPA, without the harshness. It is brewed utilizing only the Simcoe hop variety.  This hybrid hop, developed and trademarked by Select Botanicals Group, LLC in the year 2000, was created for its high alpha acid content, maximum aromatic oils, and low cohumulone(harshness) levels so that brewers can really put a lot of ‘em in a beer and not create an overly harsh taste.
Double Simcoe IPA is a full-flavored ale with hints of pineapple and citrus upfront, a good malt backbone in the middle, and a clean finish that doesn’t linger too long. Check it out, and you’ll soon see why everyone’s talking about it.  Double Simcoe is available year-round.

Beer Advocate: A- (4.17)

Rate Beer: 99 (3.92)

Timperial’s Notes:

Background.

I grew up in the Keystone State, home of Weyerbacher.  It’s a really great state for breweries.  Some highlights include Victory, Stoudts, Troegs, Yards, Erie, and the omnipresent Yuengling. Lucky for me, Victory distributes to WA.  If I could have access to just one more of my home state’s breweries out west I’d have to choose Weyerbacher.  They make really good beer.  Just a few months ago my beautiful sister migrated back home from Seattle indefinitely.  This broke my heart, and I know she knows that.  May it be simply out of love or as consolation, the one that knows me best produced a package that soon found my doorstep.  After meticulously removing many a packing peanut and layer upon layer of bubble wrap, my heart skipped at the unveiling of two corked Weyerbacher gems (and one Troegs).  Though the cellar dweller within wishes to extend the pleasure for as long as possible, I know better than to age an IPA, and regardless, I won’t let her get away with a simple one and done shipping policy.  Tonight’s the night.  Lets see how it goes down.

Appearance.

DSIPA is unfiltered and it shows.  Light struggles to pass through the auburn colored liquid, but the cloudiness is fully saturated.  Unlike the last few IPAs I reviewed for this column, there is nary a hop chunk in sight.  The bottle conditioned, cork finish to this bottle does great work in its production of a massive head.  It takes quite a few minutes to fill the glass.  The tan crown is rocky and voluminous and is built on varying sized bubbles.  As it slowly withdraws toward the beer below, a pretty impressive slime trail is produced on the inside of the glass.  It’s a sporadic and unpredictable pattern, but where it comes to rest, it lies with density.

The carbonation is insanely active.  Tiny bubbles appear to rise from every single square nano-meter of the glass floor.  They rise quickly and vigorously.  Of course, bottle conditioned and corked beers are highly evocative of Belgian Ales, and the carbonation levels here bring identical suggestions.

Odor.

If I had to choose two words to describe the nose of this beauty I’d provide “fruity” and “yeasty”.  Are we drinking a Belgian tonight?  Well, no, but there is surely some sort of influence, even if it was unintended by the brewers.  Now, I must clarify that the fruity nature is far different from a yeast induced, high temperature fermentation ester bomb…read: fruity Belgian.  Here, the fruitiness comes from the Simcoe, and it’s simply a natural wonder.  What an amazing profile from just one single variety of hop!

This is why I adore the “single hop” IPA.  As a brewer myself,  this experience refreshes my memory on exactly what Simcoe has the potential to impart in a beer.  It’s really quite majestic.  Though there is an element of herbal and earthy and piney present, the fruitiness takes charge.  There is definitely a bit of mandarin orange there, but most of the scents come across as being of a tropical flora.  The suggestion of pineapple seeps into my psyche, but my senses find more abundance in banana peel and melon.  The malts are there, but the recipe seems to meticulously place them at just the right volume in the mix so that the hops stand above the din.  I’m very fond of the odor here.

Mouthfeel.

Yes, there is a lot of carbonation found in DSIPA, but high carbonation is one of my favorite elements of my beloved Belgian Ales.  I often wish that craft breweries in America would be more heavy-handed with the carb stone.  Of course, in this case, bottle conditioning is responsible, but no matter how you look at it, I’ll give much praise to anyone willing to be generous with those tongue tickling bubbles that play such a crucially role in the way we experience beer.

I’ve read that highly carbonated beverages can act as tongue scrubbers.  If you are tasting foods, especially those that are creamy and high in fats, it is recommended that you drink a bit of bubbly to neutralize the potentiality of clinging flavors.  This will assist you in moving across flavor profiles with minimal pollution from previous samples.  If this is true, DSIPA should quickly cleanse the tongue.  Considering that this beer completely coats the mouth and lingers for some time lends me to believe that if it weren’t so effervescent it would be like drinking melted wax.  The viscosity of the fluid is so intense that the prickling bubbles are nearly nullified.  The balance of the two is sublime.  Because I want to experience this rarity in more beers, I’ll give a perfect score.

Flavor.

I can only assume that there were several bittering additions to DSIPA’s hopping schedule, and though Simcoe is a high alpha hop, it’s roundness, or low cohumulone levels (as described in the commercial description) is highly evident.  The bitterness is very manageable with DSIPA.  I could imagine that the IBU factor is high, though it may not be, but hop flavor clearly dominates.  I’d imagine that those that know me can already begin to see the high score to follow.  This is 100% my kind of IPA.  The flavor is balanced at extremes, sweet, and goes down smooth.  Good gracious I miss you Weyerbacher!

The malt profile is very barleywine like.  It’s complex and possesses an aged like quality.  There is a decent caramelized notion that becomes most obvious with extended periods in the glass (for warmth).  The hops remain highly fruity which brings a lot of uniqueness to this one.  A deep exhale with the beer in my mouth produces a blow gun of pine needles.  How transformative?!?!  What a hop!  What an experience!

It takes considerable warming to bring out the alcohol here.  One word, dangerous.

Aftertaste.

The aftertaste, unlike the actual taste, is mostly dominated by malt.  There is a lot of scorched brown sugar and baked sweet dough.  It’s a mostly sweet finish, but the bittering hops put forth and effort to dry it out.  Without a doubt, this is an intensely balanced finish.  A near perfect end to a near perfect beer.

Summary.

I don’t really know what else to say other than look at the last sentence of the section above…look at the score below…and thank you, thank you, thank you Dana!

Color/Head/Retention [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.94

Odor [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.96

Carbonation/Mouthfeel [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 1.00

Hop Flavor [maximum of 3.00 points possible]: 2.91

Malt Flavor/Balance [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.96

Finish/Aftertaste [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.99

Total [maximum of 10.00 points possible]: 9.76

The Hop Brief: Hopworks Urban Brewery Ace of Spades Imperial IPA

December 10, 2010 4 comments

This may be in the royal flush of IIPAs

Enjoyed on 12/09/2010

Brewery: Hopworks Urban Brewery aka HUB

Location: Portland, OR

Beer: Ace of Spades Imperial IPA

Web: http://www.hopworksbeer.com/

Presentation: 22 oz. – Brown Glass Bottle – Capped

Vintage: 2010

Style: American Style Imperial India Pale Ale

Barrel: N/A

ABV: 9.5%

IBU: 100+

Hops: Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial

Malt: N/A

Commercial Description:

This hopped out beast had Amarillo, Cascade and Centennial hops, added at every point; mash tun, first wort, kettle, and dry hop. All the green goodness results in a beer with a huge citrus hop aroma, flavor and deep clean bitterness.

Beer Advocate: A- (4.06)

Rate Beer: 98 (3.94)

Timperial’s Notes:

Background.

For me, HUB Ace of Spades was first experienced on tap at Brouwer’s.  It blew my mind.  When I heard that it would be available in a limited runn bottling, I had to get on board.  I found one, and the cellar dweller in me begged it to be layed away, but my better judgment spoke forth, and may the hops still dominate…

Appearance.

Fresh out the box, or bottle, this gem pours a very cloudy yellowish-orange tinted amber.  It’s not only a thick translucent syrupy joy in the glass, but it harbors many suspended bits of hop injection.  The head rose just as it should on a medium pour, and it displayed a very voluptuous crown of varying sized bubbles.  That head diminished at the center and outer reaches first, leaving a rocky lather that begged to be scooped and smeared on Chris Ellis’ (my roommate, closest human to me currently, recent author of a marvelous 52 Weeks article) face, in a gesture of prank, humor, and mostly love.  But I can already tell that this will be too darn tasty to violate with these unholy digits.  I display self control…for once.

The head is just off white and built with (clearly visible amidst the mirk) quickly rising bubbles.  Every so often they strike a bit of dry-hopped excrement and change coarse.  I feel like I’m gazing into an aquarium or something.  Far too entertaining to just look at.  I need to snap out of it and move on, there’s drinking to do!

Odor.

A deep inhale of this one tells a lengthy tale.  The malts come through with grace, and for that, you know, I’m very thankful.  There is a sweet, caramel coated, deserty goodness in there.  Based on color and depth of flavor, I’m thinking crystal 120 may play a role.  Maybe 90.   There is also a biscuit flavor that I adore.  I’m thinking flat out biscuit malt or victory, maybe a sprinkle of cara-pils.  I’m trying to reverse engineer beers, tune my palate…hey HUB, what grains do you use?

The first adjective that I think of when assessing the hop profile is spicy, but it’s full of pine and citrus as well.  The combination that they used is well rounded.  It’s very northwest of them.  Allow me to tip my proverbial cap.

Mouthfeel.

The MF is perfectly pleasant.  Possibly just a hair thin for an imperial, but by no means under-viscous.  The carbonation is most receptive with a swishing in the mouth, but on a simple suckle, it’s deathly accurate.  In my experience carbonating beers at Lazy Boy, I found it to be a bit persnickety.  There would always be a moment where I thought, “just a few more minutes with the carb stone and it will be perfect”, and then it was too much.  It’s surely an art, and HUB got it right with this batch.

Flavor.

The colder the beer, the less attractive I found the flavor.  There may or may not be a similar progression in my intoxication levels, but shut up right now!  Actually, I’ll say that the flavor of this beer, when it’s cooler, is probably 100% perfect to the tastes of a vast majority of IIPA drinkers.  It’s mostly balanced, but it’s bitterness stands tall and proud.  Mash and first wort hop addition, as noted on the bottle, will absolutely bring respect and profundity to this attribute.  I can’t help but offer props.

As it warms, the malts play more of a role.  Piping-hot-out-of-the-oven, hop spiced rolls have been served tonight, and I feel they may sustain me for life.  The ethanol is finally distinguishable, and I’ll tell you, it’s more than welcome in my home right now.  The entire experience of this beer has vastly improved in the last 15 minutes.

Aftertaste.

At the moment, I can’t think of a better example of a perfect finish in an IPA.  I seriously don’t think I’ve used the word balanced as a descriptor of an aftertaste before.  It’s 50% bittering dry and 50% sweet, mouthwatering candy.  The interplay is a joy to perceive.

Summary.

I probably should have ate dinner tonight, but sometimes the starving artist picks alcohol over food.  You know…liquid sustenance.  Be like monk, tilt glass, be nourished…repeat.  This beer tastes fucking awesome right now.  The balance is notable.  The blend of hops was mighty successful, enough so that I’ll utilize this knowledge in future homebrews.  Yet another note to self, biscuit and dark crystal live in syncopation.  Clone brew to follow.

Color/Head/Retention [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.87

Odor [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.9

Carbonation/Mouthfeel [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.97

Hop Flavor [maximum of 3.00 points possible]: 2.79

Malt Flavor/Balance [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.88

Finish/Aftertaste [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 1.00

Total [maximum of 10.00 points possible]: 9.41

The Hop Brief: Avery Brewing Maharaja

November 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Caramel dipped hop nuggets.

Enjoyed on 11/23/2010

Brewery: Avery Brewing Co.

Location: Boulder, CO

Beer: The Maharaja

Web: http://www.averybrewing.com/

Presentation: 22 oz. – Brown Glass Bottle – Capped

Vintage: 2010

Style: American Style Imperial India Pale Ale

Barrel: N/A

ABV: 10.24%

IBU: 102

Hops: Simcoe, Columbus, Centennial and Chinook

Malt: Two-row barley, caramel 120L, victory

Commercial Description:

Maharaja is derived from the sanskrit words mahat, – “great” and rajan – “king”. Much like its namesake, this imperial IPA is regal, intense and mighty. With hops and malts as his servants, he rules both with a heavy hand. The Maharaja flaunts his authority over a deranged amount of hops: tangy, vibrant and pungent along with an insane amount of malted barley – fashioning a dark amber hue and exquisite malt essence.

Beer Advocate: A- (4.2)

Rate Beer: 100 (3.95)

Timperial’s Notes:

Background.

The Maharaja is no. 3 on ratebeer.com‘s top 50 summer seasonals for a reason… it’s an amazing IIPA.  As part of Avery’s Dictator’s Series, along with The Kaiser (Imperial Oktoberfest) and The Czar (Russian Imperial Stout), this beer demands respect and admiration, and you’d be silly not to dole it out.  Before I moved out west, this was my number 1 favorite impy IPA.  I haven’t had it in about a year and a half so I’m really excited to sit down with it tonight.

Appearance.

This stately beverage pours into my pint glass with a pretty regal, cream-colored head that, as it slowly recedes, proves to be very sticky.  The edges of the lofty crown pull down, leaving a rocky dollop of bubbles on the center of the surface.  The lacing is so thick, I think I could write “Tim was here” on the inside of my glass.  The liquid itself glows with an opulent radiance, much brighter than I expected, taking into account the high lovibond crystal used in the mash.  I’d say there is a bit of an orange hue to the amber-colored fluid.

I could be wrong, but my guess is that this beer was filtered after fermentation and then dry-hopped in the bright tank.  The beer is not cloudy, per say, but there is a lot of floaters in there.  It actually looks slightly similar to the Green Flash IPA that I most recently reviewed.  It’s less cloudy but still noticeably permeated with minuscule bits of hop love.  Suspended hop chunks pretty much exude sex in every way if you ask me.  Uhh…in beer that is.

Odor.

Well, the odor is a perfect fucking 10.  It’s enough to make me just shout “OH MY GOD!” I’m weak in the knees.  I’ve already dropped in praise of the righteous Maharaja, without a single sip drank.  I’ve just been body slammed from the height of, I dunno, Mars, with a pure hop-tipped warhead, while simultaneously being lifted from the soil by the most maliciously rising volcanic peak of molten malt madness.  I’ve been pressed so intensely hard together at the impact that I’ve formed into diamond.  In fact, a five diamond score of perfection.

The hops are being poured from a dump-truck, directly into my nostrils.  The collaboration of hops used seem to meld into a cocktail of your most notable lupulin attributes.  Pine, herbal, woody, floral, citrus…you name it, it’s there.  Most notably, the caramel maltiness.  This is the biggest hop bomb that I can think of that is righteously balanced with malt.  Just plain silly!

Mouthfeel.

The MF (don’t hate) is, yet again, obnoxiously dead-balls accurate.  It’s syrupy, slick, sweet, cloying.  The body is stout like Schwarzenegger at his prime.  It dominates my moth like Conan the Barbarian, or wait…sorry your highness, like the great dictator Maharaja.  So far, this is the best rated IPA I’ve ever reviewed.

Flavor.

The flavor is layered like my famous dip.  Each sip is like being wiped about beneath the unrelenting seas at high tide, but here, fear shifts to joy as a slight lack of oxygen mingles with a sudden realization of the underwater beauty.  It’s an (only slightly) unnatural high.  Semantics…

Initially, there is a bitter firecracker explosion on the back of tongue, and then, the sound catches up with a mighty **CRACK** of sweet, caramely maltiness.  The inspirational soundtrack floats on in full orchestration when the finish brings boozed fruit and baked deserts.  When fully blended, the celebration is majestic, befitting of a king.  The perfection continues.

Might I add, in plain English, that this beer is the epitome of balance, as in, pushing extremes of both bitter hops and sweet malts in equal parts.  I’m awestruck.

I don’t find the hops to be too bitter, I don’t find the sweetness too overwhelming, I don’t find the heat to be overbearing.  I’m in a good mood, yes, but I’m seriously searching for flaws, in a devil’s advocate sort of way, and I’ve got nothing.

Aftertaste.

I’m a discriminating IPA drinker.  I realize that.  My best friend in the world, DSR, fellow BBB (beerblotter brethren), fellow homebrewer, fellow IPA lover, finds great comfort in bitterness.  A dry finish is a part of that game, and I know that many PNW beer drinkers play on that field, but it’s not my bag.  I like hop FLAVOR and minimal bitterness.  This beer’s aftertaste is precisely where I tread.  I’m happy to continue to tread there, that is, until there is no more sips to take.

Summary.

I was recently asked, by someone in the beer community whom I respect for his knowledge, what, other than the obvious ones (Pliny, Double Jack, Wisdom Seeker, etc.) was amongst my favorite IPAs/Double IPAs.  I responded with Avery Maharaja.  I paused, as I often do after stating such a revealing answer, for the resulting reaction.  I was greeted with apathy.  Indifference.  He was unimpressed.  I was embarrassed.  Maybe too much time had passed since I had last tried it.  Had it changed?  Had my respect for it need be diminished due to the current market of boldness?  Tonight, my stance has been solidified with complete and utter surety.  Avery Brewing has always been up there for me when it comes to the best breweries in the world, and tonight is just one more weight-bearing brick in the mortar for the dynasty that Adam Avery had born.  Respect!  

Color/Head/Retention [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.99

Odor [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 2.00

Carbonation/Mouthfeel [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 1.00

Hop Flavor [maximum of 3.00 points possible]: 2.91

Malt Flavor/Balance [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 2.00

Finish/Aftertaste [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.99

Total [maximum of 10.00 points possible]: 9.89

The Hop Brief: Green Flash Brewing West Coast IPA

November 17, 2010 3 comments

Warning: Face may implode.

Enjoyed on 11/15/2010

Brewery: Green Flash Brewing Co.

Location: Vista, CA

Beer: West Coast IPA

Web: http://www.greenflashbrew.com/

Presentation: 12 oz. – Brown Glass Bottle – Capped

Vintage: 2010

Style: American Style India Pale Ale

Barrel: N/A

ABV: 7.3%

IBU: 95

Hops: Simcoe, Centennial, Columbus, Cascade

Malt: N/A

Commercial Description:

 

This West Coast-Style India Pale Ale is extravagantly hopped, full flavored, medium bodied and copper-colored. A menagerie of hops is combined throughout the brewing process to impart specific characteristics. Hops used include Simcoe for a unique fruitiness and grapefruit zest, Columbus for strong hop pungency, Centennial for pine and citrus notes, and Cascade for floral aroma.

 

Beer Advocate: A- (4.17)

Rate Beer: 99 (3.87)

 

Timperial’s Notes:

 

Background.

Green Flash is, unofficially, a member of the San Diego IPA Masters Club (SDIPAMC).  The only reason that they are not official members is because the SDIPAMC doesn’t exist.  I just made it up, right then.  But by golly it should exist.  There is something in the warm air down there, or maybe it’s the water…who knows, but San Diego county seems to have an endless supply of IPAs come out of it, each one better than the last.  I think I’ll just let the numbers tell the tale.

All of the following rating are courtesy of www.ratebeer.com

Green Flash (Vista, CA) West Coast IPA: 99

Green Flash Imperial IPA: 99

Coronado (Coronado, CA) Idiot IPA: 98

Coronado Hoppy Daze IPA: 97

Stone (Escondido, CA) IPA: 100

Stone Ruination IPA: 100

Alesmith (San Diego, CA) Yulesmith Summer IPA: 100

Alesmith IPA: 100

Ballast Point (San Diego, CA) Sculpin IPA: 100

Ballast Point Dorado Double IPA: 99

Ballast Point Big Eye IPA: 98

Karl Strauss (San Diego, CA) Big Barrel Double IPA: 97

Karl Strauss To The 9s Imperial IPA: 96

Port Brewing (San Marcos, CA) Hop 15: 100

Port Brewing Wipe Out IPA: 99

Port Brewing Mongo: 99

Alpine (Alpine, CA) Exponential Hoppiness: 100

Alpine Pure Hoppiness: 99

Alpine Nelson IPA: 99

Alpine Duet: 99

And I didn’t even get into the Pizza Port IPAs.  It’s just plain ridiculous.  It’s clear that SD is IPA Valhalla.

 

Appearance.

 

West Coast IPA pour an extremely cloudy (chunky even) orange tinted amber with a big rocky head formed of varying sized bubbles.  The foam takes quite some time to settle, leaving generous globs of lace in its wake.  The lace and head are stark white.  About a millimeter or two of foam remains atop this bitter masterpiece throughout.

There is an obscene amount of particulate suspended in the solution.  I’d imagine that, most likely, the floaters consist of tiny bits of whole leaf hops that were left behind after dry-hopping.

 

Odor.

 

The nose is full of hop resin.  Pine and citrus seem to weigh in with equal parts.  Much to my delight, there is a sturdy framework of sweet, biscuity malt at the core of the hop mountain.  The hop scent is very pungent and earthy.  There is some muskiness, like wet wood or mud.  It garners images of a harvest on a rainy day.  Clearly there is no fresh hops within, but the profile portrays the guise exquisitely.  There is a small amount of skunkiness to the odor as well but all of the attributes coalesce to better allow me to appreciate the highlighted spice of the style.

 

Mouthfeel.

 

West Coast IPA feels wonderful in the mouth.  It’s not to thin and not too syrupy.  Actually, I’m very impressed with its density.  It feels much more like an imperial IPA

 

Flavor.

 

The bitterness in the flavor is intense, but the above IBU stats already said that.  Personally, I find it to be a bit much, but I am thankful that there is a lot of hop flavor here to seduce my thoughts away from my impending facial implosion.  Grapefruis, most likely from the Simcoe, is most easily pinpointed, and is most prominent on the back of the tongue and in the back corners of the mouth.  Yeah…it’s pretty much all citrus, and it’s the adjoining bitterness that forces thoughts of grapefruit, or of bitter orange.

There is a malty, sweet component to the flavor, but it is nearly all relegated to the aftertaste.  I’m mostly impressed with how intensely bitter this is, yet somehow I’m left feeling excited about the complete picture that this beer paints.  It’s as complex a single IPA could be.  Or, possibly more aptly, it’s the most complete, rounded example of an IPA that I can think of.  No one element unanimously blows me away, but each characteristic is well composed and the layering of it all has been executed adroitly.  This is a superb example that all brewers should study.

 

Aftertaste.

 

The bitterness wants this beer to finish bone dry, but somehow the lingering sweetness combats most impressively.  I’ll give it a high B grade, mostly because there is balance amidst the 95 IBUs.

Color/Head/Retention [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.89

Odor [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.94

Carbonation/Mouthfeel [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.97

Hop Flavor [maximum of 3.00 points possible]: 2.70

Malt Flavor/Balance [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.86

Finish/Aftertaste [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.90

 

Total [maximum of 10.00 points possible]: 9.26

 

The Hop Brief: Deschutes Brewery’s Fresh Hop Mirror Pond

 

Gettin' fresh with yall

 

Enjoyed on 10/6/2010

Brewery: Deschutes Brewery (Portland Brew Pub Exclusive)

Location: Portland, OR

Beer: Fresh Hop Mirror Pond

Web: http://www.deschutesbrewery.com/

Presentation: This is not bottled.  Brown glass flip-top growler.

Vintage: 2010

Style: Fresh Hop American Style Pale Ale

Barrel: N/A

ABV: 5.2%

IBU: 40

Hops: Fresh Cascade

Malt:N/A

Commercial Description: Our favorite pale ale plus our favorite time of year (hop harvest!) equals one of the staff’s most loved beers. This pale is tawny colored and full-bodied with a distinctive lingering hop flavor attained by adding copious quantities of fresh Cascade hops.

Beer Advocate: B+ (3.8) (1 review)

Rate Beer: Unrated

Timperial’s Notes:

Ahh the fresh hop beer.  What a marvelous creation.  Us West Coast dwellers are very lucky to be close to the source.  Remember, the Yakima Valley is home to nearly 80% of the U.S. hop crop.  Though fresh hop beers are quickly growing in popularity and are now being brewed all over the country thanks to overnight shipping, there is little doubt that we have the most prolific access to beer of the style.  I once read a top 5 list of the best beer festivals in the world.  The Yakima Fresh Hop Fest was on the list.  Why?  Because there is no other place in the world that could host such a thing.  Uniqueness wins massive points, and I think it’s valid.

Autumn is one of my favorite times to be a beer drinker.  The harvest season brings about both wet hop beers and pumpkin beers.  Since these brews have such limited availability, there is sometimes a sense of urgency to take them all in before they go away for another year.  Thus, I have been running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to gather in as much harvest beers as possible.  After hearing how much Geoff of Seattle Beer News enjoyed this beer on his blog, I knew that I needed to make a trip to Portland before it was all gone.  When Hair of the Dog and Cascade decided to coincide the opening of their long-awaited tap rooms with fresh hop season, the stars aligned…and here I sit, sipping down that “greenest” of beer pleasures.

I strongly feel that one must approach fresh hop beers in a much different way than traditional beers bittered with dried hops.  It’s actually surprising how different of an animal wet hops are versus dried hops.  Of course, the brewing process must vary with the use of such a different ingredient, so why shouldn’t the tasting experience differ as well. When a brewer decides to craft one of these little delights, he or she is making a serious commitment.  First of all, the hops need to go from vine to brew in less than 24 hours.  The shorter the delay the better.  You don’t want those little nuggets to start to wilt or lose acidity.  Secondly, since fresh hops contain about 60% water, you have to use about 5 times more of them to produce the same effect as dried hops.  That, on top of any shipping costs you may be forced to incur if you aren’t close enough to the source to pick them up yourself, can substantially increase your monetary commitment.  Finally, fresh hops need room to fully infuse and unfurl in the wort.  Unlike pellet hops that simply dissolve or dried hops that can be dunked using a hop bag, a hopback is generally required for full exposure.  Not every brewery has one of those.  The mash tun can be used, but this will add a lot of risk and time to the brewing process.  It’s clear that brewers are dispensing a lot of effort to put a little bit of unprocessed (mostly) Earth into a beer.

So how should we, as drinkers, properly calibrate our palettes in preparation?  Well, for me, it’s about that ‘bit of natural earth’ within.  Fresh hop beers are generally not super bitter.  The hops give off a much more subtle, greener flavor.  Maybe it’s hard to explain.  I guess you just know it when you taste it.

Let’s see if the extended efforts of Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery paid off.

Pouring out of a growler is often awkward and my initial serving was no exception.  The brew met my glass with much vigor and I felt forced to cease the onslaught after the glass was about half full.  My instinct served me right.  The top half of the glass quickly became inundated with white foam built of mostly minuscule bubbles.  It didn’t take very long for the mighty cap to subside, and in doing so, a picturesque slathering of lace was left on the inside wall of the glass.  After all settling was complete, a potent ring of those tiny bubbles remained where the beer met the glass and a few globs of larger bubbles floated on the surface.  The fluid itself displays a foggy, orange tinged amber that is very inviting indeed.

My initial impression of the scent, while the beer was still quite chilled, was of a very earthy, resinous, skunky hop attribute.  As it warms a bit, more of the biscuit or cracker-like maltiness can be distinguished.  The hop profile becomes less pungent as well, but the earthy quality is further solidified.  It’s not to far from sticking your nose up to a honeysuckle bush.  I get a nondescript floral essence, but also the odors of the actual green of the plant – the leaves and the stems.  There is melon rind and unripened pear.  Definitely honeysuckle…and honeydew.

The mouthfeel is thin and the carbonation is minimal, but I feel it unsubstantiated to make a proper judgment here considering that my growler was filled on Sunday and it is now Wednesday.  Yes, chances are good that all is untainted, but for scoring purposes, I must give the benefit of the doubt.  That is why this is the first time that I have ever properly reviewed a beer on this site that isn’t from a bottle.  Actually, with that being said and upon further reflection, these potentially negative aspects can actually play to the advantage of the beer, or possibly more specifically, the hops.  After re-reading Geoff’s thoughts, he is right about nothing standing in the way of the true essence of the hop.  This is surely not hop candy in my hand, but hop juice, or water squeezed from a freshly picked hop flower it is.

The flavor, in many ways, matches the scent and is overwhelmingly of melon and flowers.  It’s juicy, clean and crisp, like a massive bite out of a perfectly ripe piece of fruit, when the juices just trickle down the corners of your mouth.  I am also reminded of an iced, flavored white tea…which is something that I am very fond of.  The most enticing element of the hoppy front-end of the taste is the idea that this is what cascade hops truly and utterly taste like, and it’s delicious natural.

This beer has a low ABV, manageable IBUs, and is incredibly refreshing.  It’s sessionable and infused with the bounty of the best part of our great country.  I’m delighted with every sip.  Any bitterness is very subtle and mostly found well after the swallow.  Without a doubt, the malts play a role, but this is a fresh hop pale ale and we are dealing in subtlety.  They mostly exist in the aftertaste, which is the most full flavored and beer-like…the best part in my opinion.  The hop qualities linger, the biscuit sweetness creeps up and the bitterness drys…all at once.

Is this beer more flavor transcendent than America’s most highly heralded imperial IPAs?  Simply put, no.  But, there is so much more to fresh hop beers than the cut-and-dry flavor profile.  There is history, geography, heart and soul… There is the absolute core of the Humulus Lupulus plant that we all adore so intensely.  This is the beer that Mother Earth drinks, and tonight, I feel her presence within.

Color/Head/Retention [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.98

Odor [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.86

Carbonation/Mouthfeel [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.85

Hop Flavor [maximum of 3.00 points possible]: 3.00

Malt Flavor/Balance [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.66

Finish/Aftertaste [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.96

Total [maximum of 10.00 points possible]: 9.31

The Hop Brief: Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales’s Burton Baton

Dogfish Head Burton Baton

Enjoyed on 9/30/2010

Brewery: Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales

Location: Milton, DE

Beer: Burton Baton

Web: http://www.dogfish.com/

Presentation: 12 oz. – Brown Glass Bottle – Capped

Vintage: 2010

Style: American Style Imperial India Pale Ale blended with an English Old Ale

Barrel: Oak

ABV: 10.0%

IBU: 70

Hops: Warrior, Glacier

Malt: N/A

Commercial Description:

This is a blended beer that we’ve been brewing for the past several years and it’s recently been gaining in popularity.

For Burton Baton we first brew two ‘threads’ or batches of beer: an English-style Old Ale and an Imperial IPA. After fermenting the separate beers in our stainless tanks, the two are transferred and blended together in one of our large oak tanks. Burton Baton sits on the wood for about a month.

When enjoying the Burton Baton, you’ll find an awesome blend of the citrus notes from Northwestern hops melding with woody, vanilla notes from the oak. The wood also tends to mellow the 10% of the beer – so tread cautiously!

Beer Advocate: A- (4.13)

Rate Beer: 98 (3.74)

Timperial’s Notes:

When I had this beer at Brouwer’s Hopfest I had forgotten how delicious it was.  If you saw our review of said fest here, you probably noticed that it was our second favorite out of everything we tried, which was nearly 40 hopped up brews.  It would be wrong of me to say that I’m surprised, after all, DFH is a force to be reckoned with.  One can only fantasize about how those results could have been effected were 120 Minute IPA involved.  Honestly, I don’t think that it would have mattered, at least for me.  Never-the-less, ever since my re-discovery of the Baton, I have been unable to mosey past it in the bottleshops without grabbing one.

When you break this beer down to its core elements, it’s quite clear that Sam Calagione stepped into my psyche, rummaged around a bit, and popped out with a beer manifesto perfectly penned to make my knees wobble.  I am gaga about old ales, gonzo about imperial IPAs and gung-ho about wood aged beers.  Have your read my review of Great Divide‘s Hibernation, or my review of Russian River‘s Pliny the Elder?  If you have, you probably got a sense of my intense passion for the styles.  To blend the two, well, leave it to Sam to come up with that one.  Yes, maybe it happens more than I know.  Possibly, breweries do it and don’t advertise it as such.  If they do, they should inform me and me only.  I’ll keep that little nugget in the vault and acquire my fair share of the congenial cocktail for continued consumption.

If you haven’t done it already, I would highly recommend going to the Burton Baton page on the DFH website and watching the video of Sam describing the beer.  The most interesting part is being able to see the wood vat that the beer ages in.  It’s pretty epic.

A standard pour conjured a respectable head that rose like an ominous yellowish-white fog about an inch above the liquid.  It took about 5 minutes to settle down to a thin foam and ring.  The lacing is impressive, a dense slathering of porous paint on the inside of the glass.  I gentle swirling of the brew causes the transparency of the glass to wither.  The fluid itself is of a mysterious, cloudy amber hue that seems to vary from murky pond water brown to bright sunrise orange depending on the angle you hold it to the light.

The scent perplexes the mind with its unfathomable depth.  I know not where to begin… The initial moment my nose hit the scent, I thought the wrong beer was in the bottle.  There seemed to be coffee and cocoa emanating…from an IPA?  As it warms just slightly, those notes seem to fade to the peripherals.  Somewhere between then and when it’s warm enough to fully and properly experience, there are strong shots of lemon, blood orange, pine, and sweet baking doughs.  The booze can be sensed early after the pour.  Low temperatures do nothing to hide the 10%.  It’s surprisingly medicinal, or nearly petroleum like with potency.  To call this balanced in the nose is almost laughable.  I mean yes, there is a gargantuan helping of lupulin here, and the gods themselves where heavy-handed with the malt bill, but to use the word balance seems to place some sort of neutrality tag on a beer that is far too massive to even fit on known scales.  This is a beer for warriors, for Vikings, for kings of men.  Wait, I haven’t even smelled it at proper temp yet let alone tasted it.

As it warms a bit more, a medicinal, syrupy hop quality really dominates, but all the while drizzled upon sweet buns hot out of the oven, soaked in rum.  Sometimes granny gets a little nuts in the kitchen.  Even more warmth leaves only the malt backbone and a nose hair singeing alcohol.

The mouthfeel is just as the smell would suggest, slick with sugars and minimal with effervescence.  In this case, that’s what’s appropriate, and points are won for consistency.  The words that I want to use to describe the flavors are bouncing around my head faster than I can collect them.  The most striking of all is the re-emergence of what was inhaled at the very onset.  Coffee?  Again, I thought this was an IPA, and no, not a Cascadian dark version.  Yes, there is some tinge of brown in the color, and lest we not forget the old ale swimming in our midst, but roasted malts?  Clearly, nothing is off-limits for DFH.

The sweetness factor alone is multifaceted.  I get a slight bubble gum quality along with the baked sweets.  There is caramelized, near burnt sugar, which seems to play with the coffee and the hop bitterness to make a valiant attempt at blotting up the salivary glands.  There are moments when my palette is left feeling chalky dry, but inevitably, the sugar cascade reigns supreme.  No matter the juxtaposition in precipitants as I swallow, there is an undeniable need for more sips.  Though, I must admit, that desire for more is mostly beset on the intrigue factor – intrigue for what happens before the swallow, to greater understand the ever emerging nuances in flavor.

And I mustn’t dare leave out the hops.  Sure, they are in there – the piney, citrus aromas, the battling bitterness units… there is no mistake that this is a strong IPA, but the overall hop profile seems to lie in more of a supporting role.  If you told me there was hop extract in this beer I wouldn’t bat an eyelash.  There just isn’t enough room for the hop to substantially play on my taste buds.  I couldn’t even begin to contemplate the varieties used, let alone where they may sit in the addition schedule.  Does that hurt the score?  Well, maybe to a very finite degree, but like I said, this is an IPA and there is no question about that.  For the malt profile to be so brutally steadfast and for the ‘IPA’ moniker to still be obvious, how could one hold issue?

The aftertaste is the only flaw I can find here, but believe me, I’m stretching.  The “burnt” flavors seem to latch on with the most strength after the fluid has passed.  It’s a deep flavor that tells of the darker malts and the conditions of the wood that once housed the brew, or so I assume.  99% of the time, the byproduct of these elements brings me to my knees with delight.  Here, I’m forlorn.  For me, it’s not too different from being offered a fine cigar…or a Tom Waits album.  I so badly want to have the experience enlighten me, but sadly,  I just wasn’t built for it.  I was, however, built for hop candy, and this is one of the supreme examples of just such a beer.

Color/Head/Retention [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.97

Odor [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.98

Carbonation/Mouthfeel [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.95

Hop Flavor [maximum of 3.00 points possible]: 2.79

Malt Flavor/Balance [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.96

Finish/Aftertaste [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.90

Total [maximum of 10.00 points possible]: 9.55

The Hop Brief: Russian River Brewing Co.’s Pliny the Elder

September 17, 2010 1 comment

Mmmm, river of Pliny

Enjoyed on 9/15/2010

Brewery: Russian River Brewing Co.

Location: Santa Rosa, CA

Beer: Pliny the Elder

Web: www.russianriverbrewing.com

Presentation: 16.9 oz. – Brown Glass Bottle – Capped

Vintage: 2010

Style: American Style Imperial India Pale Ale

Barrel: N/A

ABV: 8.0%

IBU: 100

Hops: N/A

Malt: N/A

Commercial Description:

Pliny the Elder was a Roman naturalist, scholar, historian, traveler, officer, and writer. Although not considered his most important work, Pliny and his contemporaries created the botanical name for hops, “lupus Salictarius”, meaning wolf among scrubs.” Hops at that time grew wild among willows, much like a wolf in the forest. Later the current botanical name, Humulus Lupulus, was adopted. Pliny died in 79 AD while observing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. He was immortalized by his nephew, Pliny the Younger, who continued his uncle’s legacy by documenting much of what he observed during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Pliny the Elder, the beer, is brewed with 40% more malt and over twice the amount of hops as compared to our already hoppy IPA.

Beer Advocate: A+ (4.55)

Rate Beer: 100 (4.24)

Timperial’s Notes:

beeradvocate.com recently posted their 2010 “Top Beers on Planet Earth”.  At the time of that list’s release Beer Blotter felt obliged to lend their opinion on the extremely interesting phenomena surrounding it, but alas, time did not allow.  Seeing that the beer to be reviewed here is the controversial number 1 on said list, we will take this opportunity to toss out a few thoughts.

First, the background.  I believe that this list comes out every year and is essentially beeradvocate.com‘s version on ratebeer.com‘s The Best Beers in the World (overall), or possibly The Top Widely Distributed Beers.  These lists are always created exclusively with the use of the reviews of the website’s users.  That being said, no matter what you may think of the results, they are the will of the people.

I personally prefer ratebeer’s Best in the World list over BA’s Top Beers list because I feel it gives credit to beers that, yes, may be very rare, but most likely taste the best, or are the most complex.  BA’s list seems to have been compiled only with beers that have been reviewed by roughly 1,000 users, or have roughly 1,000 total reviews.  This, however, makes the list much more accessible to the masses.  A decent majority of the beers on the list have a sizable distribution.

For us Seattleites, the only breweries represented in the list that don’t distribute to our state are Founder’s, Bell’s, Three Floyds, Troegs, Great Lakes, Brooklyn, and Smuttynose.   That’s really not that bad.  7 out of 44 breweries.  Of course, none of those 44 breweries are from WA, but we kinda already knew that would happen.  Tell me what WA beer deserves to be on the list, but before you answer, ask yourself what that beer’s distribution looks like.  When you weigh quality with the number of mouths that get to taste it, you will begin to realize why our state is never represented.

I had planned on doing some serious analysis of the list, but it seems that Jay Brooks over at Brookston Beer Bulletin did most of the heavy lifting for me.  Check out the stats here.

Now, to number 1 on the list.  Pliny.  This is insane!  Don’t get me wrong, Pliny is an amazing double IPA.  I’d drink it everyday for the rest of my life if I had to and I’d be quite happy.  Vinnie Cilurzo is truly a hero of mine, but…there should never, ever be an IPA in the number one spot on a list like this.  IPAs lack depth and complexity.  The number 1 spot should be reserved for a beer that has so many layers and nuances that you struggle to describe it.  Even my beloved imperial stout, though unarguably complex, doesn’t have the depth of some of the greatest Belgian ales.  This is why I will never argue with the ratebeer perennial champion Westy 12.  Now that is a worthy beer for number 1 on planet Earth.  But, Westy 12 is very rare and therefore has no place on this list.  Rochefort 10 on the other hand, found in the number 3 position on the list, should be on top in my opinion.  Anyone who has ever had this beer knows a little something about speechless.

But, I deeply digress.  This article is about hops and Pliny has plenty of it.  Wherever Pliny should end up on this list, or any other list for that matter, is up for debate; but what surely is not up for debate is if it should be on the list, or any other list for that matter.  There is absolutely no doubt that this is one of the world’s best hoppy beers and I’m ecstatic to be drinking it tonight.

The filling of my pint glass is no easy task.  A huge, rocky head arises of a just off-white, nearly yellow hue.  It takes a while to fizzle down into beer, so you can imagine the pains it took to hold patiently.  In fact, I failed.  Refusing to wait, I slurped up a big, prickly mouthful of foam that seemed a microcosm of the taste experience soon to come.  Immediately evaporating like a pinch of cotton candy between my lips, waves of citrus and pine span past me in fractions of a second before a stern slap of bitterness stung my senses.

Before even one liquid sip made it to my mouth, I felt as though I had climbed just slightly too far up a pine tree, became fearfully stuck, then became the target of a potato gun loaded with citrus.  I’m taking it square in the jaw with propelled fruit and hanging on to the sharp, sappy branches of my captor with all that I have.  It sounds like a nightmare, and to the bitter bewildered, it just may be, but to The Hop Brief, it’s an extreme sport.  We do it for the love of the thrill.

The head eventually settles to a white wisp and ring.  Surprisingly, the lacing is a bit subdued.  After such a thick head on the pour and the sweetness expected from such a big brew, I presumed there would be much more stickage.  The color is also a bit unexpected, a pale, cloudy amber.  Pale enough that I would have projected a lighter brew before me.  The most striking attribute of all, gathered with the eye, is the level of cloudiness.  Actually, I hesitate to even use the word cloudy, though it seems an appropriate adjective for beers with suspended yeast.  Here we have some serious floaters!  My mind tells me that it’s hop shrapnel, and I like the thought of that.  Maybe I can chew some hop as I drink some hop.

The nose is very pleasant to this IPA lover.  There is a slight sting in the nostrils from the multi-tiered potency.  Many facets of potent lupulin resins (pine and citrus, as mentioned earlier), backed with a potent booze factor.  The biscuity malts that break through add a complexity and balance that is an invaluable sidekick.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a dash of wheat in the grain bill.  That may also be a factor in the color and cloudiness.  Fruitcake… and no, I’m not talking about you… in the nose.  There is a slight but noticeable sweetness in the scent that brings me relief.

The mouthfeel is spot on for the style.  Fairly low but present carbonation, smooth and slick with sweetness… I’m not rushing to swallow.

The flavor is pretty fantastic.  No shit, right?  The taste experience begins with an onslaught of bitterness, which I generally am opposed to, but after the bitter sensing portions of the tongue relax (or are desensitized, I’m not sure which), it’s all so right.  An exhale through the nose stirs up all of the crucial hop flavors that were prefaced in the nose.  BIG earthy pine (trapped in a tree), grapefruit, pumello, bitter orange (potato gun shooting citrus); it’s all there and wiping about the mouth like a swirl-and-spin of hop-flavored paint, coating every corner of the mouth with aromatic arts.

The malts are like the cool, smooth looking guy that just strolls through the bonkers house party with no worry in the world.  He puts it all into perspective, making all the hopped-up party animals look like riotous ne’er-do-wells who will never grow up to do anything with their lives.  In this particular case, we all know that those hopped-up animals turn out to forever change American brewing, but don’t tell that to the malty fellow, he is still cool as ice.  You may have picked up on my IPA desires by now, but if not, I NEED BALANCE!  Get a little heavy on the malt bill, leave behind some unfermentable sugars, arrest fermentation, do whatever you have to do to massage my sweet tooth.  This brew gives it a little stroke, and I’m near bliss.

For me, the aftertaste is the peak of excellence as far as PTE is concerned.  All the flavors coalesce into a sweet song in the key of sturm und drang.  Extremes in emotion mingle.  Stabbing, pungent bitterness leads into soothing, relaxing sacchariferousness.  There is very little dryness at all and, though I so badly want another sip, I really don’t need it.  The flavors just keep going and going.  All is right in the world.

With PTE, the sweetness is desperately close to perfect for me, but falls just short.  I can actually feel the tension within me.  I want so badly for it to be perfect, but no.  Lest we not forget though, it’s a rare occasion when I even discuss the possibility of perfection in a beer, of any style, and that is why Pliny the Elder is a legend in both history and beer.

Color/Head/Retention [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.79

Odor [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.86

Carbonation/Mouthfeel [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.99

Hop Flavor [maximum of 3.00 points possible]: 2.94

Malt Flavor/Balance [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.88

Finish/Aftertaste [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.99

Total [maximum of 10.00 points possible]: 9.45

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