Showdown : IPA Standard Bearers

I like IPAs. My Pit Bull turns his note up at them (his name is Porter…)

I know I said in my previous post that I drink more IPAs than anyone really needs to, and that remains true. However, thinking about that got me yearning for a good IPA. As I was lingering in my grocer’s beer aisle, attempting to find something new and interesting in their standard grocery store* beer selection, a showdown was conjured in my mind. I wouldn’t drink one IPA, no, that is for the lot of you who drink sensibly. No, I would have three (my max if you know me well enough), on a school night, and pit them against each other in a winner take all of our IPA elders.

I’ve had the three here multiple times but none of them recently since I don’t get back to the standard bearers as often as I should. Are these IPAs standard bearers? I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t care too much, either. They are all classics, which have been brewed for more than a decade each and all are wildly successful year-around beers. I know that the recipes have been tweaked some over the years, but these are the beers that launched thousands of imitators.

Bitter Grandpa

Stone IPA : Introduced 1997 : 6.9% – We’ll start with the oldest of the group, Stone IPA. It’s classic clear orange body topped by a white hat. Powerful citrus hop notes for sure inspired a multitude of IPAs in the last 20 years. Damn, it is bitter. Ya know how lots of the new tropical IPAs are full of bright fruits (which I totally dig, btw) but the bitterness seems a bit restrained? This IPA harkens back to those days when everyone cared about IBUs more than anything else. The flavor is almost masked by the bitterness! Still, it has tons of citrus and pine hop notes. Crystal malt adds some sweetness and rounds out the body. This is a full-on bitter powerhouse of an IPA.


Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA : Introduced 2003 : 6% – I’ve moved on to Dogfish’s 60-minute IPA, which I’ve had the longest relationship with out of these three. I remember it being smooth and grassy, but either my memory has failed me or the beer has changed some over the years. The grass is still there but only in the background with pine and citrus elbowing their way to the front. The malt is muted but aides the overall balance. Not nearly as bitter as the Stone but still having a nice bite throughout. A well-balanced offering.


Not GF free

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA : Introduced 2005 (originally named Northstar) : 7% – The relative newcomer, Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA is a big time player especially on the west coast. I don’t remember drinking much of it when I was back east, but I can’t escape it out here. This is a grapefruit bomb and I’ve always enjoyed grapefruit in my IPAs (I don’t like grapefruited IPAs, however). Strong citrus notes throughout with a decent helping of crystal malt sweetness. A zesty, fruity, sweet IPA that many breweries seem to be emulating (cause, duh, it’s a huge success so why not emulate it). Tangy and bitter. Good stuff, here.

So what’s it gonna be from the elder three? My pre-tasting guess was Dogfish Head had the winner but after this little get-together Stone came away as the clear winner. DFH and BP are brewing great IPAs but they are both solid seconds, for me. If we care about where our money goes (and I do) then I’d put the 60 Minute second and relegate Sculpin to third, but that’s a moral decision and not an enjoyment based outcome.

This was a fun grocery-store threesome. I haven’t had any of these in years and it was nice to get reacquainted with them. And damn, that Stone IPA is still fighting my tongue. Nice.

*I may need to remind you that I live in the heart of a good beer black hole. The local area is trying to improve but we still don’t have a good bottle shop in close vicinity. I buy more of my beer from the chain grocery than I’d like to admit.


The Session – Brown Ale

Long time reader, first time caller …er, contributor to the Session. My first foray to this gathering ofsession_logo beer bloggers is session #120, Brown Beer, hosted by Fatal Glass of Beer, who says:

let’s buck the trend and contemplate brown beer. This might be brown ale, or the aforementioned English bitter; it could be a malty Belgian brune, a dubbel or a tart oud bruin; even a German dunkel might qualify.

Away we go.

I can trace my connection to brown beer all the way to my good beer infancy. The beer that started it all for me was Bells Porter, which is a lovely deep brown beer. However, when I narrowed my brown beer experiences down, I kept returning to one singular beer that played a remarkable role in my formative years.

Sweet Nostalgia.
Samuel Smiths Nut Brown ale is a beer that satisfied and inspired me to keep going down this rabbit hole. It pushed my passion for darker beers to full throttle. I snagged their Taddy Porter next, shortly after that I went after Westmalle Dubbel followed closely by McEwan’s Scotch Ale and then Abita’s Turbodog, which led to … well, you get the idea. Brown beer was my life and life was grand. I drank them, I brewed them, I chased them. I still do.

But, why? I surely didn’t keep track of why when I was learning to love beer so I’m looking back through frosty windows, but I believe those brown beers gave me a sense of comfort, substance, flavor, and balance. I enjoyed the occasional IPA because tons of hops were (are) cool and fun, but the beers that really spoke to me were brown and malty with a chewy body. The browns looked like beer should, too. They transported me to a London pub or a German bier hall where good beer was just … normal.

Sam’s Nut Brown inspired me so much that the second batch of homebrew I ever crafted was a clone of this ale. I specifically bought Beer Captured (Jeff and Tess Szamatulski) because I saw it had a recipe for this glorious brew. That is a story in and of itself, really. See, I brewed this beer just a couple weeks before I shipped off out for the Navy and a new life far from home. I left before I was even able to taste the fruits of my labor. Luckily, I figured out that this was going to happen early enough that I left my parents very detailed directions so they could bottle and store it in the basement (they did a great job) until my first shore leave came nearly a year later. The beer was all that I could have ever hoped for. Its malty and semi-sweet profile begged for round after round. I was so proud of it that I took bottles with me to all the get-togethers I could during that visit home, polishing off those five gallons with ease.

But time marches on and the beer world today is not what it was when I first joined the revolution 12-ish years ago. I drink more IPAs than anyone really needs to these days- they’re inescapable. Much like many relationships, we never had a falling out, but we drifted apart. I’d say hello every now and then but mostly sought out the new and exciting barrel aged sour and didn’t have time for this steady ale. I honestly don’t remember the last time I brought home a bottle. So, as I write, I am also enjoying a fine pint of Nut Brown.*

She’s just as friendly as I remember. The nutty and toasted malts leading to a mild chocolate, toffee and raisin backbone. The lingering dry finish bringing me back for another taste. Her brown body and curvaceous ruby highlights under the dirty blonde head are as beautiful today as they’ve ever been. Lovely.

Enjoying this brown again made me curious for a couple other noteworthy browns of my beer youth. Being in the PNW these days, I don’t have access to many of the beers I cut my teeth on when living in the Midwest, but I was able to find a couple of entries that fit the nostalgia bill.

Nectar Nightcap
Rogue Hazelnut Brown : 6% – I don’t remember the circumstances surrounding my first encounter with this ale. I do remember that this brown opened my young beer world to the possibilities of ingredients other than malt, hop, water and yeast. I was in awe of this brown for some time after I discovered it. I bought more and made everyone try it’s hazelnut and toasted malt profile. Such a luxurious brown beer. It’s still quite enjoyable. The balanced hazelnut stands out without being a one trick pony. I haven’t had this in years but enjoyed getting reacquainted.

Easy top 3 Brown
Big Sky Moose Drool : 5.2% – This was a beer I had on my wish list for many years before finally getting to a state that served this malty delight. It was one of the first beers I HAD to have. So, when I finally stumbled upon a bottle I was in heaven. It was all I hoped for, and still is. Lightly roasted malts, chocolaty, toasted bread and deep dark fruits. A slightly sweet but also dry body and finish. A hearty and malty brown ale. I need to pick up more.

I didn’t expect my first contribution to the Session to be so full of nostalgia, but I’m not upset it turned out this way. Brown beers have always played a large role in my beer life. Porter has long been my favorite style followed by many malty, brown leaning beers. Dubbel, dunkle, stout, bock, etc. I sometimes have a difficult time remembering that good beer is good, even if it’s not new.

*the post was written while enjoying Samuel Smiths Nut Brown but edited and posted while enjoying a different brown hued beer, Negra Modelo. A tasty mainstream option. 

Peanut Butter and Paradise

I named one of our dogs Porter after my favorite type of beer. He really likes peanut butter. I also really like peanut butter. I also really like beer (so does he, but he doesn’t get more than the occasional spilt drop). So, when brewers “discovered” the now fairly common peanut butter porter a few years back, I jumped at it. It was fun. It was novel. It … grew old fairly quick. Not that there was anything wrong with them, but for me, they grew too sweet to enjoy regularly. I haven’t had one in quite some time but for some reason, when my local, local beer only bottle shop announced they had Wingman Brewers Peanut Butter Cup P-51 I jumped at the chance to grab a bottle. And, as fate would have it, as I was about to get in bed last night I found out that today is National Peanut Butter day. What luck! I threw the bottle in the fridge (well, really I gently placed it in there) and went to bed so excited for today to come. And here we are. Drinking a peanut butter porter on a day when peanut butter is in the spotlight.

Wow. My life is just a roller coaster ride of excitement.

Locally roasted peanuts from CB’s Nuts. Oh yea, and beer.

But the beer is good. It offers up all the hallmarks of a good PB porter. It’s full of rich peanut, chocolate, some light roasted notes, and a decent amount of sweetness throughout. It’s full silky body gives a good chewy profile aiding in it’s enjoyment.

You’ve got yourselves s good dessert sipper, Wingman.


A Pair of Peculiar Puyallups

Yea, I mean, Puyallup River is offering us beer geeks a holiday spiced imperial cream ale (wha…?) and an imperial eggnog stout (uh, ok). Doing a real quick search on RateBeer, the eggnog stout isn’t unprecedented though hardly a common offering. I’m imagining myself in some sort of random conversation on the brewery floor at Puyallup. The topic is holiday beers and the general disdain of the standard expectation from the breweries. Someone say, “let’s get a bit weird this year.” Somehow, that gains traction and eggnog is the obvious choice. But, Imperial Christmas Cream Ale? I love it. I initially didn’t. I saw the bottle, shook my head, and quickly forgot about it. However, it crept back up in my subconscious and every time I saw a bottle it was more and more difficult to pass it up. Puyallup finally broke me and I snagged a bottle of each. Are they worthy additions to the holiday beer or just forgettable novelty beers that fade away silently into he cold winter’s night? Let’s find out.

Puyallup River imperial Eggnog Mud Mountain Milk Stout : 8.5% – I’ve heard good things about the Mud Mountain Milk Stout but haven’t yet had the pleasure. Much like the Christmas Cream Ale, I saw this, basically laughed it off, and moved along. Eventually, it’s novelty overcame my ability to withstand it and I picked up a bottle. Pours pitch black with a dark head. Powerful vanilla and spice aroma is spot on spicy eggnog. I love eggnog. I am happy. Full and oily body. The flavor hits like a mouth full of spice. Too much spice and somehow slightly minty. The vanilla is overshadowed by the spices intensity. There isn’t much of a stout profile, either. Not roasted notes, little chocolate, nothing. The aroma is very inviting but the flavor doesn’t back it up. A bit of a letdown, honestly.

Puyallup River Imperial Christmas Cream Ale : 8.5% – I haven’t had many, or any, even, imperial cream ales in my day. Nor have I had many golden or even pale beers filled with holiday spices. Needless to say, at first glance I passed it over nearly immediately. Where did this idea come from and who at Puyallup said “fuck it, go for it?” I admire the gusto. The beer itself is a hazy pale golden with a large head. The spices fill the room immediately with their holiday aroma. Cinnamon, nutmeg, some light toasted pie crust. Full and slick body. The spice continues to shine in the flavor leaving you with a lingering hot spice in the finish. The booze is fairly well hidden under all those spices. I am a bit suprised at how well this worked. The spices are powerful but this is a well-balanced, well-behaved, spiced strong ale. I’m a bit taken back. I had some pretty good one-liners set up to dog this brew but I can’t use them (Damn. They were good, too). But, at the end of the day, it’s better that this is a good beer than me getting to use those (right?). I’m not saying I’m gonna rush out and buy a bunch more of these this year but it will probably show up in my stock again this time next year.

Well, I’d say Puyallup is one for two on their adventurous holiday brews. The Eggnog Stout didn’t work for me but the Christmas Cream ale was quite pleasant. Batting .500 is something we can all strive for.

So We Meet Again, Tuesday

Finally a moment of down time in which to enjoy a couple pints on my favorite drinking night of the week: Tuesday.  It’s been a while since I’ve been able to tip a couple back mid-week like this and it feels real nice.  I decided against doing anything special and kept to beers I’ve had before, so I could just enjoy them without all that pesky thinking and contemplating that goes with new beer.  Some people don’t like “rating” beers.  That’s fine.  But I do.

Somebody needs to Bock this Rauch up a bit

It’s less about the actual rating of the beer and much more about learning about beer.  I don’t use to let the world know my opinion of the beer I just sucked down, I do it as a place to lay down my experience of a particular brew and compare it to others to see what I may have missed out on or what to look for in my next go-around with that malty (or hoppy) delight.  Contridicting myself?  Nah, they just go hand in hand though I only care about the latter of those two.  If you’re a ticker, have at it.  What makes drinking beer fun is what you enjoy about it.  Some like the shotgun a can of Super Dry.  Some like to tick off thousands of beers, rarely drinking the same thing twice.  Some like a beer to wet the palate and refresh the spirit.  I like all of the above (maybe not the Super Dry- I’m a Premium Malts imbiber).  I’ve met people who love good beer, but just want something familiar and traditional.  Others I’ve met want every brewery to be a little more like Dogfish Head (of Delaware, USA, fame), and crazy innovative and experimental.  Over the past few weeks I’ve been dissapointed in some of my favoirte beer bloggers as they’ve been attacking other beer lovers reasons for loving beer.  Why?  What does it matter that I may love to drink 20 different beers in the next 20 days and you want to stick to your two favorites?  We can still be beer buddies.  You tell me about the wonders of a classic German Helles, and I’ll tell you the wonders of an IPA brewed with seven different types of hops through my bitter beer face (thank you, Keystone).

I’ve gotten way off topic.  Here are my beers from tonight (I guess I didn’t turn off the old thinking tube completely):

Atsugi Beer Company – Lager

Atsugi Lager
Not quite the punch of Simcoe Bloody Simcoe

A fairly non-descript lager, really.  Sweet malts, very light hops and a touch of floral gives this one it’s character.  Nothing to write home about but it wasn’t bad.  I like my pale lager’s a bit dryer than this one teed up, but it’ll do in a pinch.  Atsugi is still a fairly unknown brewery for me, though I’d like to drink more.  It’s kinda local, but not really.  Local as I’ll get, though.  The Thrash Zone Simcoe Bloody Simcoe was outta sight and I’d like to see them branch out a little more in that direction.  Not necessarily to hop town, but get a bit more creative with their stuff.  I can’t imagine they sell all that much of this lager- I’ve only seen it twice and I’ve been actively looking for more Atsugi stuff.

Fujuzakura Heights Beer – Rauch Generally, I’m a huge fan of the German style brews pouring out of Fujizakura.  Their offerings always seem to satisfy my desire for fresh Malty beers.  Their Rauchbock is out of this world.  Having said that, I’m less than impressed with their regular Rauch.  It’s a bit thin.  It’s a bit on the weak side flavor wise.  It hits the check boxes for a smoked: ham, malts, smoke.  It isn’t a bad brew, and very drinkable for a smoked beer, but it’s just sorta there.

Yokohama Green Fresh

Found myself aimlessly wandering through Yokohama recently and just happened to be in the Pivovar/Yokohama area (how lucky…). I was parched from spending the better part of the evening trying out my new camera lens and was sure a bottle of water wasn’t going to quench the thirst nearly as well as a pint of something cool and hoppy.

Hand held, new lens, night.  Feel free to cut me some slack.
Hand held, new lens, night. Feel free to cut me some slack.

I knew from past research that Yokohama had anew beer out they called Green Fresh and assumed it was going to be an American style IPA. After their successful crossover ale I’m not surprised to see them stray a bit from their roots of the Czech beer styles. Saddling up to the bar I ordered a tall one. I was pretty surprised by just how cloudy this brew was. Doesn’t look like they did any filtering to it. I’m alright with that, I sometimes would prefer more breweries to ditch the filtering process all together, but that’s a discussion for another time. Now, I’m not positive it’s dry-hopped, but I’m positive it’s dry-hopped. The aroma was very grassy, something that comes from the process of dry-hopping. It had a nice grapefruit and citrus hop aroma to go along with it as well as a light caramel malt sweetness. The flavor is what convinced me it was dry-hopped. Intense grass hop notes on this bad boy. Grapefruit and light lemon hops are quite noticeable/enjoyable as well.

Green Fresh, now in W I D E  A N G L E
Green Fresh, now in W I D E A N G L E

Luckily it had a medium strength malt foundation to stand up against all of it, otherwise it wouldn’t have worked so well. What really got me was the bitter finish. Very West Coast IPA-ish. My notes aren’t very thorough, but I remember reading it was primarily cascade hops (again, USA IPA) giving the bitterness. I cought myself thinking another pint would really feel nice, but forced that thought out of my mind and got back to the lens trials. I hope it’s around for a while, though, I really enjoyed this one.

Ozeno Yukidoke Heavy Heavy

It was pretty cold here Monday.  Just when I thought we had made the turn towards warmer Spring tempertures, too.  O well, it gave me the perfect chance to take out my bottle of Ozeno Yukidoke’s Heavy Heavy Barley Wine I’d been sitting on.  I’m not as much of a fan of big barley wines as when I was a beer newbie, but they still serve a (delicious) purpose on these cold days.  At 8.5% abv., this one didn’t fail to warm me up, either.  

Tasty Tasty
Tasty Tasty

Caramel colored and lacking much of a head- just right for a barley wine in my book.  A wonderfully sweet, caramel, dark fruit filled aroma also contains plenty of hops.  Neat.  Sticky sweet mouth lets you know you’re not swigging an Asahi (or much else for that matter).  Caramel/molasses, dark fruits, cherries, wood, light chocolate, and honey played the biggest roles.  Heavy Heavy finishes dry, with noticeable alcohol (but not too hot) and hop bitterness.  A nice surprise from a Japanese BW, which tend to be entirely too sweet throughout.  This beer came together nicely and offered me much needed nourishment on this wintery, early spring evening.

Sankt Gallen Apple Cinnamon Ale

I picked up this bottle at Tokyu Hands while shopping for completely non-beer related items that I was going to use for beer.  You see, I needed a new notebook to write my impressions of the brews I drink and wanted something a little nicer than the flimsy spiral pocket notebooks I’d been using.  Upon seeing the bottle two distinct thoughts passed through my head:

sankt-gallen-apple-cinnamon-ale1.  Sankt Gallen is a good brewery and I haven’t had anything new from them in quite some time.  2.  I like both apples and cinnamon.  (OK, three thoughts went through my head, the final one being BEER!  BEER!  BEER!)  I was pretty surprised at how much the aroma reminded me of freshly baked apple pie.  It was fantastic and I didn’t wait too long to take a deep gulp of the beer.  The cinnamon is the most apparent flavor with light caramel malts and maybe the slightest apple notes coming through, as well.  The cinnamon bites your tongue, but not in an offensive manner, making this a very drinkable beer.  When I finished I knew that one per sitting was enough even though it was a thoroughly enjoyable brew.   I recently saw more of this beer at the World Porters mall in Yokohama so I know it’s still out there.  Grab a bottle of this winter treat if you come across it, you won’t regret it.

On the web: Sankt Gallen Brewery

Not a drop to drink

A dry spell is a hard thing to work through.  It’s not that I’m dependant on beer, that would make me some sort of alcoholic.  It’s just that I happen to relate to those laborers who took their lunch to work with them in a pail, and slaked their thirst with a pint or two of fine ale throughout the day.  Alcohol isn’t welcome on Navy vessels.  We spend out days chugging through our work, and our short, restless nights dreaming of better places, and good friends we’ve left behind. 

For me, that often means I’m brought back to a favorite bar, with a perfectly poured pint of something cool and dark.  I’ve been daydreaming lately of, well, every beer I’ve ever enjoyed.  But more to the point, I’ve been obsessing over a pint of Minoh’s Valentine Imperial Stout.  Japan has many quality breweries offering many fine ales to be consumed, but the one I love more than any other has got to be the Minoh Impy Stout.  Its smooth, creamy body leads you willingly to rich roasted malts, chocolate, milk, coffee beans, and just the right amount of vanilla.  You’re probably thinking to yourself “Sounds nice, but isn’t that what makes up most Imperial Stouts?”  In a word, yes.  The reason this one blows all comers out of the water is that while it’s a seasonal brew released for the Valentine’s holiday, it goes just as well in the sweltering summer heat of a Tokyo evening.  Earlier this year I found myself in Thrash Zone, as I often do, and was blown away by that nights offering.  I have no idea what else the Master was pumping that night, but he had what had to be the last keg of Minoh’s Valentine Beer Imperial Stout on tap this year.  Being a work night, I had limited my intake to two pints, max.  Well, I tried to limit my intake.  The night became a blur after a few rounds and I remember narrowly making my train.  But what a night it was.  I’ve never felt so refreshed by a strong, dark, roasty beer in the middle of a hot summer night than I did that night.  No amount of hops, no amount of citrus, nothing has recharged my body and mind more than those beautiful beers did that night.  This is why, out of all the Baird, Hakusekikan, YoHo, Sankt Gallen, or myriad of other fine brewers well crafted beers, I do firmly claim the Minoh Imperial Stout as my favorite, and the king of them all.  Dry as we are, I remember that night (along with the pints I enjoyed in its proper season) and can feel its bounty energizing my body, and refreshing my mind.  I look forward to my next encounter with this ale, thankfully I have a good idea when it should be released…

Welcome back, me.

It’s been quite some time, my apologies for that.  I had a great time drinking local  through about seven states during August.  Now that it’s September I’m back at work, which means I’m back doing the Navy thing somewhere in the ocean.  I’d like to say I’ll be gathering my notes from home and writing some epic posts, but we get sort of busy out here so I wouldn’t hold my breath.  I’m no less enthusiastic about this blog, though, but I have some major commitments I have to take care of first.  I’m looking at December and a whole host of newness.  And I’m really looking forward to the first taste of that Oatmeal Milk Stout.

Before I got out to the great blue ocean I had a chance to return to one of the classics of craft beer.  Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, of course.  I still remember my first sip while I was still a new born beer geek, and realizing that the bitter beer face Keystone warned me about was actually a good thing.  Unfortunately, it did its job too well, and I soon moved on the hoppier IPAs.  It has probably been two years since I’ve quenched my thirst with a SNPA.  The base club in Sasebo is stocked with the stuff.  I generally avoid base clubs because of the poor beer selection and drunk 20-year-old Sailors, but the draw of SNPA is too strong for any of the annoyances to matter.  While I now find it to be a little light on the hops, it is just as delicious as ever.  A crisp body followed by refreshing hop bitterness brings a smile to my face each night.  I’m almost glad that Sasebo is a wasteland of good beer, I would have never gotten reacquainted with this old friend.