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.

img_5288
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.

img_5291-1
Even-Keeled

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.

 

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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.

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Showdown: NorCal Imperial Stout

Imperial Stout Garage.

Imperial stouts are great. I think that’s a fairly agreed upon statement. What’s not to love? Roasted malts, chocolate, sweetness, awesome. Winter is the perfect time for the style and the PNW makes some of the best. Does Northern California count as the PNW? As a midwesterner, I think it does. I was standing in the beer aisle while doing some grocery shopping recently and decided to grab a couple impys because nothing else stood out. They sat in my fridge for a few weeks and then decided a comparison would be a fun thing to do … because it’s kinda my thing. So, which NorCal imperial stout will punch out the other? I’m stoked to find out. 

(G)narly

Sierra Nevada Narwhal – 10.2% : Pours black with a tall, dark brown head. A very slick, molasses, sticky roasted malt profile. Some burnt malts and dark chocolate but mostly a super bold and sweet molasses filled imperial stout. I mean, wow, this is sweet. The roasted notes are overpowered but the sweet malt, which kind of drowns everything out. The 10% is drowned by the sugars, which makes it fairly dangerous. It’s a real good impy, no doubt. It’s just a bit too sweet to be something I can have very often.

A Wise RIS.

North Coast Old Rasputin – 9% : Thick black pour with a tall and firm deep tan head. Intense roasted malt notes, mild coffee, cocoa, light pine and earth notes. Full bodied. A bone dry finish increases the roasted feel on this imperial stout. A lingering bitter sweet burnt malt stays with you long after your sip is gone. Intensely dry and roasted and delicious. I should drink more of it. 

There ya have it. Old Rasputin bests Narwhal in a battle of Northern California Imperial Stouts. The Narwhal is nice but too sweet for my liking. I used to enjoy the Rasputin rather often in my earlier craft beer days but have drifted away from it in recent years. It’s nice to have it again and reminded of just how great an imperial stout it is. I think it’s gonna start making a regular appearance in my fridge once again. 

Showdown: Island Lagers

When I found out I’d be spending a week or so in Oahu for business, I researched island brewed pilsners and pale lagers for quite some time. Turns out, there aren’t that many and the ones out there are harder to find than they should be. Warm beaches are made for crisp lagers, in my humble, but correct, opinion (I will add that stouts and porters make for great warm weather beers, too). Once I got here and started exploring the few good beers stores and all those ABC stores around the island it became abundantly clear that Hawaii might be paradise, unless you are a craft beer fan.

Hawaii_Lagers
Lagers over Waikiki.

The three lagers on this installment of the showdown are all relatively easy to find. Most ABC and 7-11s seemed to have at least two of them. So, which on should be your go-to beach lager in the Hawaiian Isles? Lets find out.

Aloha Lager:

Aloha Lager
Hello (or goodbye), Lager.

Pour is slightly hazy golden with a small white head. Slightly earthy and a bit of citrus along with hay. Crisp finish. Not really that good. I was hoping for a crisp, clean, lightly hoppy lager that refreshes while imbibing. What this is is a meaty, hay and toasty lager. Not what I think of when I drink Hawaii lager. I guess that isn’t entirely fair since I like some of the other breweries lagers that aren’t Czech style pilsners, but that is what I got form the advertising so that is what I expect. Anoha to this lager.

Kona Longboard Lager:

Kono - Longboard Lager
I’d drink this on a surfboard.

Very clear and pale yellow with a wispy white head. Pretty much nothing going on here. Like, a void of aroma and flavor. However, it is clear and fairly clean. Light sweetness and a bit of light hops in the finish. When freezing, it’s quite refreshing. As it warms it gets a little…meh. Not much to like or dislike here, because there really isn’t much here. It’s pretty clean and refreshing but completely flavorless. This would be a pretty on point beach drinker and it gets bonus points for that.

Maui Bikini Blonde:

Maui - Bikini Blonde Lager

Golden with a white head because, well, it’s a golden lager with a white head. This one actually has plenty of flavor. From toasty malts, to some sweetness, a little grain and light hops. It has the easy drinking quality of the rest of the lagers but quite flavorful, too. This really is the most enjoyable of the bunch. The drawback here is that once it gets too warm on the beach the enjoyable flavor notes could make it a bit more difficult to gulp down. I guess the answer there is to bring a coozie.

Well, there ya go. When it comes to Hawaii brewed pale lagers, Maui Bikini Blonde reigns supreme. The Kona is nice if you just want to smash a few before heading out for the day and avoiding a bit of the overpriced beach bars. But, if you’re looking to enjoy a few good beers in the sun, go for the Maui.

In all honesty, none of these ended up being my preferred beach beers. Kona’s Big Wave Golden Ale became my go-to. It’s light, decently hopped, crisp profile really did a bang up job refreshing and de-sobering me. It was just as easy to find as the lagers, too.

Super Strong Showdown

If there is one type of beer that Bahrain liquor stores stock in massive amounts, it’s strong, terrible, malt liquors. I thought it would be funny to pick up a couple and do a side by side, but as you will read, it was less funny and more terrible burning. The iconic paper bag that malt liquors come in haven’t made it out to Bahrain so the standard black bag of shame will have to do.

Booze Bros
Booze Bros

So, which can of burney pain eventually came out on top? Will the crown stay intact or will the pirates steal the royalty’s fortune? Let’s find out.

Royal Dutch  Super Strong 12%

I wonder the abv on this one
I wonder the abv on this one

The label design is dull- strike one. If it weren’t for research purposes I would have never purchased this, instead buying a boatload of the Pirate because there is a pirate on the can and if all I care about is getting lit up I might as well pretend I’m a swashbuckler.

Gotta take that first swig straight from the can. No aroma check, no color check, just a hard and deep gulp. Unf, this is rough. It’s full bodied and syrupy smooth with a bit of carbonation in the back end. Royal Dutch slides down the throat with a red-hot alcohol tail, which balances out the grainy sweetness. After pouring it into a glass I can see that this is crystal clear gold with a small head. The aroma is cheap booze mixed with malt sweetness. It has a rough grain profile masked by the fumes and the high level sugary aroma. The more I drink the more fruity notes I’m picking up. (Five minutes later) I can’t taste anything. My tastebuds are burnt off and I might be drunk.

 

Pirate Super Strong 12% 

Plundering your sobriety
Plundering your sobriety

Can chug- medium to thin boded with a much harsher finish. Not much flavor other than fusel alcohol. Seriously, it burns. Back again and…ouahhh it is hot. Oh man, I’m trying to hold on to hope that I’ll like this one better but that gulp just bit me, I think.

Poured into a glass I see that this one is bright hay/gold with a large head. Clear because filtering is AWESOME! Aroma is a mix of booze, grain, fruity notes and apple really coming thru. Flavor is mostly cereal grains and a lot of booze. Sweet and light fruits, too. Not much, really. I’m mostly surprised about the lack of flavor in this one. (break, lost track of time) I’m seriously drunk. My head is floating, my fingers are dancing, and I don’t know what is going on right now.

Job well done, boozed up brews. I guess you’re both champions.

But in reality, only the Pirate is a champ. The reason is two fold. One, you have a much awesomer can and name. Who doesn’t want to get drunk and pretend to be a pirate? No one. Not even pirates because today’s pirates suck and pirates of yore were cool (except that they sucked, too). But, at least their attire is neat and I can wear it at Halloween. Two, it has less flavor, which means it has less bad flavor and that is a positive. Sure, the booze is a bit harsher, but it’s 12%. Don’t buy it if you didn’t expect that.

Macro Showdown: German Wheat + Wildcard

It’s been a while so, let’s have a showdown! Weiss, weizen, wheat, whatever. It’s not my favorite style and I generally go for anything else at a bar when confronted with it as a choice. And no, an orange slice doesn’t make it any better; this isn’t Corona (I realize you put a lime in Corona but please make the connection, folks).  However, wheat beers are pretty common and rather popular if you look around a bit.

Which Wheat will Win?
Which Wheat will Win?

The small selection of choices out here usually contains a couple wheat options. A couple weeks ago those couple of options grew rapidly into four, FOUR, different options. What was a man, even a wheat beer disliker such as myself, to do? Well, a showdown, of course.

All the previous showdowns have been a one man operation. However, luckily for me, I have a great wife who was eager to play along this time. That meant I could finally do one of these blind. I drank the beers, my wife did all the bar tending.  Let’s get to it.

Benediktiner Weissbier – 5.4%

I’d never heard of this one before my local bottle shop started carrying Benediktiner earlier this year. I grabbed a sixer a few months back and liked it enough to pick up more when this showdown came about. This has the darkest body of the bunch. An aroma of light spice and wheat with mild sweetness. The flavor carries the theme through and is the most flavorful of the group but there was something about it I just couldn’t get thru, which kept me from really enjoying it. How did it fare stacked up against some competition? Well, if you are a fan of the showdowns you know the first one up is the first one out, so not well. I would say this one didn’t really compete for a medal (the Olympics are coming up, enjoy the reference).

Wh-eak.
Wheak.

Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen – 5%

The quickest way to get on my good side is to not skimp on the serving size. From the moment I first laid my eyes on Schöfferhofer, a solid 10 months ago, I knew I would like it. The odd thing was that once I decided to mix it up with some other wheats I assumed this would be my least favorite. The -hof surprised me. A deep golden and a tall white head on this one. Decent aroma of clove and yeast. Solid spice lead-in. I half expected a bubblegum or banana bomb but that teaches me to judge without knowing the facts first. The flavor is what ends Schöfferhofer’s gold medal run at bronze. Not nearly as much spice, yeast, or clove as the aroma suggests. Muted was the word that first came to mind when I took a sip.

Large and third in charge
Large and third in charge

Hoegaarden – 4.9%

You’re asking yourself what has become of my beer prowess, aren’t you? Why would I include a Belgian witbier in a showdown of German weizens? Well, my store had it, for starters. And more than that, Hoegaarden is what people think of when they think wheat beer. Sure, you could argue Blue Moon, but Blue Moon is only popular because Hoegaarden opened the door for it. So I had the opportunity to stake the most well known wheat against some lessor known wheats and see what could be so different. My initial thought, before the competition began, was that I would be able to pick out the Hoe, even blindfolded, but it wouldn’t be all that different of a beer, relatively speaking. I was wrong. I’ve never been of the impression that Hoegaarden has all that much flavor going on in it, but when you take away sight, and focus purely on smell and taste, the profile really zings ya. Citrus, lemon, light spice, and light floral notes in the flavor and aroma. Easily the most carbonated of the players. I actually really enjoyed this one. I did not expect that. I’ve had it so many times that I stopped paying attention to it when I was drinking it but that ends now. I’ll be pretty happy when the best thing some corner dive bar has on is Hoegaarden from now on.

This Hoe ain't so dirty
This Hoe ain’t so dirty

Hacker-Pschorr Weisse – 5.5%

In the span of four short months, I have gone from a Hacker newbie to a Pschorr promoter. I had a couple of their offerings in Munich during Oktoberfest, I picked up some Munich Gold a month or so ago here, and most recently grabbed a six pack of their Weisse. All have been really enjoyable German brews, surpassing all my expectations. The Hacker-Pschorr Weisse is full of spice and yeast, clove, and light bubblegum. The flavor is a touch of sweet malt, but mostly the nice spicy clove and soft wheat notes. Unlike the Schöfferhofer, the spicing isn’t muted in the flavor compared to the aroma. I’m sad I only grabbed one six pack as I could easily drink a few of these in a night. This is a really solid, enjoyable wheat beer.

Pschorr number 1!
Pschorr number 1!

At the end of the day I can say with absolute confidence that none of these are going in my top ten beers. It’s not their fault entirely, it’s just that exist within a style that I really don’t find much enjoyment in. Having said that, I do have a newfound understanding of the flavors in the beers. I really enjoy the spicier wheat beers with clove and yeast showing through. The Belgian witbier style is something I need to dive deeper into since that was a sure eye-opener. And if I ever run into a Hacker-Pschorr Weisse again, I’ll be sure to have at least one round of that hazy delight.

Podium Moment
Podium Moment

Gridiron Showdown – Week 1

It’s week one and Wisconsin is in town looking for a big win to start their season.  But, you don’t just come into Philadelphia and walk through a matchup.  This is gonna be a tough fought battle, won by the team who can pound it out on the ground the best.  No fancy pants wide-outs running fly patterns, or triple option flea-flickers in this one.  Just classic, hard-nosed power.

A white field is the new Boise blue

Clarification: To decide who gets to go first I’ll flip a coin.  Philadelphia always picks heads.  The winner always defers to the second half (the better half, in my opinion). Game on!

Lakefront Oktoberfest vs. Sly Fox Oktoberfest – Battle of the Märzens

Philadelphia won the toss so Lakefront is up first.

Lakefront (LF) – Comes out strong with a crystal clear, beautiful amber/copper color with a mid sized white head.

Sly Fox (SF) – SF tries to counter LFs early strike with its own color profile of copper and a white head, but it come up just short.  WHile it originally looks mighty pretty, upon further inspection it’s rather pale.  WIll that missed extra point come in to play later in the match?

7-6. Lakefront leads after one.

Needs to spend more time in the gym and less in the mirror

LF – Has a pleasent aroma of toasty malts, medium sweet fruits, some caramel malt, and a touch of herbal hops.  Solid.

SF – A much lighter aroma than LF.  Light biscuit malts, honey, light caramel malts, too. Wasn’t expecting that honey aroma.  Nice touch.

13-10. Sly Fox pushes one in for seven on the legs of honey and takes the lead.

LF – Has a crisp, medium thick body that is full of carbonation.

SF – Medium bodied.  Super tiny bubbles really give it a bite.

16-13. Sly keeps it’s lead but this is anyones game.  A slugfest for sure.

LF – Flavor has plenty of biscuit malts, caramel sweetness, some medium fruity sweetness, but not much in the way of earth or herbal hops that had a minor role in the aroma.  I gotta say that I’m a little underwhelmed with with the flavor.  Sure, it’s solid and there is nothing wrong, but it’s just a little dull.

SF – Again, SF is more muted.  In this case that’s not a bad thing, though.  While LF was full of flavor, it wasn’t all that great.  SF isn’t great, either, but a bit better.  Nice grains, sweet malts, a bit of toffee, and that honey comes back just slightly.  Still, not enough to get in for seven.

19-16. Seems after some early fireworks, both beers have slowed down and just can’t get over that goal line.

A fast start but tires quickly

LF – Overall I’d say this is a solid beer but not really memorable.  It has some doughy malts, fruity sweetness, caramel malts, and in the aroma, a bit of herbal hops.  It quenches the thirst, which is always a plus, but it’s just boring and I’ve nearly forgotten it already.  Would I buy this again?  Not if there is another Oktoberfest available to me.  So, what started out promising with it’s gorgeous color really let me down with it’s substance.

SF – This is a nice beer, but I can’t say it’s in the upper ranks of Oktoberfests.  It has distinct pale lager notes throughout because it’s flavor profile is really very muted.  I liked the honey notes, but is that enough to really make this a beer to seek out?  Maybe it’s just something about Sly Fox and my tastebuds that don’t get along too well.  While I think their pilsener is an amazing beer I believe their pale ale is a beer I can really do without.  The Oktoberfest is more drinkable than their pale, but it has some similar characteristics.  Is it the yeast?  I don’t know.

Final: 22-19. Sly Fox Oktoberfest wins week one of the Gridiron Showdown and making Philadelphia proud.  It’s a solid beer and well brewed.  It wasn’t without it’s first game jitters, though, and could improve on things down the line.

Philadelphia: 1-0.  Up next: Philadelphia travels to Detroit – Philadelphia Newbold IPA @ Bells Two Hearted IPA

(I learned a lot during the week one showdown.  I need to devote more time to these, take more photos, think about what I’m saying a bit more, and hopefully come up with solid and repeatable scoring guidelines.  But, for week one I think it went pretty well.  The rest of the season looks bright!)

Gridiron Showdown

With football starting today and a long, hopefully glorious, season ahead of us I figured it was time to unveil my plan for the season.  But, I’m a Cincinnati Bengals fan.  Have been all my life and just because I now live in Philadelphia doesn’t mean I’m going to suddenly change my allegiance.  Having said that, I’m a huge fan of how serious this town follows its sports teams.  I went from not caring at all about the Phillies to rooting for them (unless it’s against the Reds) because of the passion for the team in this town.  I don’t expect the same feelings toward the Eagles, but who knows.  To show good faith that I am trying to become a fan of the Eagles, I’ve decided to put together a season of showdowns featuring Philadelphia area brews against beers from the opponents state.

Rules:

  • Beers pitted against each other will be of similar style to try and keep it fair.
  • To be considered the beer must be from a brewery that is within a 100-mile radius of the city the football team is from.
  • Beers will be scored on five factors: aroma, flavor, appearance, body, and overall enjoyment.
  • Beers will be awarded 7 points for each factor I’m impressed with, 3 points for each factor I still enjoy but aren’t amazing, and 0 points when it doesn’t do anything to aid my enjoyment.
  • I don’t know exactly how this is all going to work and I assume I’ll modify the scoring as the season progresses.  I haven’t yet decided if I’ll go back and adjust previous scores or leave them be as-is.
  • If it becomes impossible to find a beer from, say, Indianapolis or its surrounding area, I then grant myself the right to chose any brewery from Indianapolis’ rational fan-base to represent the Colts.  If I’m forced into that scenario then that beer will be docked a field goal from its final score as a penalty.
  • The beer does not have to come from the same state as the team so long as the beer is from within the radius.  From there, the same 3-point rule applies.  If the Jets/Giants don’t have to play in New York than why would I hold the beers that ridiculous standard?
  • In the unlikely (although growing) possibility arises that I can’t find a beer from anywhere near an opponents town, within the radius, or the rational fanbase.  I will choose a beer from the closest brewery I can find to that team.  In that case I will dock a touchdown from it’s final score.
  • A note about “rational fanbase:” it means anywhere with a large population of fans of a team even if it’s outside immediate area.  I would include much of Northern Delaware or Southern Jersey as the Eagle rational fanbase.  If, for whatever reason, Des Moines, Iowa, sported a large Eagles fanbase it would not be considered as part of the acceptable fanbase.
  • If I can’t find similar beer styles from the two areas then I can fudge it a little.  An American Strong Ale can go up against an Imperial IPA if that’s the best I can do.  No points will be docked.

My prediction for the season: Philly beers go 11-7.  Not really sure what I’m gonna do if the Eagles/Philly beers make the playoffs but I have a season to figure it out.

September 12 vs Green Bay Packers – Sly Fox Oktoberfest  vs Lakefront Oktoberfest

September 19 @ Detroit Lions – Philadelphia Newbold IPA @ Bells Two Hearted IPA

September 26 @ Jacksonville Jaguars – Victory Storm King Imperial Stout @ Holy Mackerel Mack in Black

October 3 vs Washington Redskins – Weyerbacher Fifteen vs Heavy Seas Smoke on the Water

October 10 @ San Francisco 49ers – Yards Philadelphia Pale Ale @ Anchor Humming Ale

October 17 vs Atlanta Falcons – River Horse Hopalotamus vs Terrapin Big Hoppy Monster

October 24 @ Tennessee Titans – TBD @ TBD

Bye

November 7 vs Indianapolis Colts – TBD vs TBD

November 15 @ Washington Redskins – TBD @ TBD

November 21 vs New York Giants –  Southampton Pumpkin Ale vs Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale

November 28 @ Chicago Bears – Tröegs Pale Ale @ Two Brothers Pale Ale

December 2 vs Houston Texans – Weyerbacher Blanche vs Celis White*

December 12 @ Dallas Cowboys – Yuengling Lager @ Lone Star Lager

December 19 @ New York Giants  – Stoudts Double IPA @ Captain Lawerance Imperial IPA

December 26 vs Minnesota Vikings – TBD vs TBD

January 2 vs Dallas Cowboys – TBD vs TBD

*Yes, I’m stretching this one quite a bit.  But, it is the same beer that was brewed at the Austin, Tx based Celis Brewery before it closed down and with Texas beers hard to find around here I’m letting it go.  Still, it will be docked the 7 point penalty.

As you can see, the beer match-ups haven’t all been decided yet.  I was out at the foodery today looking for good beers from around the league and this might take more work/beer hunting than originally assumed.  I’ll get them before gameday, though, don’t you worry.  I’m most concerned with finding beers from Indianapolis, Nashville, and Dallas.  That’s three beers, which is worrisome, but we’ll get there.  If you know of some good beers that can fit in to the schedule I’m all ears (I need to be able to find them in the Philadelphia area)

I have a feeling I’m going to make a lot of revisions to the scoring as the season progresses.  I already have a growing list of changes to make for next season.  The biggest change will be to start gathering the beers earlier so I can assure myself of finding beers from all of the Eagles opponents cities instead of what I’m having to do this year.

I can’t wait for kickoff!