17 May 2012

Greatly exaggerated

The big problem I had with BrewDog's IPA Is Dead series last year was that they overdid things. Intended to show off the flavour and aroma characteristics of individual hop varieties, I found them for the most part too bitter, too harsh, with the hops shouting so loudly that what they had to say ended up incoherent. So I was slightly trepidatious when I approached this year's edition. The alcohol has been toned down somewhat for 2012, to just 6.7% ABV from 7.5. But the IBUs are still up at 75 across the board. There's no tax on bitterness, I guess. The hop varieties this year are Challenger, Galaxy, Motueka and HBC, representing England, Australia, New Zealand and the US respectively.

As with last year, I set up a blind tasting to find my favourite, free of any prejudices. HBC is an experimental variety so I had no idea what to expect from it, only that new-breed US hops tend to be highly citric. Challenger I've brewed with plenty of times and I enjoy its subtle spicy grassiness. Motueka I've found a bit medicinal in the handful of beers I've tasted with it, and Galaxy I'm a big fan of: I love the juicy mandarin character it imparts.

So, eyes down for the full house...

It was very much a game of two halves with this lot. Though they all poured the same clear orange colour they divided themselves in half instantly with their aromas. Beer 1 had merely a trace of pith on the nose while beer 2 just showed the ghostly slops of an old drip tray. Beer 3 had the biggest aromatic impact -- oranges turning to sharp plasticine -- while beer 4 got it just right: proper zing and a touch of the artificial fruit of lurid chewy '80s sweets: what I'm after in a hop-forward beer.

And this theme continued when I began tasting. Beer 1 was thick and oily with a bitterness that lingered long after swallowing. Spicy rather than fruity, with just a hint of grass, it ticked enough boxes for me to decide this was Challenger. In fact, this was Motueka. Once that was revealed, of course I could taste the hallmark eucalyptus notes. Of course. While it was near bottom in my estimation, this was the wife's favourite out of the four.

Sloppy number 2 made very little effort as far as flavour is concerned. Stale and cardboardy with just a harsh waxy finish, it was simultaneously bland and unpleasant. I pegged it as Motueka, but this one turned out to be the Challenger.

Beers 3 and 4 were clear reminders that I was drinking BrewDog: big dank flavours, heady and resinous with just a little bit of that funk I associate with Simcoe. 3 was the more fun and frivilous of the two: an enjoyable fruit zest that doesn't take itself too seriously or try to dominate the conversation. I reckoned this was Galaxy and I was right.

Which just leaves HBC at number 4. While I enjoyed this, it had just too much of an acid burn in amongst the mouth-watering jaffa to have the beatings of the Galaxy. I did guess the variety right by elimination, though.

Though I don't have a set of all eight in front of me, I do think this year's are an improvement on 2011: the individual characteristics were more, well, individual than before. I still think they could do with reducing the bittering levels substantially and give those aromas a boost, however.

Until next year...