The current American fashion for session IPA has started making itself felt in earnest in Ireland now. Following on the heels of Founders's exemplary All Day IPA, a slew of new ones from familiar US breweries. Getting through them in a single session seemed to be the sensible approach. I chose a drinking order, entirely subjectively, of ascending brewery trustworthiness.
First up is Easy IPA from east-coasters Flying Dog. "Bright" is the initial impression here: a white Ralph Steadman label, behind which I found a clear, sparkling, pale yellow beer of 4.7% ABV. The aroma is sharp citrus, lemons in particular, though there's a thicker resin element and even a little crystal malt toffee. The texture is quite thin and the carbonation soft, which I guess is part of the spec: very easy drinking. Again in keeping with the style, the flavour is assertive without being overpowering, mouthwatering mandarin to begin, though turning a slightly metallic harsh bitterness towards the end and finishing abruptly. A perfectly passable beer and not something I'd turn my nose up at in a casual drinking situation, but I didn't feel any impulse to reach for another.
Sierra Nevada, if my beer history is correct, was the world's first brewery to learn what hops are for, so I had high expectations for Nooner, their new 4.8% ABV session IPA. It's a richer gold than Flying Dog's Easy though offers much less aroma, and what's there is a spiky, grassy Germanic vibe. It's surprisingly lacking in the flavour department, laying on lots of acidic bitterness over stale biscuit malt. There's maybe a hint of citrus, and more of that grassy spice, but this really reminded me far more of a pale German bock than a Californian IPA. The texture is spot-on, so there's that, but I'm really not feeling the love for Nooner.
Which brings us to Loose Leaf, by Colorado's Odell, a brewery which turns out consistently brilliant hop-forward beers. This has the lowest ABV of the set, at 4.5%, and is another pale one. The obligatory texture assessment is once again positive: it's very softly carbonated and the head is almost fluffy. Of hop fireworks, however, there are none. Perhaps some watermelon crispness and lemon sherbet candy, but the heart of this beer is just water. An uncharacteristic false move by Odell here.
And just for purposes of calibration I had a Founder's All Day IPA on standby to finish the tasting. It still has the beatings of all of these imitators -- strongly bitter, full bodied and with all the complexity of beers far stronger than its 4.7% ABV. There's no sense that it's in any way compromised, that it's a trade-down from "real" IPA. I think that a self-effacing approach to session IPA may be some of what's behind how the other breweries missed a beat on the style.
Westvleteren 12 - *Origin: Belgium | Date: 2012 | ABV: 10.2% | On The Beer Nut: December 2007* This bottle of Westvleteren 12 was not captured in the wild, acquired instead ...
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