09 February 2015

More than just IPA! (but mostly IPA)

This poor tasting note on Odell's Tree Fort tripel has sat alone and unloved in my notebook since the middle of last year. Today I'm sending it off into the world with a couple of its compatriots. Tree Fort is an interesting one: 8.2% ABV and showing all the heat and density that normally comes with the style, though substituting a dry chalkiness and floral lavender where the yeast spices might normally be. But then the Odell house flavours set up stall: an intense satsuma zestiness, fading slightly to let pineapple and mango flood past. It's an immensely satisfying sipper and kudos to L. Mulligan Grocer for getting hold of a keg. I understand it was a one-off so if there's something I can sign to get them to make it again I will gladly do so.

And so to the IPA. First up is Finestkind by New Hampshire's Smuttynose brewery. The thick layer of sediment at the bottom of the bottle worried me so I poured very carefully and I think I got away with it -- only a very fine haze showing in the golden glassful. It smells of hard orange candy and while that's a part of the flavour too, there's also an intense lime and grapefruit bitterness sitting alongside it, spritzed with some spicy and floral perfume. The texture is light and the finish pleasingly quick with no lingering residual sugars. I was finding it all nicely downable when I realised I had no idea of the ABV -- it's not printed on the label and the naughty importer hasn't brought it into compliance with local law. Research shows it to be 6.9% ABV, though so hop-dominated is it that I would well believe it to be considerably weaker or stronger. Overall, a classic US-style IPA and definitely one to give to anyone wondering what all the fuss is about when it comes to this style of beer.

Upping the ante next with a bottle of Brooklyn Blast: 8.4% ABV and "a decidedly robust IPA" according to the label. It's very cloudy, a bright orange colour but barely translucent. The hops are a blend of American and British and they create a strange earthy, herbal flavour typical of neither country's hoppy beer, plus a distinct coconut hit reminiscent of Sorachi Ace, suggesting we've passed British and US hop country and come out the other side of the Pacific. The aroma is a little more orthodox: orange pith and and a yeasty spiciness but there's also a waft of medicinal wintergreen. I was halfway down the glass before I could make up my mind on whether I liked it or not, and eventually came out in its favour. The odd tastes just eventually lock into place with each other, clean and clear, untroubled by malt interference. It's not at all what I was expecting when I took the cap off but it's certainly not boring or bland.

We conclude this round with a new one (to me) from Founders: their imperial black IPA, sententiously titled Dark Penance. Its ABV is actually a relatively modest 8.9% and it smells fresh and zippy: cut grass, citrus juice but nothing more serious than that. The colour is a very dark red, topped by a pillow of off-white foam that doesn't hang around long. I got a lot of toast on the first sip when the beer was still cold, an ashen sort of bitterness which I didn't really enjoy. The cut grass I first sniffed grows into a heavy resinous dank in the flavour, cabbagey and vegetal at the back of the palate; more spicy at the front with prickles of white pepper and nutmeg. And all of it squatting determinedly on the tongue: it doesn't care if you like it or not, this flavour is staying with you until it's done and the texture, while not unctuous, is heavy enough to allow that. As it warmed I became accustomed to its weighty green charms and relaxed into it. I've certainly had more intensely hot, thick and cabbagey versions of the style (looking at you, Revelation Cat's Bombay Cat), but this one has what passes for balance and nuanced complexity in the IBIPA sub-genre.

Conclusion: the latter two beers have me worried that US brewers might be a bit bored of making ones like the second. They're interesting, but there's a lot to be said for the basic style that made American brewing famous. Here's hoping for balance across styles as well as in flavour.

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