13 October 2017

Let loose the moose

Hop City's HopBot IPA has been around on the local scene for some time now, though only recently has my curiosity graduated beyond the "idle" phase and caused me to buy a bottle. Despite the innocent cartoonish stylings of the label it's a very serious 7.1% ABV and pours a stern dark amber colour. Although it comes from Canada (Hop City is an Ontario-based craft spin-off of New Brunswick's Moosehead) this is definitely channelling the United States, and some time in the 1990s. It is, for one thing, resolutely bitter: a scorching green pine foretaste, softening only as far as lemon peel and no further. By way of balance there's a heavy sweet toffee character but this really just adds its own noise to the cacophony, rather than attempting harmonisation.

Initially I was enjoying this: it's a total nostalgia trip back to the days when citric hops and crystal malt were the last word in beery sophistication. But half way through I started to see why it went out of fashion. It's just too harsh, too bitter, and at the same time too sweet. This clunking robot could do with an upgrade.

I had better luck with Barking Squirrel, which is badged simply as a lager but turned out to be the amber sort, 5% ABV and with a lovely copper colour and enticing liquorice aroma. It tastes as wholesome as it smells, heavy on the chewy amber malts, loaded with oatmeal biscuits, treacle spongecake and a faint apothecary bitterness too. The best-before was almost up on the bottle but it still tasted plenty fresh, the clean and crisp finish entirely free from flaws.

This sort of amber, Vienna-ish, lager is not the most exciting of styles, but it's possible to appreciate when it's done well, which is what this is.

And from the Moosehead mothership comes Boundary Ale. This I hadn't seen before and picked it up when I saw it sitting next to HopBot in Redmond's. "Well-Crafted" it says on the cap, in that bum-clenching voice big breweries use when they're frightened of small ones. It's 5.3% ABV and a handsome copper colour, topped by a welcoming pillow of white foam. It smells a little soapy, but not excessively so: no more than you'd find in a brown English bitter, which I guess is the style they're broadly pitching at. It tastes primarily of caramel, feeling like it's going to build to become saccharine sweet but stopping quite quickly. I think that metallic element is from the Fuggles and Goldings hops which are dominant in this. They've used black malt as well, which adds a slight roasted complexity and moves it away from English bitter into Irish red territory.

This is a decent enough beer, if far from exciting and definitely overstating its case with regard to the US hops it touts. In the craft stakes it's not going to be giving the likes of Dieu du Ciel or Unibroue much by way of competition. It shouldn't be surpring that lager is where Moosehead performs best overall.

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