Sunday, 27 February 2011
3-Way IPA Showdown
Utobeer, £2.00 - £4.00
Following gallant victories over the twin mights of Canada and Holland the Indians were up next. And so I decided to toast the strong and historic friendship of our two nations by drinking lots and lots of India Pale Ale.
A 4 hour lapse in concentration at Borough Market meant that we returned home with some Bison steaks, three bottles of white Bergerac, a dressed crab, 6 avocados, a small bottle of apple juice, an Ostrich feather duster, some biltong and a rabbit's head. But most importantly we also had the required brews.
An unromantic sort will doubt the story that IPAs were created because a highly hopped, high alcohol beer was better at surviving the voyage to India in colonial times. I am not an unromantic sort, think it's a good story and will continue to imagine the beer fueling 200 years of running around the globe forcing our language on indigenous populations.
But what I had was not your regualar British IPA, with its sensible-ish alcohol levels, and pleasant malt/hop combinations. This is American style IPA, and, as I understand it, the idea is to create as strong a beer as possible and then hop it to hell so that it appears balanced. It is considered an advantage if the resulting brew turns out to a.) Have interesting flavours, and b.) Not be so bitter as to make you want to rip your tongue out. But neither of these are by any means essential.
So what I had was 6 bottles of a British beer brewed for people living in India, and recently updated by the Americans. Or at least I had five of those and something else, because Flying Dog had confused things further by throwing the Belgians into this little cultural hotpot and creating a 'Belgian-Style IPA.'
The Brew Dog lot have been causing waves in Britain since 2007 with their agressive styles, clever marketing, and irritating schtick. Flying Dog have done the same in the US since 1990 and Sierra Nevada, the grandaddies of the tasting have been going since 1980.
So on to the main act: Flying Dog v Sierra Nevada v Brew Dog. In order of preference...
Sierra Nevada Torpedo 7.2%
Another crap Sierra Nevada label hiding a fearsomely good beer. Loads of hops and some citrus creeping in. Fizz is very fine. The balance is perfect, and though it's less agressive than the Snake Dog and Punk it's possibly (just slighty) better.
Snake Dog IPA 7.1%
Really tingly green grass flavours and some malt-heft, but it's the hops that dominate giving a superb and uncompromising bitter finish.
Punk IPA 6.0%
Definite hoppy brightness, but changes quickly into sweeter peach and stonefruit flavours giving a surprisingly sweet, but not cloying, finish. Blighty more than holds its own in the field.
Sierra Nevada Celebration 2010 6.8%
Unmistakeable pine-y IPA nose. Slight maltiness balances really well on the palate and it wears the alcohol well, though the finish is a little short.
Raging Bitch 8.3%
A little of the yeast on the nose, and the sweetness on the palate. Lots of vegetable green freshness comes through and a little fruit. The combination is big in every way and intriugingly drinkable, but seems a tad incongruous. Another cracking Steadman label.
Hardcore IPA 9.2%
Too much of the bad; too sweet, too hot, too much alcohol. Not enough of the good; little hop character and only a bit of malt. No bite, balance or bitterness. Disappointing.
For the record I'd happily drink any of these beers, except the Hardcore, on a regular basis. The top 3 are very, very close, and some of the finest brews I have ever tasted.