On #IPAday, A Letter To Any Grumbling Folks Out There…

IPAday 2013 LogoFrom time to time, you can still hear the faint murmur of generalized, anti-IPA sentiment.  The grumbling usually comes from the direction of an occupied bar stool at the moment when its occupant, in the mood for something other than a tongue blistering, lip puckering beer, notices that half the choices in front of him or her hail from that one particular assertive category of ale.  First, a moment of consolation.  I wholeheartedly agree that there is most certainly a time and place, a moment and mood, for nearly every “style” of beer.  For me, it’s the bottom line of what helps define the craft beer movement – diversity.  And here’s one more shoulder to cry on (which is better than crying in your beer, every time):  I’ll be the first to tell you that occasionally, I nearly faint over the lightly smoky, clean maltiness of a Scottish ale.

Having said that, and this comes straight from the “Oh, here we go” department, could it be that the venerable hopped up style that takes up so much room in bars and on store shelves still hasn’t gotten its due?  There, I said it.  Could it be that this beer which always seems to be on the verge of being over sold, over hyped, and over marketed, still hasn’t seen its full potential?  Here’s how one of IPAday’s – that social media fueled day of international recognition for the style, which is, by the way, today – founding forces, Ashley Routson, describes the IPA style:  “this illustrious style represents the pinnacle of brewing innovation with its broad spectrum of diverse brands, subcategories and regional flavor variations – making it the perfect style to galvanize craft beer’s social voice”.  In a nutshell, while it may seem that at any one moment there are way too many IPAs on the market, there is immense variation among them, and thereby immense numbers of drinking experiences to be had from one IPA to the next.  While this is true to some extent with just about any general type of beer, it seems much more so for the IPA.  To say that you have a firm handle on what the next one will taste like seems akin to saying that you know what walking on the moon must be like since you just took a stroll around your block.  Too much of a stretch?  Why don’t you and I split a bottle of 60 Minute, and next up, perhaps a Green Flash West Coast IPA?

No one’s saying there aren’t a ton of choices out there.  All we’re saying is that the style is built for it.  From the never ending list of hop varieties with their varying characteristics (piney, citrusy, tobacco like, ‘hop oily’, tea like, etc) to how they’re used, in brewing techniques such as dry hopping, first wort hopping, wet hopping, and so on, the beer style that frames them so well, simply known by three letters, is worthy of so much more than to be described by the far too simplistic term “hoppy”.  Basically, when one refers to IPAs in such a way, or as simply “bitter”, they’re missing out on so, so much. To draw a few differences – oh, and since today is officially #IPAday – I thought we’d list a few examples from my home state of Virginia, found below.  Go ahead, track them down, line them up – if you’re a certified hop devotee, you’ll just enjoy the beer.  But if you’re still sitting on that bar stool, lamenting over your choices, or what you might see as a lack thereof, don’t worry, it’s not that we don’t hear you.  It’s just that after lining a few different IPAs up as well, we think you might agree that having a day to recognize the style, well, just makes perfectly good sense.  Cheers, and Happy #IPAday.

On to the list…. Please don’t treat this list as a “favorites”, a “best of”, or anything of the sort.  It’s simply a short list of many of the outstanding examples produced here in the state I call home.  A couple are of the bigger, Double/Imperial sort, while others are not quite as extreme.

Williamsburg Alewerks Bitter Valentine Imperial Pale Ale (seasonally released).  It’s a shame – maybe an understandable one – but a shame nonetheless that Bitter Valentine isn’t a year round beer.  Plenty of various citrusy fruit – nectarines? grapefruit? mango? All with enough bitterness to match, and a slight layer of sumptuous sweetness. Each sip is like a mouthful of some unholy hybrid of all those fruits, their citrusy flesh captured in time when each is at the absolute, down to the very second pinnacle of their in-season naturally perfect sweet goodness, of course along with ample amounts of their pith for bitterness.  It’s big, but not overly so, and everything comes together pretty darn perfectly.  I’d put this DIPA up against just about any in the country.

Devils Backbone Eight Point IPA and Starr Hill Northern Lights IPA (both year round).  Not to lump these two together, because they offer distinctly different tasting experiences, but I do often describe both of these beers as “angular”.  It’s a term I’m sure only makes sense in my own mind.  Eight Point has loads of floral aroma, and some pine and a bit of citrus in the flavor, but is a bit restrained when it comes to much balancing malty sweetness.  The brewery itself describes the bitterness as crisp, and maybe that’s where I get “angular” description – there is a sharp hop edge to it that is present throughout the entire taste.  Northern Lights may even be tilted a bit more towards a higher, less forgiving level of bitterness.  If you care for IPAs which are tilted more towards the hops than any malt sweetness, as well as a more floral/pine aroma and flavor than an overly citrusy one, these are your IPAs.

Parkway Get Bent Mountain IPA (year round).  Parkway Brewing describes this one as a “West Coast” Style IPA, which might lead you to believe it is plenty bitter, but I’d put it geographically squarely in the middle of the country.  Bursts of juicy citrus aroma and flavor along with enough bitterness and a respectful malty undercurrent, it’s a well done IPA which touches all the bases and has the ability to win over non IPA drinkers as well as hit a home run for the true hophead.

There are plenty of others, ranging from Center of the Universe’s bitter, piney, citrusy Pocahoptas to Lost Rhino’s moderately bodied, hop marmalade sweet Ice Breaker (a double IPA).  There are even ones aged on wood, like Hardywood Park’s Hoplar.  Each one offers a uniquely different tasting experience, which is why lovers of such hop forward beers continue to fuel the interest in the style, and is ultimately why it is the perfect beer style to have a day devoted to celebrating it!  Happy IPAday, all…Cheers!

If you should need a spot to enjoy #IPAday, Local Roots Restaurant will have several of the style on draft to celebrate, including the classic from Bear Republic Racer 5, and as mentioned yesterday, 3 Brothers Brewing from Harrisonburg will be at Jack Brown’s for a tap takeover event, apparently bringing a special cask conditioned IPA!

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~ by thebeerroad on August 1, 2013.

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