Lately I feel like my beer palate has been changing (evolving? de-evolving?) and I have found myself wanting to challenge my taste buds and get out of my comfort zone. My mantra for a recent trip to the GCBF was not to pony up a token for anything a) I could readily get in a beer store and b) I would normally choose -hence the jalapeno and coconut taste trips. Anyway an area of beer that I have tended to shy away from is the India Pale Ale. When I first began to drink beer there was a taste I did not like but could not articulate and only later on found out that this taste was floral and the culprit was the pretty looking clusters known as hops. Many people expound the wonders of the hop, and beers here on the NWC seem to have cultivated an unofficial cold war by continuously escalating the amount of hops per bottle yet I cannot say I understood what all the fuss was about. Yet as my most wise mother asked if all your friends jumped off a cliff would you too and the answer is yes since I would be sad and lonely otherwise…duh. So bring on the hops!
Coming chivalrously to my aid a generous friend offered me the opportunity to ‘jump off’ by arranging an IPA tasting. During the evening we sampled Brasserie Dieu du Ciel Corne du Diable IPA, Dogfish 60min IPA, Swans Extra IPA, Lagunitas IPA Maximus Ale, Dogfish 90min IPA, Tree Hop Head and Green Flash Brewing Co. West Coast IPA. Corne du Diable (Horn of the Devil) was dark reddish brown ale that left a nice web of lacing on the side of the glass. Initially I got a nutty flavour with the hop taste following later. This was a nice IPA intro with the hops not overpowering the other tastes in the beer. Next we sampled Dogfish 60min a lighter IPA with a rich amber colour and balanced taste. This beer was lighter in colour, taste and hops, and there was crispness to the ale that would lend it to food pairings. The Swans Extra IPA was a tough swallow at first sip, hence the extra I guess, as the hop nose was strong with a definite grapefruit element. This ale poured golden amber with little head. I actually found this beer improved as you drank it and became accustomed to the complexities of a stronger hop. Lagunitas was clear and golden with a real peppery bite. I got a distinct floral soap taste at the first sip, which was somewhat off-putting but like a trooper I carried on. So what else could I do but head back to Dogfish this time upping the ante to 90min. This IPA was the best of the bunch for me; nicely balanced, the flower:soap ratio skewed to an appropriate level, and for the first time in the evening I could locate the malt taste despite the strength of the hops. Now to Tree IPA with it’s predominate ‘hop head’ and distinct spicy element. This beer was a clear reddish gold with minimal head. It was a little overwhelming and I found it tougher to drink than the 90min. We wrapped up our evening with Green Flash whose IPA was quite different in appearance; heavy on the sediment and cloudy (or maybe I was just at the bottom of the bottle end of the evening and all). This ale was real hoppy and I had a tough time getting through a glass. So what did I learn? I like my hops tempered with other elements, I need my IPA’s to be balanced and smooth, I like flowers for smelling but not drinking, I like soap for washing but not drinking, I still do not like grapefruit (it’s genetic you know) and I do not think the more hops you cram into a bottle the better your IPA will taste.
Out of a possible five I would give India Pale Ales a 3.5; not my favourite beer style but not without its charms.