99 Bottles

Review: Backlash Beer Salute

Helder Pimentel doesn't need me pumping his tires. The founder of Backlash Beer was recently named to Zagat's 30 under 30 list in Boston, and I swear I'm not even jealous. Pimentel doesn't need praise from me, but he's got a reason to be proud of his work. Backlash is making great beer while carving out a noticeable brand, not easy to do in a time when new breweries are popping up every day.

Pimentel was especially geeked about his latest offering, a double-IPA called "Salute".

"I'd love for you to get a taste of this one," he wrote to me. Twist my arm.

Backlash is not typically a double-IPA brewery. Recent beers have included a rye farmhouse ale, a single malt single hop tripel, and a Belgian style blonde ale. Double-IPAs are obviously en vogue: the four highest-rated beers in the world on Beer Advocate are of the style. With the recent flood of DIPAs, there are no shortage of comps off which to judge the one in your glass. No pressure.

backlashsalute.jpg Possibly adding to the pressure is the fact that Salute is brewed with Citra and Simcoe hops sourced from the Boston Beer Company. Hops have become increasingly difficult for brewers to find, and the most desired hops -- Citra being at the top of the list -- run out quickly. With hops in short supply, brewers often only have one chance to get their beer right.

Pimentel got one allocation of hops and decided to go all-in rather than ration them out to make several beers. The result is a beer with 100 theoretical IBUs (international bitterness units) and 8.5 percent alcohol by volume. This is, intentionally, a big beer. The trick to these hop monsters is balance, the play of bitter and sweet flavors. Mouthfeel and drinkability also factor in. You don't want to be choking any beer down, no matter how hoppy.

Let's crack this one open. On the bottle is an image of Pimentel literally giving a salute. The beer pours a bold orange into a tulip glass. A snow-white head bubbles up and then slowly recedes like a wave that's just crashed onto the beach.

It doesn't take long to pick up the aroma wafting up from the beer. It's heavy on citrus (grapefruit, pineapple, and guava), but there's also a bit of damp forest floor in there. I've said this many times, but this is my favorite beer smell.

I braced for a bitter kick as I took my first sip but was pleasantly surprised. The beer starts off sweet, then gets fruity before becoming bitter. The aromatic qualities of the Citra hops play nicely off the bitter, piney Simcoe hops. Instead of being balanced by a large dose of malt, the hops balance each other. A dry bitter finish reminds you you're drinking a double-IPA.

Now about those comps. The Alchemist's Heady Topper, The Stone Enjoy By series, and Russian River's Pliny the Elder act as something of the gold standard for these kinds of IPAs. I don't get quite the level of aromatics in Backlash's Salute as I get with the first two, but the drinkability of Salute reminds me a bit of the Pliny. Again the aromatics aren't quite there, but the drinkability is present because of the careful selection of two hop varieties. This is an exceptional first-go at the style.

More of this beer was kegged than bottled, so look for it at your local bar soon. Bottles will be distributed throughout greater Boston and the North Shore for a suggested retail price of $7.99 to $8.99.

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