IPAs are everywhere. Of all the craft beer styles on shelves today, the India Pale Ale -- however you want to define it -- is the most visible. Like it or not, hops have defined craft's recent surge. A common complaint I hear from non-craft drinkers is, "This beer is too hoppy." That complaint against bitterness keeps new drinkers away from some of these beers and also serves to lump them all together. "I don't like IPAs", some of my friends say.
Despite a meandering definition of the style as beer evolves, this column is a noted fan of IPAs. The two beers below represent two very different takes on one. For you hardcore beer geeks chasing that next whiff of hops, they also represent a pair of relatively rare offerings to seek out if you're weary with the options at your local store.
Evil Twin Brewing "Falco" is the fresher and lighter IPA of the two. Enigmatic brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø hails from Denmark but brews all over, contracting at various breweries around the world. He made this beer at Two Roads Brewing Company in Stratford, Conn. (as an aside, Two Roads CEO Brad Hittle tells me he plans to distribute to Massachusetts early next year).
Falco pours a vibrant yellow into a tulip glass, emitting a brilliant white head in the sunshine. There's a nice whiff of lemon in the nose. A liquor store employee whose taste I respect (Isaac at Social Wines in Southie, for those of you who keep track) told me the aromatics of this beer were akin to The Alchemist's Heady Topper. While the top fruit notes were comparable but a little fainter, I found Falco lacking the deep, grassy notes of the current No. 1 beer in the world.
This first sip is packed with clean grapefruit, pine, and straw. A high level of carbonation leads to a light mouthfeel. This is sneaky refreshing for a beer 7 percent alcohol by volume. I get a dry finish. This is a really good IPA, and an approachable one at that.
The next offering hits the other end of the IPA spectrum. Brewed by Scotland's BrewDog, "Hardcore IPA" takes the style to a darker place. The label describes this as an "Explicit imperial pale ale". It goes on to say, and I'm paraphrasing, that 2,204 malted Maris Otter grains, 4 hop cones, and 9,900,000,000 yeast cells combined to produce this beer, and that "2 humans and 1 canine companion are relatively happy with the results." Rounding off the numbers, "Hardcore IPA" checks in at 9.2 percent ABV.
The beer pours much redder than the the first, a sign that there's a lot more malt in here. I smell damp cut grass, forest floor, and toffee. There's not a lot of citrus in the nose.
Sweet and sticky, the beer should be tremendously bitter at 150 IBUs (international bitterness units). Instead, all that malt smooths it out. The flavors mesh well. The bitterness of the beer wasn't difficult to get through, but the heaviness presents a challenge.
These are two very different approaches to IPA. Both beers are high in alcohol, but it still seems strange to lump them into the same category. It seems even stranger to compare these beers to something like a Harpoon IPA (5.9 percent ABV). Already difficult to agree on what an IPA should be, these two worthwhile examples don't do anything to clear things up. They are, however, worth seeking out.
A quick programming note. I'll be away from the column for a couple of weeks while my wife and I welcome our first child. Until then, happy drinking.