Wednesday, October 14, 2009

IPA - The Really Old-Fashioned Way (Plus a Q-and-A with the Brewer)

BrewDog broke into the malted beverage world with a goal to shake up the stereotype of beers coming out of the United Kingdom. A few heather honey-infused ales and 18.2% oak-aged stouts later and the Scottish brewery can pretty much consider its mission accomplished.

But the latest experiment from the upstart Scots may be their most daring and interesting yet. Co-founders James Watt and Martin Dickie lashed eight barrels (at least originally) of Brew Dog's Punk IPA to a North Atlantic trawler to simulate the voyage that English IPA made on its trip to India in the 19th century, a video that you can see here.

The origins of IPA have been discussed a lot lately, including in an excellent article entitled "Mythbusting the IPA" in the coming November issue of All About Beer magazine. No matter when it was made or why it became so popular in both India and England, however, one thing is for sure: the beer spent a lot of time in rocky conditions in a barrel, and its flavor sprang partly from that.

So, when tasting Brew Dog's experimental Atlantic IPA, which is neither distinctly UK-bred nor distinctly American, you're struck by a few things. First, there really is a barrel-aged quality to the creation, especially the vanilla, almost oak-hewn character that surfaces on the back of your tongue after several sips.

Secondly, though there is an initial push of typical IPA bitterness on your taste buds, the turbulent aging seems to have smoothed out the English hops, making them assertive without being caustic, noticeable without being attention-grabbing. This tastes, frankly, like something that has been stirred up and blended, leaving it complex yet balanced even as repeated sips of the 8.5% ABV beer warm your mouth and remind you of the alcohol presence.

Atlantic IPA is being sold for $25.99 a bottle in very limited quantities in a handful of cities around the globe (sorry Denverites, you'll have to call friends elsewhere in the U.S. to ask them to snag you a bottle).

I had the opportunity to e-mail a few questions to James Watt about the project. Here's what he had to say about big ideas, barrel aging and shelling out a few bucks for a piece of history:

1) Ed: Where on earth did you come up with the idea to age the beer in this way?
James: IPA’s were traditionally made in England and sent to India by sea. Hops act as a preservative in beer, thus these beers were highly hopped which combined with the high alcohol meant they had the best chance of withstanding the sea journey to India. This fine tradition of brewing IPA in the UK is more than 250 years old. However, I was disillusioned with the fact that in modern times IPA had come to stand for nothing more than a scarcely hopped blonde session ale in the UK with people merely using the name ‘IPA’ for the sake of it.

We were determined to bring the style right back to its roots as a response to what we saw as the death of the IPA tradition in the UK. I sail 8 weeks a year a as a North Atlantic Captain and when Martin found a recipe for a 200 year old IPA it just made sense to tie the whole thing up together and make as authentic an IPA as we could.

This IPA is brewed to a traditional 200 year old recipe and then aged in oak casks on the north Atlantic for 2 months making it the first IPA aged in oak at sea for 2 centuries, the first genuine IPA for over 200 years. With a huge interest in the IPA style all over the world we thought it would be great to brew one which resembled the origins of the style as closely as we could, all whilst having a cool little adventure along the way.

2) Ed: What, in your opinion, has this kind of aging done to the flavor of the beer compared to a non Atlantic-sailing Punk IPA?
James: The oak and Atlantic aging has had a huge effect on the beer. The fact the beer was in near constant motion means it has become very oxidised, giving it some sour qualities. The salinity is apparent all over the beer too and you can almost taste the epic waves crashing down on the barrel with every sip. The use of traditional English hops also give the beer a far more grungy, herbal and earthy quality as opposed to the citrus edge of most modern US IPAs.

3) Ed: Where in the world (literally) can you find the limited quantity of this beer for sale?
James: The Atlantic IPA is available in limited quantities and is only available in select markets. Select markets include: New York, Chicago, Boston, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles.

4) Ed: Why decide to charge $25.99 American for this, and do you think that will scare away beer enthusiasts who otherwise might want to try it?
James: I do not think the price will scare anyone away. If we want to scare people, we will show them me dangling in a tiny basket, up to my waist in freezing seas on January 2nd trying to recover the lost cask, we will show them the footage of 70ft waves crashing down on the boat and breaking over the casks of beer, we will show them 30 hour stints on deck in the freezing North Atlantic wintertime. All that will scare them. For buying a piece of brewing history, one of only 2,000 bottles, the beautiful hand-drawn label and the first authentic IPA for 200 years, $25.99 should not be nearly as scary as what we went through to make the beer!

5) Ed: Will there be a repeat voyage? If not, do you have a next experiment like this in mind?
James: The BrewDog Team has a history of exciting imaginations, so please stay tuned for the October 21st announcement.


Thursday, October 08, 2009

This Week in Colorado Beer

And in this strange, new post-GABF world, we have to search out events . . .

New Brewery Restaurant
*Monday: Oskar Blues throws open the doors to its new beer joint/restaurant, Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids & Solids, in Longmont. Offering southern BBQ and the live music that for which the still-operating Lyons brewery is known, the eatery will be easily distinguishable by the giant silo-sized rendition of a Dale's Pale Ale can attached to the side of it.

New Tappings
*Rock Bottom Brewery downtown just tapped its Dunkelweizen on Thursday; if it's anywhere near the quality of the beers that it offered during Denver Beer Fest, it will be worth stopping by the restaurant to try some. Also, Rock Bottom Westminster taps its Harvest Moon Rye at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
*Bristol Brewing of Colorado Springs released its Winter Warlock on Friday, which stands not only as one of the earlier release of a holiday beer in the state but as one of the darkest, thickest, finest local Christmastime beers on which you can get your hands.

Beer/Food Pairing
*Wednesday, 5 p.m.: Trinity Brewing, also of Colorado Springs, is having a rare beer dinner at its place . . . with another brewery. Not sure what exactly is involved with the Ska Beer and slow food event, but I do know this: I hope Ska brings its new Merlo Stout #12, an oak-aged (presumably in merlot barrels), dark-as-night creation that was entered in this year's pro-am competition at the Great American Beer Festival.

Craft Beer Education
*Thursday, 6 to 9 p.m.: Scott Kerkmans, who has the dream job as Chief Beer Officer (yes, that's his real title) for Four Points by Sheraton hotels, will offer a class on craft beer education at Cook Street School of Fine Cooking in Denver. The price is $59, but you get to taste six beers.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

A GABF Toast to Colorado

Last week I wrote about what I considered the best beers at the Great American Beer Festival. They were of different styles and from different states, but had one thing in common: Absolutely none of them won a medal. So much for my taste buds . . .

What was exciting was the number of Colorado beers that medalled: 39, plus two overall medals for breweries. (News accounts reported 45 medals, but six of those were for Miller beers, which, as a purist, I still don't consider a Colorado beer.) And while many of the medalists are difficult for local beer geeks to get their hands on, these local ones aren't.

So, in alphabetical order, here are this year's Colorado winners - or, as I like to call them, my to-do list for the year - with commentary where applicable.

A.C. Golden Brewing: Dunkel (Bronze). This Golden brewery celebrated its first birthday with a medal in the European-style dunkel category.
Avery Brewing: The Kaiser (Gold) and Brabant (Bronze). The strongest, hoppiest Oktoberfest beer in America earns a well-deserved blue ribbon, while the Boulder brewing legend's new barrel-aged beer gets some love too.
Backcountry Brewery: May Bock (Silver). This Frisco gem of a brewery only serves this bock in the spring, so plan hiking trips appropriately.
Bristol Brewing: Cheyenne Canon Ale (Silver). Proceeds from the sale of this woody, slightly sweet nut brown ale benefit restoration of Cheyenne Canyon in Colorado Springs.
Colorado Boy Pub and Brewery: Colorado Boy Irish (Silver) and Colorado Boy IPA (Bronze). Tom Hennessy's newly opened Ridgway brewery makes beers that are less assertive but stylistically perfect, and the IPA especially is a smooth treat.
Colorado Brewing Co./Draft House: 44 Pale Ale (Silver). Boulder's former Redfish Brewhouse nabs an award for its American-style pale ale.
Coors Brewing: Keystone Ice (Gold), Coors Banquet (Gold), Keystone Light (Silver), Killian's Red (Silver), Pre-Pro (Silver). Laugh if you will, but this is the 2009 large brewing company of the year, and it virtually swept the American-style specialty lager category.
Dry Dock Brewing: Bismark Altbier (Gold), U-Boat Hefeweizen (Silver), Reines Marzen (Silver). This amazing Aurora success story - it won a World Beer Cup medal less than a year after opening - is now the well-deserved 2009 small brewing company of the year.
Durango Brewing: Durango Colorfest (Gold). Growing in recognition for every medal it wins, it reaped gold with its American-style amber lager this year.
Glenwood Canyon Brewing: Cardiff (Gold) and Carbonator (Bronze). A pair of awards for its strong beer and German-style doppelbock, respectively.
Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant Group: Czech Pilsner (Silver), Dunkles (Silver), Alt Bier (Bronze), Golden Export (Bronze). Bet you didn't know that this national chain's head brewer is located in Broomfield.
Great Divide Brewing: Yeti Imperial Stout (Silver), Hoss rye beer (Bronze), Old Ruffian Barley Wine (Bronze). Nothing surprising about the recognition for Yeti (except that it didn't win gold), but the big kudos go to the terribly drinkable Hoss, introduced just two months ago.
Left Hand Brewing: Smokejumper (Gold). Highly smoked with a heavy body, this is an imperial stout that will leave you thinking about it.
Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery: Temperance (Bronze). A very satisfying American-Belgo-Style Ale that doesn't lean too heavily toward either of its nationalities of origin.
New Belgium Brewing: NBB Love (Silver). My one complaint about New Belgium: This is the second year in a row that it's won a medal for a beer that it wasn't serving on the floor (or at least it wasn't advertised). And I would have loved to try this German-style sour ale.
Rockyard Brewing: Double Eagle Ale (Bronze). A thick American-style wheat beer wins for this underrated brewery.
Ska Brewing: Buster Nut Brown (Silver), True Blonde Ale (Bronze), Steel Toe Stout (Bronze). Brown ale, summer ale, sweet stout: The Durango brewery triumphs in a variety of categories.
The Sandlot: Move Back (Gold), Where the Helles Bill? (Silver), Greenside Up (Silver). Coors Field's brewery is like one of those independent-film producers that flies under the radar and then scoops up Academy Awards every year. This year it won for its German-style Oktoberfest, Munich-style helles and German-style Oktoberfest, respectively. Yes, that's right: two medals in the same category.
Trinity Brewing: TPS Report (Gold). A barrel-aged wild yeast sour beer wins the Colorado Springs brewery a medal in the experimental beer category.
Upslope Brewing: Upslope Dunkel Weizen (Bronze) and Time of the Season (Bronze). Like Colorado Boy, this Boulder upstart is less than a year old. And not only does it medal with its German-style wheat ale, it takes one for its well-balanced Belgian-American ale made with a homebrewer and entered in the pro-am competition.


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