Barley Mowat 

Splitting Bitter, Resin-coated Hairs

with 7 comments

I recently posted something on Twitter that garnered a bit of questioning from people who know me. I said that Tofino Spruce Tip IPA is the Best IPA In The World. That’s quite a bold claim, especially from a guy that claims to hate rating beer. I don’t give praise lightly, thus you know I sat down and thought about this before saying it, so what’s my reasoning?

Well, let’s start with a bit of background on India Pale Ales. I won’t bore you with the history of IPAs in general. As someone who can tolerate reading my blog I will just assume you already know this most basic of beer legends for regaling other, lesser, beer nerds at parties.

In recent years, the IPA genre has, much like pretty much all genres, split into English-style and American-style varieties. English-style, as usual, is the more traditional variety and reflects this by being more conservative. These are refreshing, light-to-medium bodied beers with classic bitter hop aroma/flavour and a moderate alcohol level (typically 5.5-6.0%). Want to know what I mean? Try Howe Sound’s IPA. That’s a great example.

American-style means what you’d think: bigger and (therefore?) better. What made English IPA so unique? Hops you say? Well fuck those limeys, we’ll use even more hops! Yeah! U S A! U S A! 6.0% booze? How about, oh I dunno, MORE than 6.0% booze! YEAH! Let’s get fucked up in a parking lot, watch some football and then go bomb some brown people! AMERICA!

Since that first split, though, both styles have further fragmented. Try an IPA in New England and you’ll find it to be fairly close to the English style, but an IPA in California will be heavier bodied with much stronger bittering hops and a tonne more alcohol. Go up the coast a bit to Oregon/Washington and that same IPA becomes even bigger bodied, hoppier and now has a closed-fist punch of aroma-hops. As well, now the mouthfeel becomes a fantastic creamy texture to back up the heavy sugar and bitterness of the brew, bringing the whole thing into final, perfect, balance.

There’s also the “shitty, watery east coast Canada style”.

In fact, the Californian and Pacific Northwest styles are different enough from regular IPAs that they are usually indicated as such on the bottle. This is more commonly done with PNW IPAs, which are sometimes also referred to as Cascadian IPAs. That’s a term I love, so I’ll use it.

Enough background. All that was a complete setup to being able to do this: English < American < New England < Californian < Cascadian. I'm not saying an IPA of English-Style is bad. Quite the opposite, they can be just lovely, but if you're going balls to the wall to make the best IPA you possibly can, you just gotta go Cascadian. Of course, popular beer rating sites like RateBeer and BeerAdvocate disagree. They put the Californian style on the top. Go look at their top IPA list and you'll see lots of Californian breweries: Ballast Point, Stone, Russian River, Alesmith. This is mostly due to a stylistic difference between what the population believes to be a great IPA and what experts (OK, me) believe to be a great IPA. But, it is also because those sites partially rank beers based on popularity (lots of high votes count more than a few very high votes). More people have had the Californian beers because, simply, there are more people in California. However, I've had most of those beers. They are wonderful beers. In fact they are fantastic, even stonking great beers. They are, though, not as good as Cascadian IPAs, such as the ones from Green Flash, Deschutes, Driftwood, Central City, Lighthouse and, yes, Tofino. They lack the big body and creamy mouthfeel that (in my opinion) make an IPA the nigh perfect cumulation of all that is brewing. So, now when I say that Tofino has one-upped that whole mess by seamlessly merging the natural aroma and bitterness of spruce tips into an already fantastic IPA, resulting in the best IPA in BC, you understand how I can extend that acclaim to "Best in the World." This beer is like drinking the rainforest, and how can that be bad?

It’s also a much better result than my last attempt at combining beer with logging.

Alas, the Spruce Tip IPA is a casked ale, and that means it was only produced in very limited quantities. Tofino’s regular Hoppin’ Cretin IPA also features Spruce Tips, but just not in the vast quantities of the cask. Perhaps expense is keeping the sprucey-goodness to a cask, or perhaps it’s the fact that spruce tips only reliably grow in the spring. I don’t know.

What I do know, though, is that this beer is currently on one of the beer engines at the Alibi Room and will disappear fast. So go down there early tonight to drink it before it’s gone and the reigning IPA crown goes back to Driftwood Fat Tug.

Written by chuck

June 8th, 2012 at 10:08 am

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with ,

7 Responses to 'Splitting Bitter, Resin-coated Hairs'

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  1. Not to pick hairs, but if you are including a seasonal in the discussion, Sartori Harvest is better than Fat Tug.


    8 Jun 12 at 10:37

  2. Picking hairs is what I’m all about, and you are 100% correct. I’d give the reigning IPA crown back to Sartori at the end o the article, but Sartori was not available to accept the honor 🙂


    8 Jun 12 at 10:43

  3. Have you tried Elysian’s Idiot Sauvin? That’s one of my current favourites. I mean, it’s no Sartori, but you can’t expect not-fresh hops to beat fresh hops.

    The whole good-better-best argument is a fun discussion to have, but more to the point, aren’t we lucky to have so many awesome IPAs to choose from these days? I prefer variety than pursuit of perfection anyway.

    Ben Coli

    8 Jun 12 at 11:23

  4. Yup, we have lots of great IPAs. Not too long ago BC was lumped into Cascadia as the awkward younger brother who’s sorta ok but not as cool as big brothers Oregon and Washington.

    Now, though, we’re producing Cascadia-quality beers, and not in just any style, but IPAs of all things. Fact is, you can walk into the LDB today an walk out with 3 of the best IPAs on the planet. Its a good time to like beer.


    8 Jun 12 at 11:35

  5. While I don’t disagree with your scaling of British-Cascadian as increasingly bitter/boozy/hoppy I fail to see how this same scale can be used to say good, better best. Whether a beer is amazing has far less to do with where it comes from or what style they are making. If love a particular style great, but it’s all about balance and some of the brittish IPA’s which are always cask, are stunning. They don’t have so much hops that after 1 your taste buds aren’t so overwhelmed that you can still taste nuanced flavor. If your going to make an amazing beer with fresh hops ala Sartori then it helps if you can have a couple more. it’s a pity that so few Bc craft beer drinkers don’t get a chance to have the best of brittish, as the bottles just arent representative.


    8 Jun 12 at 12:18

  6. There is plenty of overlap there, especially between the Cali and Cascadian beers. The Cali beers tend to be boozier and bitter-er, if anything, but it’s the complete picture of the Cascadians that I like. Note that this is a ranking as I see it, and others (like you) should disagree. There is no real right answer.

    However, the English-style IPAs I’ve had (including several on cask in the UK) I find to be “missing something.” They’re fantastic and well balanced beers that I absolutely do consider to be in the upper echelons, but I have to admit that if I needed to pick a “best 10 IPAs in the world” the list would not favour any older-style brews.


    8 Jun 12 at 13:30

  7. […] of Sartori Harvest all month. It is hitting store shelves very very soon. You may recall that Barley Mowat declared it one of the top IPA’s in BC. Back on September the 5th, Driftwood teased us on […]

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