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Archive for December, 2012

One IPA To Rule Them All

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As many of you are aware, I recently tasted a Dead Frog Fearless IPA, declared it great, and then loudly wondered if Fearless might count itself amongst the higher echelons of the hop madness that is the BC IPA Market. Thus, I decided to do another one of my blind tastings, only this time with the ranks stacked with good beer (no more crappy lager for me).

As step one, I went out and picked five BC-produced IPAs to stack up in a blind taste test. These five beers were:

  1. Dead Frog Fearless: The reason for this test. Omitting it would be one of the odder moves I could make here.
  2. Driftwood Fat Tug: By popular consensus, this is the reigning king of BC IPAs (what you can buy in a bottle).
  3. Central City Red Racer: The one, the original, the IPA that ruled BC from the Dawn of Hoppy Awesomeness until The Day Fat Tug Was Released.
  4. Lighthouse Switchback: The new kid on the block with some serious chops, and a delightful New Zealand take on this whole “hops” business.
  5. Coal Harbour Powell: Okay, so it’s not really fair to pit an English IPA up against all these Cascadian hop monsters, but I’ve been hard on Coal Harbour in the past, and this seemed like a great chance to do a blind taste test of their award winning beer.

The only images I could find mentioning Beer Statistics are just incredibly depressing, so enjoy this C&H comic instead.

Method
Seven tasters were randomly selected from the group of seven people who showed up to my tasting event. Tasting sheets with five computer-randomized letter codes were printed and distributed (eg “ADBEC” or “CBEAD”). A non-particpant poured columns of each beer out of sight from the tasters, who were then summoned to grab one of each sample. All glasses were uniform. Participants were instructed on the basic IPA features to pay attention to, and were instructed to rank beers in order of preference 1 to 5, with no ties.

Now, why did I do each of these things:

  • Computer randomized letters: Computers are unbiased, and randomizing letters instead of breweries (indeed, before I had even chosen the breweries) removed the possibility of bias being introduced by me at this stage. Since people tend to drink left to right, a single set order could introduce bias to the first hop beast.
  • Pouring out of sight: This is a classic single blind, preventing the tasters from knowing what beer is in each glass. We did consider a double blind (having another person pour from the labeled bottles into a pitcher, then into glasses) but our potential second blind wanted to drink beer, too.
  • Uniform Glassware: Glass shapes affect aroma and flavour; this is why you don’t drink beer from the bottle, or I WILL CUT YOU. Previous experiments of mine showed a much stronger correlation between perceived beverage quality and glass shape than to actual brewery. Having uniform glassware removes this problem.
  • Ordinal Ranking: As I’ve mentioned before, people suck at absolute ranks. Asking folk to give each beer an absolute score would introduce all sorts of personal bias (eg what is a 5/5?).

But enough about that, what are the results? Well, here are the raw data:

Taster 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Central City (“A”) 2 1 3 5 2 2 5
Dead Frog (“B”) 3 5 1 4 5 4 4
Driftwood (“C”) 1 3 4 2 1 1 3
Lighthouse (“D”) 4 2 5 1 3 3 1
Coal Harbour (“E”) 5 4 2 3 4 5 2

Which translates into these scores. Solely because a table with two columns would look lonely, I’m giving you mean, median and olympic averages (throw out highest and lowest, then mean).

Score Median Mean Olympic
Central City (“A”) 2 2.86 3.2
Dead Frog (“B”) 4 3.71 4.4
Driftwood (“C”) 2 2.14 2.4
Lighthouse (“D”) 3 2.71 3.0
Coal Harbour (“E”) 4 3.57 4.4

So there you have, Fat Tug retains it’s crown, and Fearless comes dead last (at least where n=7). Here are some interesting takeaways:

  • No one voted Fat Tug as the worst, and no one voted Coal Harbour as the best. Every other beer had at least one first place and last place vote.
  • Switchback has pulled ahead of Central City for second best IPA in the province, assuming the province is accurately summarized by me and my six friends. Well played, Dean.
  • Fat Tug is statistically out front with a big lead, and then Switchback and CC are effectively tied. Bringing up the (way back) rear is Dead Frog and Coal Harbour, also effectively tied.
  • I’m taster #5, by the way.
  • I was surprised by how much better Fat Tug is compared to the competition. I’ve been on a BC IPA vacation recently, and Fat Tug, CC and Switchback have all clumped together in my brain. In blind tasting, though, I clearly preferred the Fat Tug by a wide margin (so did most everyone).
  • In attempting to ID the beers blind, I nailed Driftwood, but exchanged Switchback and CC, and also swapped Dead Frog and Coal Harbour.
  • Last place here is still a decent IPA. I followed up with a dedicated tasting of Coal Harbour’s Powell IPA to confirm. While it’s not an amazing IPA by any stretch, it is competently executed. A gold star for Most Improved Brewery is deserved.

Written by chuck

December 27th, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Russell Naughty and Spiced plus Hop Therapy

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I’ve had these tasting notes on the ole iPhone for a few weeks, but got distracted by other beers, events, and general rantings… then the Barley Wines lumbered onto the scene and, well, those things take a certain toll on your attention span, sobriety and really general health.

However, better late than never, so here’s the two latest bombers from Russell Brewing’s ever-expanding special release program which, as I understand it, now has a few dozen barrels to play around with.

Naughty & Spiced is a high gravity porter that’s been augmented with a dabble of vanilla and a handful of oak chips. As Christmas seasonals go, it’s a more mild take on the traditional “let’s get fucked” approach to ABV (only clocking in at 6.5%), and should make a decent beer to sip while wearing your once-a-year ugly Christmas sweater (and yes, P49’s Ugly Sweater could be considered a better fit, but that’s a bit too on the nose, don’t you think?).

Hop Therapy is a double IPA that I’m still tasting two days after drinking it. This is a massive, in your face, American-style hop bomb that uses basically every Yankee hop varietal known to man, and at every step of the brewing process. Massive hops aroma begets massive hop flavour begets massive hop finish. Did I mention there’s some hops in this?

Tasting notes:

Naughty & Spiced: A full, round, roasted malt-heavy body supports the spices, which in turn support the limited booze quite well. Despite the (relatively) low 6.5% ABV, a pleasant boozey warmth is evident after a few ounces. Any time you add vanilla to a beer there’s a danger of cloying sugar overload (aka the “GIB Lions Effect”) but this doesn’t happen here. The sweetness of the vanilla is effectively cut by the astringency of the oak chips.

Hop Therapy: Pours cloudy (bottle conditioned?) with a nice mouthfeel and… I’m sorry. That’s as far as I got before the impending tsunami of hops broke on my face. My tasting notes from the day in question just read “HOOOOOPPPPPPSSSSSSS!!! Hops… hops… <broken sobs>

If you’re a colossal hop head you’ll love this beer. If you’re not, you might want to stay away from any hop heads you know for a while because they’re going to be gleefully exuding hop resin from their pours while sporting a stupid, blissed out grin.

In summary: While both these beers are good, N&S just isn’t that special. HT is a balls-out take on an aggressive beer style and, while not perfect or even superb, I have to admit: I kinda want to go back for more.

Coles notes:

Brewery Russell
From Surrey
Name Naughty & Spiced Hop Therapy
Style Spiced Porter American Imperial IPA
SOA Now None Bronze
SOA Potential n/a; table beer
Drink Now
Single handed affect on the going rate for hops futures n/a +25%
Availability Most LRSs Limited LRS, going fast
Cost $6.50-$8.00 per 650ml bomber
Similar Beers (you can buy) Hoyne Gratitude, Howe Sound Father John’s Uh… none.
Chuck says Buy one and share. Buy several and don’t.


My tongue is tingly!.

Written by chuck

December 24th, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Posted in Beers

Tagged with

GIB Barley Wine

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On Wednesday I counted myself lucky enough to be invited down to Granville Island Brewery for a preview of their first ever Barley Wine. In addition to a glass goblet heavy enough to brain a horse, I was given unlimited access to their most recent brew, and even a nicely wrapped bottle to take home for offsite consumption.

So, is it worth a damn? Yup. Vern describes this effort as a stylistic middle ground between the more refined, traditional English-style Barley Wine and its loutish American/New World upstart offspring. I would agree with that sentiment, although the bourbon barrel ageing is a definite New World touch.

On pouring, this guy has an awful lot of carbonation for a barrel-aged Barley Wine… almost too much. It’s hard to say whether this is for sure artificial, as the beer is bottle conditioned. Even so, I’m unsure how much extra carb you’ll get out of yeast that’s given its all to make 11.5% ABV and then spent the last four weeks chilling in a used bourbon barrel.

The nose is very mild, almost imperceptible malt and a touch of bourbon. On tasting, the hops come through initially and then the bourbon follows up with a solid kick to your chest. The malt, though, is almost absent, with all those rich sugars effectively hidden behind the whiskey.

And that’s my main complaint about this beer: Where’d the malt go? The sugars, and all that caramel-y/toffee promise that they bring are definitely there–the hyper-smooth mouthfeel will testify to that–but the barrel ageing is all you’re going to pick up on right now.

My secondary complaint would be that this shares a certain je-ne-sais-quoi with GIB’s main beers, specifically their Pale Ale. Whether it’s the yeast or the hops, I can’t say (although I’m leaning towards hops), but it does have that unique GIB-ness about it.

The negatives I mention slowly fade over the course of 8oz or so, and the smooth mouthfeel and body build up nicely. The bourbon and hops create a nice spiciness, very similar to Central City Thor’s Hammer. Try one to see for yourself, but only try one… for now.

Ageing is not optional with this beer. Right now this beer is interesting, perhaps even decent, but give it a few months to half a year and it could become great.

With time, the bourbon and hops will fade, and hopefully give all that malt sugar a chance to come forth. At ~$10 a bottle, this is priced low enough that even inexperienced cellar-ers should pick up a few to see how it develops.

Lastly, I think the bottle-conditioning, cloudiness of the beer, and complete lack of filtering (aka potential for oak bits in your glass) give this beer a wonderful homebrew-y quality, which is the exact opposite of what you’d expect from a brewery that is, after all, a wholly owned subsidiary of MolsonCoors.

Coles notes:

Brewery Granville Island Taphouse
From Vancouver
Name Ltd Release
Style Barley Wine
SOA Now Bronze
SOA Potential Silver
Drink Mid-2013 to early-2014
Watch out for Bits of oak floating in your glass
Availability Select LRS (60 cases) & at GIB (300 cases)
Cost $9.00-$11.00 per 650ml bottle.
Similar Beers CC Thor’s Hammer, Driftwood OCD/OBD
Chuck says Buy several and use it as a tutorial on ageing beer


Turns out Barley Wines are good.

Written by chuck

December 21st, 2012 at 11:53 am

Posted in Beers

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