Barley Mowat 

One IPA To Rule Them All

with 3 comments

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

3 Responses to 'One IPA To Rule Them All'

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  1. Nice work on the experimental design, Chuck!

    Interesting that the Fat Tug and the Racer ended up significantly apart. On BA, they’re separated by a mere 0.01 points (though RR has been rated a lot more).

    Would love to see a second test, putting the crowned champ against some of the IPA big guns.

    Jer

    27 Dec 12 at 12:40

  2. @Jer – Tell ya what, you put together a care package of AleSmith, Ballast Point, Russian River, Three Floyds, etc, and I’ll do the hard work.

    Seriously, though, I’ve had most of those beers and Fat Tug does pull ahead. This is more because Ratebeer doesn’t separate American IPA and PNW/Cascadian IPA into two different styles (or even West Coast IPA and American IPA), but I do, and I much much prefer the big body on Cascadian IPAs. The folks that rank beers on RB, though, seem to be the other way around.

    chuck

    27 Dec 12 at 12:47

  3. I’m not sure that the West Coast IPA designation really works. Seems too geographic – there are breweries on the East Coast that are making big bodied IPAs. I think it’s more about accepting that there’s a big range inside of the AIPA class.

    I have a small list in my head of what I’d call ‘transcendant IPAs’ (TIPAs?):

    Ballast Point Sculpin
    Three Floyds Zombie Dust (gets listed as an APA)
    Hill Farmstead Susan

    I’d love to put Fat Tug on this list, but when I had it on draft it was just ‘very good’ and not enough to get into the T category. Might be worth a re-try next time I’m in town.

    While we’re talking about mailing beers, you should ship out your tasting set and we can do a NYC experiment to make sure BC bias isn’t affecting your results…

    -J

    Jer

    27 Dec 12 at 14:39

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