Samuel Smith India Ale

Samuel Smith India Ale
Samuel Smith’s India Ale

An entrant from the place India Pale Ale was invented, and now that it’s America’s fav crafty, Samuel Smith is bringing it over here. Actually, they’ve been selling this in the States for a long time, i used to pick one of these up now and then in the 1980’s. The tale bears repeating, IPA is top-fermented because you can do that on a ship rolling at sea, and the water in India was sketchtical, and the troops supporting the British Raj needed something to drink. And boats need ballast, my friend, boats need ballast.

So some genius in England in the 1700’s came up with it: for ballast use barrels of water, which will be good to have in India. Then the next lightningbolt intelligent idea: put malted barley and top-ferment yeast in the water, and by the time you get to India, your boat is full of beer! Total genius. But that kind of brew is not too good, not the real deep colour and flavour of a porter, stout, or even a normal English bitter.

The final idea in the recipe was to hop the heck out of it, and suddenly it tastes decent, to a lad raised on English real beer. Soon they discovered that a strongly hopped beer was extra tasty in a hot country, and the legend was born.

No self-respecting English maltophile would consider drinking India Pale Ale, simply because it’s too pale and ridiculously hopped up. But in America, where we were drowned in Bud/Miller/Coors for a half-century, IPA’s taste like an epiphany, a liberation.

So here’s Sam Smith’s entrant, brewed as always in Tadcaster, and just to reinforce quirky Englishness, it’s just India Ale, like they knew it all along you silly colonials. And truly, it’s not really that pale at all. Orange is what i would call it, and the taste profile is more to that colour than yellowy or lemony. 5.0% alk for this, just right IMHO, and hopped like it’s life depended on it.

They only use barley malt, local well water, hops and yeast. One good thing about English beer, is that they don’t have to obey the rheinheitsgebot, but they do anyway because that’s the way to make real beer. I would like to know, when an American beer obeys the German Beer Purity Law. They should put “R” inside a circle, if it would have been legal for them to brew it in Germany. Somewhere on the corner of the label, use a small circled R logo, if it’s only water, barley, hops, and yeast. Maybe someday.

This smells, tastes, and feels like real beer. It’s just a normal English brew, but centuries of experience make what’s commonplace over there, into top-shelf over here. Truly a fantastic IPA, but not a Top Fiver to an American’s tastes. The body is so robust that it could have supported even more hops. A darn good rating of 8.8, but not top form for an American palate.

Lagunitas Hop Stoopid

Lagunitas Hop Stoopid
Lagunitas Hop Stoopid

Well OK, there’s a slap to the back of your neck if you were in the race to be Hoppier Than Thou. Taking a different tack than their neighbors at Sierra Nevada, these folks at Lagunitas are messing around with hop extractives and adding that to the beer instead. And the result, in case you’re not puckered enough today, is an astounding 102 International Bitterness Units. One hundred and two. Yes. I didn’t even know the scale went over 100.

And just to keep all them IBU’s under control, the alk has to be high, in this case 8%. So now you know, why they call it Hop Stoopid. The blurb on the bottles says it’s “fermented on high” and yeah, that’s probably true too.

The beer itself? Good golden color with plenty of floaty things in there, which is a mystery, because the whole story (in tiny print on the side of the label) is about NOT using a mountain of actual leafy buddy hop cones so they don’t jam your equips when you get it out of the vat, like a sodden roof gutter in November.

The taste is pretty excellent, as i suspected it would be. Lagunitas is one of those breweries whose stuff is just too expensive for me, like $15 sixers and $24 12-packs, but i saw “102 IBU 4U” on the label and knew i had to splurge on a 22-oz jammer of this, lovingly known among the drinking class as a “double deuce”. But my regular glass is 18-oz so i can handle these things. Yes it’s a lager glass, that trapezoidal profile, but it’s fine for all beers and gives me an excuse to say trapezoidal once in a while.

The beer body is finely sturdy, this is an ale but not a pale ale, a good blend of malt-sweet and crunchy cereals. Professional head on this one, like Euro-style head on the beer, and then, of course, there’s all those devilish IBU’s. It’s hoppy, mi amigo. Like Jumpin’ Jesus on a Pogo Stick, it’s hoppy. Like a kangaroo on crack-a-roo, it’s hopping all over the goddamned place. I like it.

The hops are velvety brutal, carried on that big-beer taste and couched in a hi-alk delivery vehicle. A hammer of hops, truth told here for free. But nuttily enough this is not the Hoppiest of the Hopalongs on the range. Sierra Nevada’s Hop Hunter still reigns, even though i had prepared myself for the possibility that Hop Stoopid might dethrone the Hunter.

But it was not to be. The Double-H’s fresh-hop steam extraction turns out to be superior to whatever the Lagunitas Method is for making hop extract. I think the real difference might be Sierra Nevada’s HH uses the extract, and then makes hoppy beer as usual, only then they add the extract too. It seems like Lagunitas lets the extract do more of the work for them.

I think the Stoopid earns a rating of 8.8 for good tries at sooper hop, because the windmill is there, that’s why. But there are better hoppy beers at a lower price point than Lagunitas in this category, so that makes me less inclined to try another Lagunitas label in the future. Granted, what i had was likely brewed in Chicago, not in California, so maybe the quality stepped down at the contract brewery. Dunno, it’s not my job to know.

Blue Moon White IPA

Blue Moon White IPA
Blue Moon’s White IPA

Another big-brewery beer masquerading as a craft beer, this one brewed in Golden, Colorado. So you know right away who’s behind it. Pretty nice on the nose, and the bottle claims 4 types of hops, so that’s explained. We have little floating specks in there, and it’s actually quite a pale yellow and cloudy, so the name “White” on this IPA is accurate.

The taste is not stellar but very good, as the label admits this is brewed with orange peels and coriander. Odd spices, but not a bad choice, if one had to choose spices which can be put together with 4 hops. 5.9% alk here, and a big Thank You to Blue Moon for putting nutrition info on the label. 184 calories for a bottle.

Good to know, since i just heard a piece on the news about how some craft beers have ridiculous amounts of cals and carbs. Someone’s double chocolate stout, for example, has a nutty 340 calories in a 12 oz bottle. Woof.

On the whole, i like this one. There’s an extra bitterness at the back of the mouth and the beer body is pretty darned light, but the hops are out in front and the ensemble tastes well put-together. Not likely to buy it again, personal tastes run towards a heavier body and prefer the hops to speak for themselves, instead of getting juiced up with fruit rinds and spices.

They did what they were trying to do, even with Corporate Masters overseeing the operation, making a franken-beer with IPA hops and white ale body. Interesting combo, suppose someone was bound to try it eventually, and it’s tasty. I’d rate this at 6.2

Leinenkugel’s IPL

Leinenkugels IPL
Leinenkugel’s IPL

Holy cow! I haven’t seen a twist-off cap in years, hahah! The recent craft trend is to cans, even, and long ago it got to be that brewers of good beer blanketed disdain on the screw-off cap. Actually, it requires a more expensive piece of machinery to seal caps like that, which is why smaller places (with tighter budgets and thinner margins) have usually gone for the pry-off cap, but it has turned into a point of beer snobbery.

According to the bottle, this IPL (already ranted on that term) is 6% alk and Leinenkugels is the Pride Of Chippewa Falls since 1867. So i’m 149 years late for that party, but seems i came at the right time. I love the body of a lager wearing the sexy dress of megahops, and this one sproings the sprongo too. Odd thing is that Texas, The Land Of Ridiculous Government Regulations, considers this an ale, not a lager beer.

Real delicious, no matter what it really is. It’s got that beefy real-beer body and jammed full o’ hops for a good aftertaste which soaks into the upper-rear palate and hangs there for a couple minutes after each glug. Good and fulfilling, though not really a Summer beer with the beefy alk level and heavier, curvy body. Sweeter than an ale, no matter what Texas nutballs say, and the bottle’s claim of a smooth finish is just about right.

Had better IPL’s, but trying another one is never a bad idea. If you’re like me, which nobody is, you’ll like this. I’ll give it a 7.0 because it’s good but not exquisite.

Goose Island Goose IPA

Goose Island Goose IPA
Goose Island’s Goose IPA

This Goosey stuff is one of the false-crafts. Bought out by a gigantic brewery years ago, to give the Gigantor Commercial Brewing Factory a toe-hold in the “craft space”. In this case, Gigantor Brewing means Molson/Coors, and i don’t even think they’re American-owned anymore. I know the other Gigantor Brewing Conglomerate (aka Bud) is owned by a group of suits from somewhere in Europe.

So normally i don’t buy Goose Island or Blue Moon, because they’re not really craft beers anymore. But there was a good deal on a build-your-own-sixer at, of all places, a drug store, and it was a good opportunity to flesh out my experience with some hoppy beers, in single bottles where i would never buy a full sixer.

Thus, a Goose IPA in my glass. Solid and decent, that’s about it. Hoppy, yes, but not ambitiously so. Beer body is pleasant, but nobody’s going out on a limb here, that’s just the way it is with International Corporate Brewing. In the particulars, this is 5.9% alk and packs 55 IBU’s, and they boast that they have an enslav– err, an ‘exclusive’ hop farm all their own.

It’s good beer, no denying that, but i don’t see any reason to buy more of it at “craft” premium prices, when it’s a false-craft with a recipe which seems to be dumbed-down so it could be pumped out with reasonable consistency in Illinois, Baldwinsville NY, and Fort Collins in Colorado.

There is another side to this coin, however. We’re seeing some real craft beers being released where the quality is likely high, but the lack of an “economy of scale” means the price is sky-high. Like, luxury-goods high. There are a few beers i’d love to try, but just can’t pay $25 for a 12-pack. Others, where i simply can’t pay $17 for a sixer. So Big Corp Brewing has an upside: distribution is cheap and large batches lower the production costs.

Don’t know what Goose Island’s IPA tasted like before the buy-out, but right now it’s nothing to write home about, wherever home is for them anymore. Nothing wrong with this beer, it just doesn’t do anything remarkable. Rating, 5.0

Magic Hat Mother Lager

Magic Hat's Mother Lager
Magic Hat Mother Lager

Bottle comes with their wry Vermont sense of humor, and their customarily dry Vermont beer. Good lager, with that mid-mouth effervescence you got with the fad of “dry” beers back in the 1980’s. At 5% alk this is a candidate for casual drinking, and the taste has that great savory feel of a lager, like they usually end up hopped into orange, rather than ales which get hopped into lemon.

Never had a bad Magic Hat, and today is any other day. Buy Mother Lager from Vermont SSR and they can get wheeled prosthetics for all their 3-legged cows. Production! More sour than bitter, with a real friendly malt texture. A real good lager, and i like lagers, so this comrade earns an 8.4 rating.