Harpoon IPA

Harpoon’s IPA

Label flows with the standard flowery words: citrus, crisp, floral. But there is a tiger on the label, and i like that even though by now we know that IPA was never indigenous to India but rather brewed to keep English soldiers happy while serving in the hellish climate of the Subcontinent. But hey, i like tigers.

This one’s from New england, a true indy brewer from Vermont and Massachussetts, not sure which location is their original home. One thing on the label stands out: “unique malt profile” is a phrase one does but rarely hear in an IPA; they’re usually so busy hopping them up to think about malts which will be gastronomically wiped out in the end. The rest of the particulars: 5.9% alk and a stable 42 IBU’s.

The color is normal, a golden and pale ale color, but the nasal appreciation deserves a note. Not quite the pines, but certainly a local atmosphere of orange blossom. And that’s where the taste picks up, a more floral than fruity hop profile, and there is citrus but it’s not very insistent.

No puckering pout here, lacks the lemon and limey characteristics of some IPA’s, and doesn’t branch out so much into plum or apricot or other stone fruits. It’s more about the blossom than the flesh. A hint of the creamy notes which set the great eastern IPA’s on their thrones, but not fully realized here. This would be a true creamsicle beer if it had the cream part in fuller force.

The beer body is noticeable, but not to the extent that the blurb on the label suggests. A hint of sour from the mash, the sort of flavor which takes flight in a stout, but here it’s much lighter, obviously by seeing the color of the beer. The real danger of this beer is not in its strength but the friendly taste from all components pitching in. I found a 12-er of this at a good price and they were just so easy to enjoy that i lost track and the next day i really felt as though i had been harpooned.

But i saved one to eat later in a more reflective frame of mind, ergo this review, a couple weeks later, it’s been sitting lonely in the fridge since its 11 bretheren had their way with my head. To sum, a very easy beer to drink, good flavor and at 42 IBU’s it’s not going to make your gf whine. The orangey flavor from the hops is more flower than rind, and that lets some of the malt sweetness through.

I like it. Not a serious IPA where you have to keep track of all the hop notes and contemplate the brewmaster’s expressionist milieu in light of his contemporary peers. Just a nice bright beer to drink. It rates a 8.2 if i ever met one. At the end of the glass, aha, there it is: the pine trace of hops… but it only comes through in the burps.

Founders Mosaic Promise

Founders Mosaic Promise

From the makers of the passable All Day IPA and the superb Centennial IPA, here’s another ale, this time a single-hop single-malt brew, the name a mashup betwixt the twain: Mosaic hops and Golden Promise malt. Label says they appreciate simplicity, and that’s sometimes sucky but most of the time a decent idea, as long as it can be pulled off with skill.

Cloudy with specks suspended, normally a good sign, this light colored beer clocks in at 50 IBU’s and 5.5% alk, and there’s only the one hop but it’s a doozy, the smell alone is strong enough to affirm that 50 IBU rating. And upon a sip, it’s a puckery punch to the twisted kisser, Mosaic hops are apparently the lemony ones. And the Founders people used a lot of them.

Another one like my beloved Bonobo Session IPA in one respect: if you told me this was a shandy, i might believe you. Low on the sweetness to be a real faux shandy, but it’s got the lemon essence pouring out its pores. No kidding, this is a tart and i don’t mean the easiest floozy at closing time.

As such, the hops overshadow the beer body inside this bottle. I really can’t tell you what Golden Promise malted barley is like, because my tongue has shrunk in reaction. Hey Founders, are you sure this is only 50 IBU’s? So no grapefruit, no florals or pine, it’s just lemon. A pity because i had my eye on a six of this for a while, but a stroke of luck because at another store there were 3 bottles of this in the bargain bin for a buck each. Glad i didn’t get a sixer for $11, got a half-six (otherwise known as three) for $3.

In this case, very happy to finally try this inexpensively, even if it’s not for me. It is tasty, and there are plenty of hot days left in the final two weeks of official Summer, and a couple bottles of highly lemonned beer will be welcome. As a beer, in the sight of its peers, this can only get a 5.3 rating, but when used for a certain purpose, i.e. to refresh after a sweaty day’s work, those other two bottles will be very appreciated.


OK, two years after i wrote the above review, and you can disregard about half of it. This beer is like the old-time version of the Sweet-Tarts candy, only it’s liquid and tastes like beer and it’s got alcohol.

Today is exactly 2 years and 2 months after doing my first taste of Mosaic Promise, and it has become my go-to beer. It’s just amazingly delicious and cheap enough to support the addiction. Comes in a 15-pack of cans nowadays for $17, so $19.10 with tax and deposit. I know that number by heart now, because i buy this stuff whenever i see it.

Founders doesn’t make it all year round. Last year i held onto a fifteener of this for the lean months, and scouted out a low-volume store where two sixers of this in bottles were gathering dust on the shelf. As my backup supply, you know. In March someone bought one of them, so i scooped up the last six-pack.

Was down to only a couple Mosaic Promises left, when in August, fresh fifteeners of cans started hitting the stores. Hooray! My stashed ones were a little punchy from an unrecommended ageing in my pantry, but i was glad to retire them.

Here’s how much i like this beer: earlier this week i bought the last one of a local store, then the next day i scouted out another store, and sure enough they’ve got Mosaic Promise on the shelf. And i even counted how many 15-packs they have (17) so i can keep track and save some money up, to acquire a good portion of that store’s strategic reserves of Mosaic Promise.

I’m not kidding. The only other beer i invest into as a stock-up is Genesee’s Bock, on sale from Christmas until it runs out, usually in early March, and i run out in June or July. Ooops that’s not true, i also buy a case of 3 Heads Giant Panda Dub Style IPA twice a year, and drink one a week. So Mosiac Promise is the third beer i stock up on, but still, that’s saying something.

The bright citrus of the hops, the sweet malt of an uncompleted fermentation. For the price, about $1.25 a beer, this is the perfect balance of value and quality.

Two years ago, MP’s fizzed up as soon as the bottle was opened, and that’s the incomplete fermentation continuing inside the bottle. Means that they were over 5.5% alc by that point, so lucky me.

Today’s MP has less floaty specks, and it doesn’t fizz over when it’s in a can. So they’ve refined the process here. Alas for that, but the taste is still spot-on from the original crop of 2016. Because i did not appreciate what i had, my original review pegged MP at 5.3 rating. Now, i see that’s preposterous.

I love this beer, and i seek it out, and i hoard it. A more proper rating today would be closer to 8.3

Shiner Bock

Shiner's Bock
Shiner’s Bock

The bock beer that made Shiner, Texas famou… err, well, there’s a nice goat on the label as all bock beers should have. Only this one is NOT a goat. It’s a bighorn ram, which is a sheep. Cripes, leave it to Texas. “It’s got four legs and horns, and golly the critter’s got the word ‘big’ right in the name! Yee Hawww!”

In any case, it’s a bock beer and i love bocks, goat or no goat. Great caramelly color up there near porterland, rich and extra beery aroma, and we have light bubbling. Label calls this 1913 recipe “lightly hopped” but i’d say it’s normally hopped. No mention of the alcohol content, but they do call this an “ale” and in Texas that matters, for taxation purposes.

The taste is very, very nice. The slight sweet of under-fermented malt-sludge, mixed with the sour of the sludge itself, add in some hops and you’ve got a shiner, and i don’t mean someone knocked you on the cheekbone. Carbonation is higher than it looked from the outside of the glass, and i’m all in favor of that, after some nasty flat beer yesterday.

This is a really good bock, better than Genesee’s, which is my staple bock. Still not as complex and hip-deep of flavor like a doppelbock, but this one is knee-deep in goodness. I could drink this a lot… if it was cheap. Very smooth and polished, which is not always the case with a bock beer, but i suppose they’ve had 107 years to get it right, minus some dry years back in the 1920’s.

I’d give this a solid and respectable 8.6 rating.

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA

Ballast Point's - Sculpin IPA
Ballast Point – Sculpin IPA

At last, it’s time for the highly anticipated Sculpin. One ugly damned fish on the label, i think if i caught one i’d just lash my pole up and down on the deck until that nasty thing fell off the hook. Then i’d kick the squishy remains overboard. But the IPA named for the thing comes highly recommended. When i went looking for an answer to what a “session” IPA is, the Goog threw me to a website with small useful articles about all kinds of beer terms. And there, a short list of IPA’s, the ones that writer thought were top-notch.

Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA was on that list. So here is me, with a sculpin in my glass, at long last. Damned expensive, $15 for a six-pack, so had to wait until i found one on a pick-a-six rack. COlor is a shade dimmer than golden, and the noseful of grapefruit in the glass portends well here. There’s bubbles, nozzled out of nowhere at a few points inside the glass, so we know it’s carbonated, which will be a nice change from those Uinta beers.

And a sip o’ sculp… ooo, that’s nice. Creamy, hoppy, balanced beer body is not overwhelmed. A smidge of piney hops, taste is less fruity than the smell was, and the fruit notes are a little more sweet than tart. At 7.0% alk, this is not a minnow, but not a whale either. That sweetness makes the hops more floral than zesty, and make no mistake, the hops are center stage. The beer body lurks in the wake, not obliterated but not jumping out in front of the bowsprit.

This one has the “balance.” Body just sturdy enough to support hi-hopping, alcohol is just high enough to keep volatile oils squeezed from the hops in solution. Near the end of the glass, the hops turn more piney and the body peeks out a touch more. Not a Top Fiver, but a very concentrated attempt at making a great IPA. Easy to drink despite 7.0% and the flavors don’t overwhelm the experience. Mighty fine beer, better than BP’s Big Eye IPA, i’ll give this a respectable 8.5 for high hops and good balance.

Bells 2 Hearted Ale

Bells 2 Hearted Ale
Bells’s 2 Hearted Ale

This had damn well better be good. Went looking for what a “session” beer is (this is not one), and found some other reviews, and they raved and drooled all on, about Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. Around here it was a couple bucks off on sale last month, but i didn’t take the bait. I paid full price for a sixer of this, $10.99, so it had durn better be great.

Color is deeper than pale but not getting into amberland, heavy head and even effervescing. No mention what kind of hops, just that they “stuffed” them in, and it says “Ale” on the front but on the back label they call this an “IPA style” beer. Good enough for me. 7.0% alk so it’s far from sessionistic, and the smell is all good: orange blossoms, ferns and pine forest.

So far, such good. The taste.. oh my. This has got the creamy flavor of the top IPA’s like Full Sail and Smuttynose, and that explains how the nasal appreciation nearly reminded me of a creamsicle. But it’s not a creamsicle, it’s a beer, and it’s really good.

This will take a while, a couple pints at least to consider the ramifications here. #5 on my Top Five IPA’s is Sam A’s 48º Latitude rated at 9.1 but this may be the fish who knocks Sam off. A Michigan product, and you know that’s where all the Germans and Poles settled in the USA, and somehow the brewing know-how of the old Country survived some depressions and a prohibition.

Oooh, this has the hops that turn into other things in your mouth. You ever had those squishy semi-circle lime candies, back in the days before gummi things were invented? They came in lemon, orange, and lime, and a red one which i’m not sure what it was supposed to be. They were the gummis of 2 generations ago. The hop side of this beer has the taste of those lime-wedge candies, minus the crust of sugar of course.

Oooof, nice sweetness to the beer body, and just balanced enough to not be sweet but tart-sweet in the final taste. But no escaping it: this is a sweeter IPA than most. Creamy, sweet, citrus… no wonder “creamsicle” sprung to mind. These Michiganders have got the right idea, except for the sweetness. I know that’s what the typical American palate leans toward, but in this case it’s a touch overdone.

So no, this one will not displace Sam Adams from the Top Five. It’s a very, very good IPA, the beer body has that astringent quality that makes German beer the best in the world, even before it gets the overlay of hops. I prefer heavier body, in beer if not in ladies, and this one is medium-heavy but extremely well done for its size. You can really tell that this is all barley, a “real beer” made the way that Opa Krauss made it in the root cellar a hundred years ago. It even got a burp out of me 1/3 the way through the second pint.

My pint is an 18-oz lager-style glass, heavy glass to hold its pre-chilling, and 18 so that you get a full pint after accounting for head. For this beer, i needed those extra two fl-oz’s because the head is so luxuriant. More evidence that this is a competently made beer from head to toe. It’s really hard to identify the taste that makes German beers the best. The closest i can come is comparing the almost tinny back-mouth taste to the dust that gathers on cuckoo clocks. Honestly, that’s the best i can do. It’s like the dry side of the pillow on a hot night. It’s like a heated icepick. It’s like the final few days of the Sahara Forest. I told you, the dusty cuckoo was the best i could do.

Well, this beer is about 60% of the way towards real German beer. And that’s a helluva lot further along than most American beers, crafty or uncrafty. At heart, that is the greatest compliment i can bestow on a beer: “it’s closer to German than most.” So very enjoyable, a treat to taste, but the sweetness is a subtraction here. I don’t have the most typical American palate, sue me or don’t.

Suspect that the sweetness is from a faster fermentation run, leaving some grain sugars uneaten by the yeast army. This is probably on purpose, because Michigan is in America. But i taste everything else in this beer, and more than “yum” i say “what if?” What if they ran the yeasts into their microscopic graves, and ate up half of the residual sugars which they now bottle? What if Bell’s Brewery made a Three Hearted Ale? Of course it would be stronger alk, but with the hops and malts they’ve got going, this contestant might be the first American brewery to duplicate real German beer.

Ah, what if. Meantime, Two Hearted Ale is pretty good. Could be better but would it be as popular if they made it better? Dunno, but do know that i’d rate this as 8.7 for good beer and balanced hops, with deductions for sweetness.

New Belgium Ranger IPA

New Belgium's Ranger IPA
New Belgium’s Ranger IPA

These New Belgium beers started showing up in force, massive force, in local stores early in 2016. Apparently there is a well-funded marketing campaign going on here, but i have held back for two reasons: first, NB prices are damned high. Second, the label says they’re made in Colorado and North Carolina, which immediately makes me think that New Belgium is a schill for the Coors Empire, and thus not a “craft” beer at all. Weird that they hit the shelves with conspicuous display space devoted on day-1, with a half-dozen varieties all at once.

OK… i stand entirely corrected and blushingly sheepish. Wiki tells me that NB is not only independent, but employee-owned by the nearly 600 people who work there. They’re just a huge indy: the 8th largest brewery in the US. Wow, well done, fat tire guys and girls! The location in NorCaro is an expansion, not a shadow arm of a megabrewery. But the prices, once the stuff gets here, are still quite high.

But i did find a pack-your-own display which has the NB IPA, so couldn’t pass up a chance to try just one bottle of the IPA, then since i’m getting good at tasting IPA’s, if this one pans out then maybe i’d try the other 7 flavors New Belgium has out.

According to the label they use Simcoe, Chinook and Cascade hops, and after this many IPA’s, i’m starting to get an inkling that Cascade is the one which matches my tastes the best. And on the label there’s a best-by date which is in a font so small that it is a moot point. Mostly, the label says 6.5% alk inside.

Color is not so pale, a tad past golden, and the smell holds up a flag of hops as a welcome/warning, depending on your inclination. The color doesn’t lie here, and there is a decent beer body underpinning everything. But it’s not so burly as to deter the hops from taking and shaking your tongue. Said of which, the combo of hops plays nicely together, and the strength is solid puckerboi.

It’s a little bit sweet too, which really helps the multihopping reach out into new flavors. I taste peach and some kind of berry, and celery, oddly enough. The after-aftertaste is almost tomato. On the beer side, it nearly tastes like rye, because of all the odd things the hops are doing with that bit-o-honey sweetness. Towards the end of the glass, it gathers the creamy element which so many top IPA’s have. Why couldn’t that aspect jump out at first? Perhaps that’s why my Top Five are who they are?

Applause to NB for going all renewablish at their brewery, they even catch escaping methane from the process and use that for more green energy. They’re spreading the love even to the grunts in Shipping, and growing fast. If the stuff wasn’t expensive, i’d buy it just to support what that company’s doing. Or if i was rich, i’d buy more.

Wrap it up, this is a high level IPA. It won’t break into the Five because the balance between beer and hops is a touch off, but let’s call it 8.8 for Effort. It does a good enough job that i’m open to trying their Fat Tire Amber, but naturally that’ll be a bottle or two from the pick-a-six rack, since i’m not rich.

Three Heads The Kind IPA

Three Heads The Kind IPA
Three Heads’ The Kind IPA

Bringing joy to the world one sip at a time, that’s the slogan, and the ohmm-krishna-ohmmm hippie on the label is just the guy to do it. A microbrew which only recently earned enough money to get a little more macro, Three Heads was having their beers made by CB Craftbrewers (again, again, redundant) but the 3 guys just opened up their own little shop. Cheers to them, and here’s my first taste of their efforts.

The Kind is a rampant 76 IBU’s in a 6.8% alk beer, not much more info on the label or carton. But first things first. Apparently, 3H’s new brewery employs a Titan, who seals the bottle caps with such vigor that only the gods may open them. I managed, with difficulty, and now feel like Prometheus, having stolen beer from Olympus.

You can smell and taste all Seventy Six of those International Bitterness Units, and the fermentation was thorough enough to leave no sweetness behind in the beer. What you do get is a creamy frothy feel in the mouth, no i’m not reviewing a porno here, and a healthy, very hale, back-of-mouth bitterness which really satisfies on an August day.

No idea which hop varietals they used, but it was done well. The hops are hard and heavy, but the body of the beer is solid enough to carry them. A very pale color to the pint, so they didn’t go all caramelly to bear the hops over the mountain, and like i said, there’s no sweetness to this, so the fermentation was run to the bitter end. Which, in an IPA, means the yummy end.

At 6.8% alcohol, can’t call this a Summer beer, their jilted buddies at CB still hold that title with the masterpiece Bonobo Session IPA. But this is finely brewed and massively hopped. No qualms about giving this an 8.2 rating. They also make a double IPA, called “Too Kind”, and now i’m eager to try that too. Oh, and there’s even a third one, “Tres Kind” which is a triple IPA, ooof. Stay tuned for that here someday.

Troegs Perpetual IPA

Troegs Perpetual IPA
Troegs Perpetual IPA

A happy acccident that the local grocer advertised all Ballast Point beers at $7.99 per six on the weekly flyer, but in-store they’re all priced at $13.99, which is a little different. I think that’s not simply a not-sale, but an actual anti-sale, a surcharge for this week only. So they can go screw a sculpin. But the Troegs stuff is on sale for $10 per 6, which is indeed a healthy discount.

This and the Troegs’es Double Bock “Troegenator” are the ones i’ve wanted to try, but the price always put me off. Now this is an IPA, we can tell that by the 85 IBU’s, and the 6 (count ’em) six hop varieties listed on the carton. But with a nod to linguistic sanity, they don’t call it an India Pale Ale, but an Imperial P.A. The “Perpetual” part is their continuous hopping tank which shoulders more hops in between the hops which are already there.

The taste tells it, this has got the hops like a steroidal rabbit with a fox’s nose in its ass. Wow, has this got the hops. Arby’s has the meats, and this has the hops. Me kine like, brah.

It’s pale as all get-out, the carton calls it “straw” but the normal price of Troegs beers would lead you to think “gold” in more than one way. On sale, however, this is a keystone purchase for anyone wishing to complete their hop-u-cation. Like i said, the color is pale like a princess of Winterfell, but somehow the body is solid beer. No idea how they did that. Very clear ale, continuous effervescing going on, but it’s got a hearty lip-smacking beer taste to it, underneath that full kevlar jacket of hops.

A little sweet, a little sour, a lotta bitter and very drinkable, despite the somber weight of 7.5% alcohol. The carbonation makes all the difference on the drinkability meter for this brewery product. Kicks a few different asses, but will still have to deduct some tenths from the rating, because 7.5% alk means it’s not a kickin’ back beer, it’s something where you have to keep an eye on yourself.

From the high price of Troegs beers, suspected this might be good, and that turns out true. Their 12-packs are well over the $20 range so this is not something we can afford to quaff until the end of the world, but will definitely be back to that grocer before week’s end to pick up six handheld beverage dispensers of that coveted Troegenator.

This Perpetual IPA rates a non-skeptical 8.7 and would be higher but after one of my 18-oz glassfuls, i can feel a little swimmy in the nodder, with another four beers still unopened. Yipes, pace yourself, young lad, pace it out! At this point, i might even screw a sculpin, and that’s not healthy thoughts.

Ballantine IPA

Ballantine IPA
Ballantine’s IPA

According to the label, the oldest IPA in America. Hmmm, if they say so, then OK. I knew it as Ballantine Ale, and suspect that when IPA’s got stupid popular, they changed the label to reflect the same ale they’ve always been making, just so people know that it’s really an IPA. Maybe. At any rate, this is my first foray into a Minnesotan IPA, from Cold Springs and honestly, if you’re in Minnesota then is there actually any other type of springs? I think they’re all cold.

At any rate, a nice amber color and good floral/snappy noseful of aroma. The darker-than-pale color bodes well for me, since i pick a hearty IPL over an IPA most days. With a sip, sure enough, this has got an excellent meaty body and the hops are pretty good too. Label says it’s got 70 IBU’s, so there’s that in the bottle, and a nearly-beware 7.2% alk, whoot.

I remember Ballantine from the 70’s and 80’s, usually seen in a quart bottle, but haven’t seen it for years. Tried it once back then, but don’t remember anything other than it was expensive, at least compared to Stroh’s and Bud. But heck, today most drinkable beers make Heineken and Corona look like cheapies, and they are! Never thought the day would come when Heinies are the bargain beer. Brave new world.

The taste here is darn good, a grain of salt because i’m pretty thirsty today and this is my first beer of the evening. Mmmm, can really taste the malts in this one, even though they’re swimming in a blasting 70 IBU pool. But it’s the deep end of a real pool, no kiddy pool here. There are finer IPA’s out there, this one has a slight gritty feel to the mouth, but still an excellent beer.

I don’t recall Ballantine being this hoppy from years back, perhaps they’ve redone the recipe to account for modern mania? As it comes out of the bottle now, have to give it an upstanding 8.4 rating. Very hopped and the heaviness that i like in a not-so pale ale. Yum.

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.