Three Heads Giant Panda Dub Style IPA

Three Heads Giant Panda Dub Style IPA

Billed as a “dub style” IPA on the label, and i have no idea what that entails, but this brew is an homage to a dub/reggae band, the Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad. Thus, the gigantic panda bear on the label climbing a skyscraper, snarling at you while ready to toss a 3-Heads Brewery delivery truck at you… all while the pterodactyls circle in the sky. I don’t know, must be a ref to a jamband song.

Comes in a 25 ounce bottle, a special collectors edition one surmises, and fairly pricey at $6.50. But also notable for the stats on the label: 85 IBU’s and 8.7% alk in this, which is not even billed as a “double IPA” nor even “imperial”. It’s nothing special, just strong like bull. Or like panda, if you prefer. More usual, this is found in the 16 oz pounder can with a much more contemplative panda on the label. I can’t believe i don’t have a picture of the pounder can. I mean, i’ve been through like four cases of those, even though it’s about $75 a case.

Color is only one shade darker than pale, a rich gold and plenty cloudy so we have some weight to the glass. Smells lightly of florals and citrus-type pine. Leaves a thick insistent foam on the sides, so we know there’s body to spare here.

As for drinking this bear, it’s mighty nice. Smooth, a good carbonation which so many beers eschew nowadays, hefty beer body which doesn’t wilt under the stepping power of those wicked 85 IBU’s. And the IBU’s are all there, i can tell you. Strong fruity hops, lightly piney, and since the body is strong enough to carry them, the hops have leisure time to dabble in stone fruit flavors like apricot and plum. The aftertaste is nice, and even leaves an after-after taste, which is piney enough to be a cousin of menthol.

With some gone from my usual 20-oz glass, there’s room to jab the nose in deeper. Oddly, the citrus aromas are stronger than the citrus tastes. The beer body is meaty, wheaty, and beatyer sweetie. Goddamn, but they use some healthy barley in this one. As the glass gets lower, and this is not the 8.7% talking here, but this is a masterpiece IPA.

Three Heads’s standard IPA, “The Kind,” is pretty good. I gave it an 8.2 a couple months ago. Still have to try their double-IPA “Too Kind,” and in fact i have a bottle of that chilling in the fridge awaiting review. But now, i’m a combination of wary and eager. Too Kind might be a let-down, after the intensely pleasurable surprise of the Giant Panda.

One thing is for certain: i will have to see if i can negotiate a deal on a case of these Giant Panda 25-ouncers somewhere, before they sell out, and lay them down for special occasions. Obviously, at 8.7% two of these would knock me out for a day. But trotting one out at a gathering would be perfectly respectable.

Addendum from a later date: did not get a case of the 25-oz bottles, but this pops up in stores once or twice a year in the Pounder Panda cans, and have gotten full cases of those. For a long while, the highlight of my week was Panda Saturday. One 16-ounce dab of delight, once a week.

Now, about rating this bear. Normally, i would knock some off for wickedly high alcohol content. But this is no ordinary drunk bear. It hides the strong content skillfully with an expert malt body and hop-levels which are high but not ramapaging through the bamboo. However, at this point in the review process, i’m 23 ounces into this panda, and can definitely feel the bear in my brain. And i didn’t start on an empty stomach, so this is verified at 8.7% alk.

It’s lacking the faux cream of some finer Eastern IPA’s, but in that achievement track it’s only a half midge behind, maybe skim cream here. Highly recommended for any IPA liker, and a 9.6 rating seems in order, just tackle your panda with responsible caution.

And more addenda from later on… this is an exceptional IPA. The 9.6 rating put it into my Top Five as soon as it was reviewed, and it has stayed there. Did you know that 24 cans lasts for nearly half a year when you have one a week? I’ve been dosing on this stuff for years now, and still cherish it.

Sierra Nevada 2015 Estate IPA

Sierra Nevada’s 2015 Estate IPA

Well now that’s hi-falootin’ for beer, even craft beer. Here what we gots is a “homegrown” IPA, certified organic, and using hops and barley that the SN people grew out on the back forty. It’s even dated like a vintage, 2015 in this case, and they call it an “Estate Ale”, and it’s $9 for a 24-oz bottle. Folks, we are dangerously close to using words like “terroir” and “provenance” here.

But it comes from Sierra Nevada, and this brewery has consistently scored well in my tests, they own 2 of my Top Five IPA slots, and three of their ales scored at 9 or better here. So it’s an expensive IPA, but the pedigree is good, let’s take it for a spin.

Cloudy, always a good sign when filters are not allowed to rip half the flavors out of an IPA. Dark for an IPA, and that’s usually a good sign too, this is a true copper color so the malts were probably tortured to perfection. The smell is hopped delicately, and nearly a liquor smell.

A sip? Not bad, not bad, but this 6.7% alk IPA has got a little oddity to it. Wet hops and organic barley make sure that this is certainly a rheinheitsgebot-compliant beer, but there’s a bit of musty to it. The taste hints at those things i don’t like about Belgian beer: a dusty old taste, like this was worn a few times and hasn’t been washed.

The barley really shines through here, in other SN ales the hoppity flavors are wildly in control. Here, the hopping is modest and balanced, so the malts all taste toasty and carmelized. But it’s got that Belgian taste to it, like a mushroom grown in a shoe. Sweetness is high, likely due to well-roasted grains without hi-hops to hide behind.

So, no. I’m not a fan of the organic estate-grown pure and hipstery IPA in my hand today. It’s just got that Belgian taste, which is trendy now, but i simply never acquired that taste. This hit the local store a while or two ago, and i saved up for a bottle before they sold out. Glad i tried it, and because of the SN brand i know that if i never tried it, i would kick myself and forever wonder if i had missed the greatest IPA evah in tha wurld.

So i had to try. I tried and it’s not for me. C’est la vie. Rating: 4.3, sorry Sierra Nevada. It’s got that “white ale” taste to it, and if you ask me, which nobody ever does, it could use more hops.

Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA

Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo Extra IPA

Full speed ahead! The name of SN’s Torpedo Extra IPA comes not from submarine warfare, though that is cool stuff, but from a contraption they invented to suck the life out of unsuspecting hop cones. Apparently it looks something like a torpedo, so there you have it.

Already legendary is their hoppy Pale Ale, a standard in the lore of craft beer from before we called it “craft” and a case can be made that SN Pale Ale and Samuel Adams Boston Lager are the twin pillars that today’s explosion of baby brewers is built upon. So they figgered out a way to make it even hoppier, and the Torpedo is the result.

Now, just imagine, if they could put the torpedo on wheels and bring it to where the hops grow? And they did imagine that, and the result is the winner of the Hoppier Than Thou Crown: SN’s Hop Hunter IPA. So this beer has some serious cousins, and a bit of pedigree to live up to.

It does the clan proud. The color is spot-on pale, the noseful is the trademark SN orange-blossom hops, and this beer is very eager. I mean it’s leaping out of the can before you get a chance to pour. Of a 12er of Torpedoes, 5 of them fizzed out the canhole and most of the others threatened to. This is fizzy stuff. I’ve had this before in the single 16-oz cans, and don’t remember them gushing like that.

The taste is just where you’d expect it to be, where i want it to be. Hoppier than the iconic Pale Ale, not as alumic as the stunning Hop Hunter, and as always there’s a very nice beer body underneath, tough enough to bear up the weight of hops, and malty enough to make this a beer worth drinking a dozen of. If you can. Dare you.

Truly, this is an outstanding beer. Hops are that normal citrus which SN has mastered, but here there’s a range of softer fruits and flowers which are not expressed in the Pale Ale and are battered into submission in the Hop Hunter. There’s almost a vanilla tone in the middle, there’s licorice minus the anise (use your imagination here), there’s skunktail and milkweed and a bitter that’s not just the zest or pulp of a lemon, but the bitter of a lemon seed, as anyone who’s been dull enough to bite one will attest.

At 7.2% alk this is not a casual hey-the-game’s-on beer but it is an exploration of the potential of hops as a spice. There is the matter of fizz, however. This bursts out of an unshaken can, and even with an unshaken belly it makes burps and even farts a-plenty. The labeling mentions that SN has a satellite facility in North Carolina, and since i’m on the Eastern portion of These United Things, i’ll assume that’s where this can was filled. I’ve had this one before in a 16-oz can and it wasn’t so uncontrollably carbonated, so i suspect that something’s off kilter at the NC plant.

To sum: the flavor and body are great but the behavior out of the Eastern Sierra Nevada brewery seems uneven. With the range of hop flavors here, the fizz is only a quibble, so we’re seeing the core recipe survive the cross-country trip intact. Bravo, that’s not always the case with expansion breweries. I’m going with a 9.3 rating here, and yes that shakes up the Top Five IPA’s. Dropped to the practice squad is Sam Adams’ 48º Latitude IPA, and now Sierra Nevada claims 2 of the Five Berths.

I think it’s time to pronounce Sierra Nevada as an IPA Dynasty. Three of their IPA’s cracked 9+ on my ratings, and there’s another one in the fridge awating my greedy gullet: a very expensive “estate IPA” which is “certified organic” whatever that means in beerworld.

Nuts For Drinks for IPA

“Pair For Perfection” is the urge on the packet, and i like IPA and i like peanuts, so let’s see how perfect this pairing is. Comes in a few varieties, this one is supposed to pair with IPA style beer, or “white spirits”. I can think of quite a few transparent liquors, and brownish liquors, but the only white spirit i can think of is fermented yak’s milk, but i’m not Mongolian, not planning a visit to Mongolia, and i don’t even own a yak, so IPA it is.

For this taste test, trying these nuts with Southern Tier Brewery’s 2X SMASH Double IPA, which smashes Special Pale malt with Mosaic hops into an 8.1% DIPA. The nutpack says they come crunchy coated with grapefruit and rosemary for the perfect match. Methodology is to take a swig of DIPA, then a handful of nuts, back and forth, until something explodes.

And here we go… and oh boy are these crunchy nuts. Chip-o-tooth crunchy. Can taste the rosemary right out of the gate, grapefruit is harder to pick up. Rosemary is great with mutton, but i’m not drinking lamb, i’m drinking beer. The contrast is not so perfect a pairing after all. Back and forth, the two are starting to blend together between swigs and crunches. And… No sir.

The beer helps to soften the unholy crunchiness of the nut coating, but other than that, the nuts only help to ruin the flavors which are the whole point of drinking an IPA laden with hops. Now, admittedly i got these nuts for 50¢ a packet on the past-date rack at a local grocer because they were evidently not hot sellers, so they might have been stale to begin with. But i really don’t taste much citrus in the crispy coating. And even if i did, what would be the point? I don’t carry coals to Newcastle, and i don’t stir pine resin into my IPA which is supposed to already have that taste from its own hops.

I could see the point of flavored snacks to remind you of drinking an IPA when you’re not drinking an IPA, for example, a snack to eat while drinking a crappy light beer that makes the crap beer taste like an IPA. That’s something that would be useful. But i have never seen an IPA that says on the label “brewed with rosemary” and right now i think there’s a damned good reason for that.

I did not finish the packet of nuts. I tossed the rest into the trash because i’d rather just taste the beer, that’s what i bought it for. And as mentioned, i do not have a lactating yak. Blech, i pronounce these peanuts not fit for human consumption.

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.

Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian IPA

Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch Belgian IPA

That dog has a fat vagina. Thanks of course to Ralph Steadman, the twisted gentleman who did the artwork for all of Flying Dog’s labels and cartons, and if you don’t know him by name, you know his art from various places and didn’t know who it was done by. Notably, Ralph did the illustrations for stories by Hunter S. Thompson, including Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Even more hilarious by “Gonzo” Thompson, if that’s even possible, is his tale of being sent to cover the Kentucky Derby one year, accompanied by a shy and timid young illustrator, who Thompson promptly drugged and corrupted the morals of… that was Ralph Steadman’s first trip to America, in more ways than one.

Now you know why he makes art like that.

On to the beer, but first about the carton which a sixer of these comes in: the funny stuff is on the bottom, make sure to empty the carton before checking it out. This one has an account of Flying Dog ringing up Steadman and asking him to make an illustration for this beer. Steadman: “It took you 20 years to give me a name like Raging Bitch.” Finally, if you’ve seen the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” then you’ll get a great laugh out of FD’s reason to recycle the bottles and carton. That’s right, Zuzu, that’s right.

The beer itself, i don’t much like it. The color is great, a deep mellow orangey amber. The smell is great, smells like plenty o’ hops here. The trouble is with Belgium. By now you know that i don’t like Belgian beer, and this is a “Belgian Style IPA”. The concept is ridiculous on the face of it, and inside the glass, the non-Belgian parts of this beer are good. The body is heavy and lip-smacky, the hops are indeed floral and fruity.

But to me, Belgian beers taste like dust. Really, like you picked something up that’s covered with dust and licked it. It’s a musty corrupt taste, like that grayish-blackish stuff in the corner of your basement that you’re not sure if it’s a mold or a fungus and aren’t sure you want to know. Well, that’s what Belgium tastes like to me, and it’s what wipes this beer out.

The alk content is a thrilling 8.3% and that has it’s uses, like just before bedtime, but why not just call up the Makumba for that, which is tastier and higher alk, and a Double IPA with no bits of Belgium in it at all.

So the tale of the Raging Bitch is great beer potential, yet brought down by the sinister influence of Belgium. Truly, without the Belgian element this beer would be highly rated. But with the musty rotting-mushroom taste which apparently drives them wild in Bruges, all i can do is rate this one at a humble 4.4

Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA

Flying Dog’s Snake Dog IPA

A hissy bark? A whiny slither? What sound does the snakedog make? I think the Flying Dog brewers just tried to come up with the weirdest things from the bottom edge of their minds, just to see what illustration Ralph Steadman would come up with. And this one’s a doozy, comes with a poem too, best not repeated here where there might be kids reading.

The beer itself? An IPA of serious weight at 7.1% alk, color on the dark side of golden and the aroma of wheaty fruits. A sip tells it true: the malts are heavy here, and now i know why they smelled a little wheaty. This IPA lets the malts slide through the jungle of hops, by keeping the hops on the low side of face-punching.

Hops are still there of course, this being a real IPA, and they’re fully functional even if light: a bit of fruitiness but less sharp than citrus, bitter without being too piney, this is more of a spice bitter than an ascorbic bitter. But they’re lighter than many IPA’s and this lets a very full malt taste out of the cage.

Sweet, bright, grainy, with that unfruity bitter. An interesting brew fo shoo, dogg. Bought the full sixer of this for the Steadman art, think i may want to collect ’em all, but not sure if i’ll buy this beer again. The sturdy beer body is nice, but i do prefer something a little wilder on the hop side of the equation. A steady 7.1 rating here, up for competent brewing but down for the lower hops.

Dundee Pale Ale

Dundee’s Pale Ale

As with most Dundee beers, this one has a cartoon character. In this case it’s a buttoned-down British frog holding a pint. Of course it’s a frog so it naturally looks drunk, but we don’t know how strong this pint is. No info on the Dundee bottles, other than the peppy caption “Enjoyably Hoppy”. And these are twist-off bottles, so combine that with TLI, and you get a feel for the level of hands-on brewmastering involved. But carry on,

The color is medium gold, or two shades lower, and a really refreshing smell to this one. The hops are giving it up for free here, a nasal snorfle rakes in some citrus, some pine and even some pepper. Notable and thus noting it here, since that level of aroma is unexpected from Dundee.

And the tasting goes just as well. The tag “enjoyably hoppy” is fully justified. Ohhh, yep i’m a dolt, now i get it: it’s a frog because it’s “hoppy”. OK, back to our regularly scheduled beer review…

The taste is not as hoppy as the smell, but a good beer body comes through all the more past the tamed hops. But what it is, a medium-hopped ale, is fine. The same knock here as with Dundee’s kolsch: this is sweet for a hopped beer. I seen that before, from more crafty brewers, and it generally counts against them. Here, when we expected mediocrity and instead find suitability, it’s a big plus.

Still too sweet for me to drink all the time, but this shows that Dundee has some understanding of hops. Applause for that, and a nudge in case they stumble over this note: cut half of the sweetness and you’ve got a pretty good beer. Spike it with more carbonation after that, and you’ve got a damned good beer.

So this is a pale ale that knows it better not call itself “India” and it’s fairly cheap. Good hop, good beer, make it less sweet and it’d rate higher, but for now it’s ranked a workmanlike 7.6 rating.

Dundee IPA

Dundee’s IPA

While the other Dundee offerings have cartoon mascots, this one’s is a model ship in a bottle, sitting on a book whose spine gives the title “S. S. Dundee”. And as usual, no info on the packaging other than a catchphrase: “Bold And Bitter”. Well, let’s just see about that.

Color is a darker shade of pale and a slowly drawn noseful picks out some hoppy characteristics in the aroma, not overpowering but not flat either. With a taste, there’s no surprise that this is $8.50 a twelve-pack. Beer body is flaccid and flabby with no exertion, not sure if this is all barley or if we have some rice let in through the back door.

There’s a bitter that’s not hops, it’s the beer body’s desperation at having to get out of bed and go to work again. The hops side of this IPA is not too bad, however. Not crazy hoppy, and there’s no fruit or floral dimensions, but it does do the job of drying out the weak ale.

Whatever that additive is, it tastes like it’s trying to give the hops a helping hand, but it’s got a somewhat leaden taste, like coal. Separate that from the true hop elements, and they’re not bad. But the complete taste profile is gritty rather than grand. As with all Dundee’s: this is a sweet beer. Good idea with the Honey Brown or the other ales, but with an India pale ale, sweetness is not a friend.

I just can’t recommend buying a lot of this, but you could probably drink two of them before the tar-like bitter taste becomes annoying. Price is good, but let’s just say that while there are some great bargains in IPA Land, the universal rule still does apply: you get what you pay for. This rates a 3.6 but then again, it would’ve been much lower if this sampler-12 had been a few dollars more dear.

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