Friday, August 31, 2012

The Sublime And The Outrageous

I recently had Russian River's Hill 2 Row 56 pale ale.  It is Russian River's tribute to its Washington State hop farmers, and is only brewed with Simcoe hops from select farmers in the Yakima Valley.  In an era when brewers constantly one-up each other with ever bigger IPAs, double IPAs and triple IPAs, the lowly pale ale gets lost as an anachronistic reminder of the early craft beer movement.   I'm as guilty as anyone  - probably more guilty - of falling for the "bigger is better" fad beer of the moment.  I routinely dismiss pale ales based a groundless assumption that they'll be thin and boring, and I  instead look for what I think is a bolder or more interesting beer.

But sometimes I wise-up and buy a beer like Hill 2 Row 56, and am reminded of the brilliance of a well made pale ale.   Row 2 is sublime.  It's brewed with only Simcoe hops, which gives the beer a sharp citrus flavor.  The hop bitterness is matched by the malts to bring a wonderful balance and drinkability to the beer.   I was amazed at its complexity, and by its compelling, robust flavor that kept Row 2 interesting from start to finish.  Row 2 is not only a tribute to Russian River's hop farming suppliers, it's a tribute to the craft of brewing.

The Lips of Faith series Super IPA collaboration beer from Alpine Beer Company and New Belgium is just that, a monster double IPA.  Your taste buds are immediately smashed with a fusillade of hop bitterness, which doesn't relent.  The hop flavor is pure, dripping pine.  The malts are ramped up necessarily to compete with and balance the hops.  The beer has a mouth coating, sweetness that flirts with, but never becomes cloying.  Super's ABV is listed at 9%, which is big, but it tastes and drinks bigger.  I'd put it along the lines of an Avery Maharaja or other double IPAs with ABVs greater than 10%.   Hop heads won't be disappointed with Super IPA, it hits all the double IPA hot spots, and is a textbook example of the aggressive end of the style.  Ultimately, I found Super IPA boring, despite its bold flavor.  It was hoppy and bitter, yes, actually super hoppy and super bitter, it just wasn't anything we haven't had before, as any depth was drowned in hop resin.  

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