The last time I was brewing up a batch of homebrew, my neighbor Arthur crossed the street and invited me to an IPA tasting at his place. I was in the middle of sanitizing something or prepping the yeast so I was a bit distracted but said, “Hell yeah I’d be down to taste through a dozen or so IPAs.”
The day of the tasting I made a stop at Whole Foods, which has the best beer selection in Napa and picked up some cured sausage, marinated olives and checked with the cheese guys for what pairs well with IPA. Provisions in hand, I then headed over to the beer section and quizzed the beer guy on what IPAs he had just stocked in the hopes I could find a few that Arthur wouldn’t have when he collected his beers for the tasting. I chose the Stone Japanese Green Tea IPA and the Pirrat Tripple Dry Hop. The Pirrat was a new one and looked like an attempt by the Belgian brewery to tap in on the success of hoppy American beers. I thought the beers would be unique and complement the line up.
When I showed up at 5:40, the tasting was already getting started and the crowd was perking up their palates with a bottle of Deschutes’s Chasin’ Freshies IPA. Arthur put a print out of the line up in my hands I was pretty impressed. He seemed to appreciate my additions and said he’d mix them into the night’s festivities. The tasting was segmented into three flights, the first would be served with appetizers then we’d pause for dinner before moving onto the second. The third flight would be preceded by dessert.
Arthur had given each flight its own name, the meaning of which he kept to himself. All the beers came from California or Oregon, except the one Belgian I brought with me.
Flight One: Dreaming in Real Time
1. IPA, Tap it Brewing, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
2. Alpha Centauri Binary IPA, Hopvalley Brewing, Eugene, Ore.
3. Hop Stoopid, Lagunitas Brewing, Petaluma, Calif.
4. Widowmaker, Fall River Brewing, Redding, Calif.
5. Enjoy by Dec. 26, 2014 IPA, Stone Brewing, Escondido, Calif.
6. Japanese Green Tea IPA, Stone Brewing
Flight Two: Stars Come Out, While Winds Whisper
7. Frankenlou IPA, Seven Brides, Silverton, Ore.
8. Talon Double IPA, Mendocino Brewing, Ukiah, Calif.
9. Beer Camp West Coast Double IPA, Sierra Nevada, Chico, Calif.
10. Volcanic Double IPA, Lassen Ale Works, Susanville, Calif.
11. Green Bullet Triple IPA, Green Flash, San Diego, Calif.
12. Hopsicle, Moylans Novato, Calif.
Flight Three: Swaying Trees and Icy Waters
13. Pirrat Tripple Dry Hopped
14. Evil Cousin Double IPA, Heretic Brewing, Fairfield, Calif.
15. Hopageddon Imperial IPA, NapaSmith, Napa, Calif.
16. Sasquatch Double IPA, Six Rivers Brewery McKinleyville, Calif.
17. Hophash, Cauldera, Ashland, Ore.
18. Hop Henge, IPA, Deschutes Brewery, Bend Ore.
19. Hophead, Bend Brewing, Bend Ore.
20. Black IPA, Stone Brewing
21. Double IPA, BoatSwain Brewing, Concord, Calif.
We tasted through each, taking notes and making comments as we went through. The group of about 15 people shared one 22-ounce bottle, making for about 1 to 2 ounce tastes for each. The evening definitely grew more convivial over time, but did not get out of hand.
The best three beers from each flight as picked by the group, plus my notes.
Flight One: Widowmaker: Layered hop aromas marked by citrus and pine with a well-integrated malt body that finished with a slight caramel sweetness.
Flight Two: Green Bullet: Exceptionally balanced, a big beer that manages to stay light and refreshing.
Flight Three: Hop Henge: High toned citrus notes followed by a relatively light body with a refreshing finish.
Best of Show: Widowmaker. This beer is one of the best big IPAs I’ve had in a long time. I’d never heard of the brewery until the tasting and unfortunately it’s a pretty small operation with limited distribution.
Now, the worst of the evening.
Third Worst: Greet Tea IPA, this may not be that fair because this is such a unique beer, but it didn’t have much appeal beyond the first taste that’s redolent of green tea. As one in the group said, it made him think of what it would be like to lick the blades of his lawnmower.
Second Worst: Volcanic Double IPA, just a mess of sickly sweet malt and out of control hops that didn’t mesh well at all. A prime example of big IPAs gone bad and the type of beer that is giving the style a bad reputation.
Worst of Show: Sasquatch Double IPA, universally panned as the single worst beer of the night and one of the worst beers I’ve had in years. I remarked the funky, dirt and dank flavors reminded me of the taste you get in your mouth when you pass out by the campfire on a drunken camping trip.
Despite the unwelcome appearance of a few stinkers, the evening on the whole provided excellent beers, lively conversation and a wonderful opportunity to taste through one of my favorite beer styles.