This past weekend I had the pleasure of drinking Rogue Ale’s IPA, which is an excellent example of a west-coast IPA made on the actual west-coast … go figure, they actually make IPAs on the west-coast. When the beer came to the table, one of my very good friends remarked that it looked “hoppy.” While I could be wrong, I don’t actually think you can judge much in the way of serious hops by the colour; however, it did raise a curious question in my mind about what should an IPA “properly” look like? I would agree with my friend that Rogue’s IPA was the right colour … a deep, dark amber that looks warm even while condensation drips down the glass. There a number of very IPAs I’ve reviewed here that have that same tell-tale colour like Boneshaker and Smashbomb Atomic.
I say this because tonight I poured another west-coast IPA also from the west-coast … or Victoria, BC, more precisely. In terms of appearance, it is anything about an “IPA” in colour. It’s slightly cloudy honey hues would actually suggest a blonde ale.
A first waft of it’s aroma reveals pine and citrus plus a bit of malt and yeast … and, apart from the yeast, all are tell-tale signatures of a west-coast IPA. And, indeed, a first taste confirms the same pine resins and crisp citrus zing. Really, all things considered, the first taste is pretty good and confirms it’s an IPA … with plenty of hops. That “zing” is indeed the hops already at work … or so you would think. The truth is actually a bit more complex. The hops are definitely there, but what bolsters them and this impertinently coloured IPA to “goodness” is the heavy microcarbonation that sits under it. It is this fizz on the tongue that propels the bitters further back and gives the beer an illusion of being bigger and bolder than it really is. Underneath these bubbles is a pretty watery mid-level taste with decent hops to finish … and apart from that bit of pine and citrus at the very top of the taste, there is nothing much more.
My guess is that many beer drinkers are going to be confused by this beer thinking it hoppy but missing something; some may blame the hops or even the water. I think both are well done, actually. And, impressively, there is very little of that residual tannic astringency that ruins so many good attempts. Where the beer fails, in my opinion, is in the malts … and the fundamental lack of depth that a more traditional and darker malt brings. That is why this beer “does not look like an IPA.” And that is why it sort of fails as an IPA as well. Those malts not only bring colour, they also bring a complexity of flavours and a bit of sweetness that would, ever so lightly, create balance and a perfect IPA.
Instead, what Phillips has done is created a kind of “naked IPA” by removing the malts and leaving the hops to stand on their own. While this may leave a “hop flavour that is out of the world,” as described on the bottle, hyperbole aside, that’s about all there is. Don’t get me wrong, the carbonation saves it from being downright ‘bad’ – but what remains is a mediocre IPA and one that would rather have me lick the rust off a flagpole, or, better yet, choose a different IPA than buy this again. It’s not a bad beer but it is not good enough to recommend.
Stats: American IPA. 6.5% ABV. Victoria, British Columbia.
Colour: Honey gold, unfiltered (fermented on lees?).
Mouth Feel: Fine but very full carbonation with a medium-bodied taste and watery finish.
Pairing Notes: N/A