I know a great beer when I smell one … and I definitely know one to taste it.
And, while a little tougher to discern, I often know one to see one.
Here’s a beer that teaches you your own beer senses if you care to try them out.
First off, you are going to smell this perfectly west-coast IPA as soon as those beautiful smokey tendrils drift from the bottle like some intoxicated genie. What will you smell? Tropical fruits – and by that I don’t mean Hawaiian punch. I mean mango, pineapple, and even some guava. Excited yet?
Welcome to the world of west-coast hops, so called because the region is the largest producer in North America and home to some distinct “American” varietals that give many beers, variations, and their ingredients their names. These hops might better be called “Pacific Northwest Hops” because the Yakima Valley, in the heart of Washington State, yields about 75% of the USA’s hop production. The main mountain range that runs along this valley also is synonymous with west-coast hops, and that is the Cascade range. There are some pretty famous mountains in that sister of the Rockies which includes Mt Rainier (which unfortunately gives its name to some mass-produced crap beer), Mt Hood (another hop varietal) and Mt St. Helens well-known for its eruption in the 80s. Yes, these are all volcanoes and part of the Pacific Rim of Fire, so hop-heads be warned: another major eruption would surely change what’s in your fridge.
Next, pour this beer named after the Yakima valley and let your eyes read the beer. You may on the one hand be surprised at the colour and on the other hand gasp at the sight of the head. The surprise comes in the fact that this pours an almost Hoegaarden-white that is very uncharacteristic of an IPA … and which had me raise an eyebrow or two in the process. What really amazes is the near perfect head with which this beer pours … a dense head that I will continue to dub “shaving foam” head because you could quite truly shave with the stuff. Indeed, 20 minutes into my glass and this review, and my glass was still fully covered in foam with a gorgeous full-on lacing all over the glass. Now I get all the hubbub that folks have about a beer’s head and the lacing on the glass. The tiny bubbles reveal what the mouth would later confirm to be a perfect microcarbonation. And secondly, the foam that captures the bubbles is the result of awesome hops and IBUs. In short, the head should portend what the mouth will hate … or love.
A first taste and if you haven’t found yourself in a corporeal heaven, well, pinch yourself because you’re lost … and you should now be in the presence of a balanced beer produced by a masterful brewmaster. Again, it’s all tropical fruits with guava and pineapple dominating, but I’m sure there is some mango and papaya in there too. And, to finish, the palette is enveloped in a great lemony citrusness that washes over the whole mouth. Very fruity, yes, but with the remarkably light malts in play, there is very little in the way of residual sweetness, so the hops, even at a pretty decent 75 IBUs taste more like 100. Best of all, there is almost no latent astringency that often befalls high-hopped beers that don’t have the malts to go with them.
Mouthfeel: From a tactile perspective, this is again near perfection and the carbonation, as already alluded to above, is bang on. It’s there, fills out the beer – and so it isn’t flat. It tantalizes and impresses and keeps the taste very fresh. But the finish — ah the finish — has all the essential diacytls necessary for that lovely creaminess which just makes you go “ahhh.” I suspect that this is one of the reasons the brewer suggests a good pairing would be carrot cake – I think it is the cream cheese icing that is going to sell that pairing.
These four senses make up 4/6 of the elements I look for when scoring and tasting a beer. The other two? I divide first-taste from aftertaste and I also give a score for overall impression and likeability. Others might not agree, but there is my methodology revealed … and this is a great beer to demonstrate it.
At 660 mL, this is a nicely sized bottle and provides a pint plus a bit more … and with a very reasonable 6.5% alcohol-by-volume, it’s a bottle you’ll love drinking fully. While the beer isn’t cheap at over $6/bottle, it’s worth it, especially that it is also organic and from an Ottawa perspective also “local” falling in the 100 mile radius. This is a beer that is most definitely going to be a regular in my fridge. Wow!
Stats: IPA. 6.5% ABV. 75 IBUs. Rigaud, Quebec.
Colour: Light-gold/white, unfiltered (on lees).
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation that perfectly frames the beer; creamy, and refreshing finish.
Purchased: Bières du Monde
Pairings: Following the beer label’s advice: spicy Mexican, grilled beef, fried chicken, and even carrot cake (yup). Try ‘em all and tell me what you think.