Given the opportunity to write about craft beer every month in Decibel has been eye-opening. The idea that our “Brewtal Truth” column would have lasted more than four years (and counting) and even spawn a book—The Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers, out in November—is pretty amazing. Now it’s time to bring a little “Brewtal Truth” to the Deciblog. Each week we’re featuring a different craft beer that you should drink now. These aren’t so much reviews as recommendations. We won’t post anything here that we haven’t happily poured down our own gullet. There’ll be a new one every week at noon Eastern time, a little something to get you thinking about your imbibing options for the weekend.
Most people associate well-hopped beers with IPAs or maybe an American pale ale (APA), but bodacious amounts of aromatic hops are being used in many different styles—from imperial stouts to hefty lagers. Typically aromatic hops are used in New World-style beers. All beers typically have some hops, but it’s those show-off aromatic hops that provide all the crazy fruity/spicy/foresty notes. Beers are brewed with them primarily to bring out these characteristics, and secondarily for their bittering ability. Thus they can add interesting characteristics to practically any style of beer, as long as whatever they have to offer enhances the beer. Brewers have been playing a bit with adding copious amounts of these aromatic hops to Belgian styles that typically have little hop presence. Some are called “Belgian IPAs” while others are called “White IPAs,” depending on what style of Belgian beer is being given the IPA treatment. Stone took a different approach with their Cali-Belgique IPA. They basically brewed their Stone IPA (which, like all Stone beers, is aggressively hopped) with a Belgian Yeast and dry-hopped it with a slightly different hop variety. Would it turn out like Belgian’s alt-metal wannabes Channel Zero, a quartet who proudly import American douche-culture to their home country? Read on.
As noted above, the thing that makes this “Belgique” (or Belgian) is the use of a Belgian yeast to brew it. There are many different kinds of Belgian yeasts but most impart some rather bold, spicy/funky notes. One sniff of this brew and you can immediately identify the telltale aromas. This doesn’t smell like a typical West Coast IPA. Hell, it doesn’t smell like any IPA, where the aromatic hops generally get center stage. Here, they share the spotlight, but are definitely present. This rich orangey-yellow brew is crystal clear and has bright citrus, mandarin and stone fruit notes mingling with the yeast aromas. It smells refreshing and exotic.
We’ve had other Belgian IPAs and frequently it has been a Belgian-styled beer (which are typically on the sweet side) mega-hopped with aromatic hops, so you get something like a hoppy version of Duvel. Which is great, but also a little on the sweet side. This, on the other hand, drinks like a true IPA, which is dry, crisp and refreshing. The Belgian yeast Stone used apparently is renown for brewing quite dry beers and it works here perfectly. You get a hint of fruity sweetness up front—with notes of pineapple and lemon—yet it finishes remarkably dry and bitter (but not too bitter). The net result is a hefty, flavorful beer that refreshes and drinks like a brew half it’s size.
The IPA is a British invention, but this brew is so far afield from the style devised in the late nineteenth century that it’s barely recognizable as a distant relative. The English brewers who hopped-up their pale ales did so to prevent spoilage on the long journeys to colonial India, but now hops are used to spice up practically every style out there. Even typically modestly hopped Belgian brews. Which makes us think of this grindcore blast from Leng Tch’e which features a guest spot from Napalm Death vocalist Barney Greenway—it’s a little Belgian, a little English. Definitely drink this now, while the last hot days of summer remain.