BREWTAL TRUTH: Drink This Now!

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.

This week’s post is both a lesson in drinking a hoppy beer when it’s fresh (or, rather, the consequences of not doing so), as well as a look at the pros and cons of single-hop variety beers. And we’re going to do all that with one little “IPA is Dead” four-pack from Scotland’s BrewDog. We previously wrote about BrewDog in our Brewtal Truth column back in the April 2012 issue. The brewery is famously known for its love of hops and its irreverent attitude toward craft beer. They’re the ones who made—among other freaky, extreme brews—the super strong End of History beer, which was sold in bottles that were stuffed in roadkill. Starting to ring a bell? Not everything they do is extreme, but most of it has a big hop component, because, as they say, “We bloody love hops.”

Ellon, Scotland
6.7% ABV

The concept behind IPA is Dead is a clever one. BrewDog takes the same IPA recipe and brews four versions, each with a different hop variety from a different hop-growing region, thus the strange names above: Waimea (New Zealand) , El Dorado (Pacific Northwest), Dana (Slovenia) and Goldings (England). This offers the perfect opportunity for hopheads to not only see the distinctive flavors each variety has to offer, it allows you to compare and contrast aromatics, bitterness levels and general mouthfeel from beer to beer. Sounds awesome, right?

Well, we’re sure it probably would have been more awesome when these beers were released back in early April (a fact we didn’t know when we purchased this four-pack recently). The “drink by” date of sometime in 2014 (we forgot to note the specific date before recycling) on the packaging is probably a bit too generous. These four-packs made their way to Western Canada nearly five months after they were bottled and let’s just say they aren’t showing their best this far along in their journey. They aren’t bad, but the ability to really distinguish the characteristics of the hop varieties used here has been greatly diminished. They taste like decent, if generally unremarkable, IPAs. None has much in the way of distinctive aromatics, and considering they are packed with 75 IBUs, the hop presence should be significant.

The El Dorado and Waimea are the most noteworthy and tasty of the foursome. El Dorado is a new NW variety and it has a fair bit of ripe, floral tropical fruit aromatics. It tasted oddly boozy and had notes of plum, orange and fruit candy. There’s a dull bitterness on finish that lingers for a bit. Waimea was the most intriguing. Aromatically it has that bit of funk (almost like overripe fruit and/or flowers) that is characteristic of some NZ hops. It tastes of fresh tart fruits (grapefruit, mandarin, strawberry, melon) and has a strong bitterness with an earthy, black tea finish. Dana was just sort of confusing. It had an indefinable fruit and spice character to it that just came off as unremarkable. It was mildly bitter, it lacked crispness and drinks more like a pale ale. Not bad, just meh. Similar results with Goldings. There were hints of the qualities that make it a brewing favorite—faint aromas of lemon and earth; light spice and fruit flavors; a deep earthy bitterness—but it was more “interesting” than “delicious.”

Which brings us to the final point: there’s a reason why most brewers use a combination of hop varieties in each beer. Some are better for bittering, some for dry-hopping, etc. And certain combinations just smell and taste really good together, as they each bring a little something to a beer. These IPA is Dead brews are interesting (and probably pretty tasty when consumed super fresh), but they also highlight (no doubt unintentionally) the fact that a single hop variety doesn’t typically have enough of everything necessary to make a great beer on its own.

In metal terms, a Venom album will always be way better than any Cronos solo jams. Witness.