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, since the focus is still on hops, we’re back in the Pacific Northwest. Don’t worry, this’ll be the last one on the subject for a while. We couldn’t help but buy C-Note from Portland’s Lompoc Brewing when we saw it on the shelves at the Beer Junction recently. It was the name, the label art and the concept behind the beer that totally grabbed us. And it provided the perfect opportunity to talk about mega-hopped beers like this. The name is actually both a play on the fact that this has 100 IBUs (International Bittering Units, a way of measuring the bitterness in the beer) and all the hops in it are “C” hops: Crystal, Cluster, Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Columbus, Challenger. Now that is a brilliant concept for a beer.

Imperial Pale Ale
Portland, OR
6.9% ABV

There are three “C” hops (let’s call them the Big Three) that are largely responsible for the classic piney/citrusy West Coast Pale Ale/IPA smell and flavor: Cascade, Centennial and Columbus. This trio was basically the taste of the hop-forward craft beer revolution in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Dozens of new hop varieties have been created since then, but those three have been and continue to be mainstays. The rest of the “C’s” in this lineup aren’t necessarily as notable, but they have their own unique characteristics and, accordingly, their uses. Columbus and Chinook provide, for example, lots of bittering power, but less on the fragrant, aromatic side. And this beer, with its 100 IBUs has a heapin’ helpin’ of bitterness (a typical American style IPA will be 40-70 IBUs). Surprisingly, though, bitterness is well integrated and balanced to such a degree that, you really wouldn’t notice it as long as you’re a fan of big, hoppy IPAs. It does tend to linger on the back of the palate for quite a while.

As noted in the beer’s specs above, this is not actually an IPA, but an Imperial Pale Ale. And, ironically, it’s actually not very pale. It’s more of a deep copper/amber/reddish hue. You can readily smell the up-front Big Three when you first open it. They are unmistakable: pine needles, grapefruit and floral spices. It smells like an IPA for all intents and purposes. Where it differs stylistically, it’s hard to pin down. Perhaps it lies in the malts used to brew it, because the hop content screams IPA. It also doesn’t fully taste like an IPA—the malt notes are more caramely and round, rather than crisp—but in a blind tasting, I could be convinced this was an IPA.

So, what do seven varieties of “C” hops have to offer this beer? A lot. First, a really nice fresh aroma filled with notes of fruit and forest. Second, a complex melange (there, I said it) of fruit flavors—from berries to melons to marmalade. Lastly, a punch of bitterness on the finish that cuts through the ample malt backbone. We can’t pick out the characteristics of each one specifically, but together they’re a symphony of hop goodness. In C, of course.