Festivus may have come and gone, but I’ve got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re gonna hear about it!
Well, not all of you. Just those who have bastardized my once craft beer sanctuary that I lovingly refer to as Winter Beer Season. So as we sit here exactly halfway through winter, it’s time to reflect on what is taking place.
See, when the weather gets colder, my craft beer heart starts to go pitter-patter. That’s because not only are we leaving the scorching heat of summer behind, but I know the sweet taste of malty adult beverages is in the near future.
Beers served during the cooler months – think Marzens, Oktoberfests, Pumpkin Ales, Dunkels, Winter and Christmas Ales – all have a slightly sweeter character than the warm weather beers because of extra malt. And what’s even better is that these beers are often lower in alcohol, allowing you to enjoy an extra one here and there.
What makes these particular styles feel more malty, as opposed to their hoppy cousins like the Pale Ale and the ubiquitous IPA?
Mostly because the grains are roasted longer, leading to their darker coloring. But this also makes it harder for the yeast to turn the malt (e.g. roasted barley) into alcohol. So the unfermented material stays in the beer, giving it a thick, rich feel in your mouth as you imbibe. And because the yeast can’t process as much, you end up with lower alcohol content.
About 15-20 years ago, things changed. I believe it started with Sierra Nevada and its 65-IBU offering Celebration Ale. According to the brewery, it is an American-style IPA and “one of the few hop-forward holiday beers.” Well, it used to be.
New Belgium followed suit with its 2 Below Ale that has, they say, a deliberate “hoppy palate.” Soon other breweries were soon copying these big brothers of microbreweries.
For some reason – actually, I think I know the reason – brewers of craft beer have started infusing their Winter and Christmas beers with more and more hops. Rather than the thicker mouthfeel of malty sweetness, the Winter Beer Season is inundated with an unwelcomed hoppy takeover.
Now it seems there are more uber-hopped beers at Wintertime than malty concoctions. They’re everywhere. Here are just a few examples:
- Elysian Brewing Co.’s Bitfrost Winter Ale is really just a Pale Ale
- Hopworks Urban Brewery makes the Abominable Winter Ale that checks in at 70 IBUs
- Widmer Brothers Brewing makes a seasonal amber ale called the Brrr Hoppy Red
- New Belgium offers a second hoppy Winter beer, with its Snow Day Winter Ale a “backbone of hoppy bitterness”
- Big Sky Brewing Co. offers up the Powder Hound Winter Ale with its “generous dose of hops”
Then, I saw the one that made my once pitter-pattering heart lock up faster than my wife’s transmission when she fails to change the oil after nine years. This “style” of the beer is enough to ring the bell of death for the hope that Winter will ever be malty again. I give you … the Winter IPA.
Is that even possible?
Yes, because that’s what Highlander did when it produced the Frozen Hill Winter IPA with, according to its website, has “loads of piney North West hops.” The brewers go on to proclaim that the “hoppy nature of this beer will make it a holiday favorite.” Well, at least they didn’t call it a “traditional” favorite, because there’s nothing traditional about an IPA in the Winter.
Where are the Winter Warmers, the Christmas Ales, the Jubelales, and the Hanukkah Porters? Oh sure, you can still find a few here and there. But the majority of beers this Winter season are hopped up more than a pro wrestler on steroids.
Given that the IPA craze has taken over, it’s doubtful that Winter will ever be the malty world of joy that I once loved. If it does, it might take a Festivus miracle.
Winter Beer Season.
— Eric Van Steenburg
So you’re wondering who has the best IPA in your metropolis. But how in the world can you figure this out?
You can’t drink all of them at once. You’ll pass out before you finish and never know who won.
You can’t drink one a day until you’ve gone through them all. That would take too much time. And over time, people change. Hair styles change. Interest rates fluctuate.
There is an answer: The Annual (insert name of your town here) IPA Challenge.
It’s simple as 1, 2 3 … 4. OK, 5. Maybe 6.
- Assemble a group of friends, family, distant relatives, dentists, co-workers, sanitation engineers, Methodists, or just people you’ve passed once or twice on the street. The one thing they must have in common? They’re love of India Pale Ales.
- Find someone who doesn’t like that hoppy swill guaranteed to make you pucker more than a teenage girl taking a selfie. This individual will be in charge of procuring the samples, keeping things on time, knowing the order of the tasting, and generally chauffeuring everyone else around. The bossier the better.
- Pick an afternoon when almost everyone can attend. A Saturday not during the college football season is usually a safe bet.
- Make a list of all the breweries in an area of your choosing. If you live in a big city, maybe there are enough breweries in the chosen area that you can walk to and/or take public transportation. If you live in a smaller area, maybe it’s all breweries within a certain distance from the city center. Your choice. Then pick a route (clockwise and counter-clockwise work just fine) that lets you hit all the breweries in your chosen area.
- Visit each brewery, procuring samples of all of their IPAs for everyone (except the boss) and let the judges rate them from 1-5. Try to keep the identity of each IPA secret, if you can. NOTE: It’s OK if judges know the names of their fellow judges.
When you’ve hit every brewery, tally the points awarded for each different IPA, divide by the number of judges, and voila, the best IPAs will be the ones with the highest score.
That’s exactly what we did for the second consecutive year in Bozeman, Montana. And for the second year in a row, the winner is …
Well, not yet. First the details.
A distinguished group of IPA judges was assembled a few Saturdays ago to hit all the breweries in a 10-mile radius of downtown Bozeman. The breweries in the challenge, in order of visitation, included Bridger Brewing, Bunkhouse Brewery, White Dog Brewing Co., Bozeman Brewing Co., 406 Brewing, Map Brewing Co., Madison River Brewing, Bar 3 Bar-B-Q & Brewing, and Outlaw Brewing.
That’s nine breweries. In one afternoon. Can I get a “Hallelujah!”
The hope was to taste two IPAs at each brewery. But not every brewery had two IPAs. Two had three. And two had one. So the total number of IPAs tasted per person still ended up being 18.
Top three IPAs in town, as voted by the panel of experts, are the following:
Bronze Medal (tie) — Hop Juice Double IPA from Madison River and Horse Thief IPA by Outlaw Brewing. Each earned a 3.5 on the 5-point scale from the judges, who noted the following for the Horse Thief:
“Good IPA. Not a robust taste, but still tasty.”
“Nice IPA balance of hops and everything else. Bitter … in a good way.”
“Definitely an IPA. Hoppy. Tastes good.”
And had this to say about the Hop Juice DIPA:
“Well-balanced malt and hop flavors. Good IPA.”
“Very good. Flavorful. Balanced. Delicious.”
“Tastebuds are numb because this is &*%$ing awesome.”
Madison River’s double IPA hits you with 9% ABV and an IBU rating of 101, while the Outlaw’s IPA is a more standard offering at 5.6% ABV and 63 IBUs.
Silver Medal — Midas Crush West Coast IPA from Map Brewing is 6.9% ABV but 100% IPA goodness. The beer edged out the two third-place finishers by earning a 3.55 from the expert panel, who noted:
“Flinty. Quite nice. Interesting – hoppy and citrus.”
“Nice. Light. Good citrus.”
“Light, well balanced. I may be drunk but it tastes great.”
And finally, the winner … for the second year in row.
“Excellent IPA. Great balance of malt and hops.”
“Best real IPA. Floral tones. Lightly dry hopped.”
“Lovely. A classic IPA. Bitter, yet sweet. Nice mix of flavor intensities.”
There were a number of other IPAs that fared well during the challenge. And to those, we give an Honorable Mention nod. Checking in with a 3.1 average score were the Vigilante IPA from Bridger Brewing, the Double IPA from White Dog, and the Hop Punch IPA by 406 Brewing.
So there you have it. Another successful Annual Bozeman IPA Challenge.
Now I challenge you to create your own IPA challenge in your town.
— Eric Van Steenburg
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following a six-month, court mandated gag order on the results of the most important case ever tried before the Supreme Court, the graphine-sealed court documents have been pried open and its contents spilled out onto a gap-mouthed waiting public.
Were it not for this reporter’s efforts, the results of the landmark case may have, much like the official documents from The Warren Commission Report by the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, never been exposed on our lifetimes. But fear not, gentile reader, for the investigative efforts of an expertly trained journalist will always expose the dark underbelly of even the shortest Pygmy Marmoset.
Therefore, after a six-month gap in crucial beer and/or burger related coverage in order to dig to the bottom of yet another keg … er … attempted government coverup, your intrepid reporter has discovered the truth in the latest case of state-by-state beer competitions.
To wit, this case revolved around the on-going debate between the quality of Montana beers, i.e. beers brewed in Montana, vis-a-vis same said quality of corresponding beers, but not necessarily from contiguous states. The debate, and future court case, began when one unknowning couple moved first from Texas to Virginia, and then Virginia to Montana.
At the time of the initial relocation, not much was known about Virginia beers, while the nascent Texas beer scene was, well, nascent. However, much to the delight of the new Old Dominionites, VA beer was outstanding. From Three Brothers to Three Notch’d, from Hardywood Park to Heritage, and from Apocalypse Ale Works to Young Veterans Brewing (sorry, couldn’t find a Virginia brewery starting with Z), the craft beer scene sparkled more than moissanite, which I don’t have to tell you is a 9.25 on the Moh’s scale, so is suitable for everyday wear.
At the same time, said couple was occasionally returning to the Lone Star State, where craft beer was expanding faster than plastic on a Texas summer day. As a point of reference, dear reader, you should know that plastics typically have a larger coefficient of thermal expansion compared to metals, and therefore expand faster. But back to the beer.
Texas was growing, and not just because it leads the nation in number of people who elect to super-size their meals at McDonald’s. The craft beer scene produced 27 new breweries every 6.13 hours … or at least it seemed like that. How, then, could a dedicated craft beer drinker keep up with the newest options available to his or her discriminating palate? What’s worse, how could our heroic young couple even be aware of the multitudinous options available in their formerly adopted home state when they weren’t living there anymore?
The answer … move to Montana.
“Montana will be great,” their craft beer savvy friends proclaimed. “It has some of the best beer in the country.”
“I know,” said the omniscient husband.
“Yum,” said his thirsty wife.
And so our daring heroes left the comfort of the highest quality craft beer they’d ever experienced and the safety of central Virginia to test their mettle in the Montana wilderness, surviving only on their guile, guts, and outstanding Montana beer … or so they thought.
Upon arriving in the Treasure State — yes, that’s really Montana’s nickname, but c’mon, why not the grizzly state, or the mountain state, or the fishing state, or the Lone Peak State, or the Kaczynski State, or the Get the Hell Outta My State state, which would all be more appropriate — the newbies were treated to the finest concoctions from one local brewery after another by their generous new neighbors. Alas, the tastings left them with more questions than answers.
“Where’s the good Montana beer?” the husband asked.
“Do you think it’s like this everywhere in the state?” the wife pondered.
After months and months of doing nothing but focusing on finding the best Montana beers, and consistently feeling they fell short of what was left behind in the valleys of Virginia, the daring couple challenged their most knowledgable beer-drinking compatriots to a duel that would pit Texas beers against Montana beers. Their former home state against their new home state. A state beer taste-off, if you will.
After placing an order with contacts in Texas, and asking half a half a dozen (yes, three) Montana residents to bring their best Montana beers, the taste-off began as soon as the Texas beers arrived.
And now, faithful reader, the results of the case of Texas v. Montana are being exposed like a Kardashian on Twitter. The truth is out, and it shall set ye free.
- Winner, in the Stout category — Temptress, from the Dallas-area’s Lakewood Brewing Co.
- Winner, in the Porter category — Real Ale Coffee Porter from Real Ale Brewing out of Blanco, Texas.
- Winner, in the Scotch Ale category — Iron Thistle by Rahr & Son’s of Fort Worth.
- Winner, in the IPA category — Mosaic IPA from Community Beer Co. in Dallas.
That’s right, the Texas beers swept all four categories from all five judges in front of six people who sat on seven stools on the eighth day of the week. The only momentary exception was in the Porter competition, when a coconut porter emerged on top, but was later disqualified when it was discovered to have been from Hawaii … or Georgia … I can’t remember. Those states are so close together, it’s a common mistake.
So there you have it. In head-to-head competition between select brews from two of the largest states in the nation, Texas pitched a shutout against Montana.
Still, the work of your favorite reporter is not over. Now that the gag order has been removed in the case of Texas v. Montana, it may be time to investigate the case of Texas v. Virginia. And when those results are in, dear reader, this journalist will faithfully bring the information to you so that you, you, my friend, can make the most informed beer drinking decision possible when traveling from state to state. Yes, I’m willing to make that sacrifice.
Despite the results of this case, and the possible divide it may create between Montanans and Texans, there is one thing that residents of both states can agree upon … Oklahoma still sucks.
— Eric Van Steenburg
Word has it that my new home state — Montana — has great craft beer. So we decided to put one city’s beer to the test.
A year ago, my IPA drinking friend joined a hundred or so fellow IPA chuckers at the Virginia IPA Challenge, in which two dozen different IPAs were sampled in a blind tasting at our favorite pub in Harrisonburg, Capital Ale House. But we won’t there this coming weekend for the annual event because, well, we’ve moved west and now live 2,108 miles away.
Even worse, there’s no Capital Ale House in Montana. Well, at least not in Bozeman. There’s an Ale Works, but not an Ale House. And it’s not just the name that is different. Bottom line, we’re on our own this year.
The challenge? To create our own IPA challenge.
To accomplish this important task, I brought in an outside expert — my IPA slurping friend’s Father In Law, a.k.a. FIL (or Phil, as he’s known down at the lumber yard).
The FIL has been known to throw back an IPA or two. He’s all about the IBUs. And that makes him an expert IPA chucker.
The set-up was pretty simple. There are six breweries in the Bozeman area. and each has at least two IPAs on tap. So while my IPA tasters would know the name of the brewing company as they sampled their beers, they would not know which beer was which. In fact, I made them choose a table away from the taps and had them face away from the bar just so that they did not know which beers were brought to them by the Bozeman IPA Challenge assistant, and the day’s chauffeur, my IPA chugging friend’s Mother In Law (a.k.a. the MIL).
A clockwise trip around town nets the six breweries in the following order: Outlaw Brewing; Madison River Brewing Co.; 406 Brewing Co.; Bozeman Brewing Co.; White Dog Brewery; and Bridger Brewing. Two samples at each brewery means 12 different beers to taste.
Each participant was given a scoresheet with 12 blank lines for them to write their comments about each beer, and a five-start rating system in which they could fill in as many stars, and as many parts of a star, as they wanted. My only other rule to the participants and the gathering crowd of onlookers was to keep in mind that this was an exhibition, not a competition, therefore … no wagering.
After a full afternoon of tasting, which included bonus tastes compliments of the bartenders at Bozeman Brewing Co. and Bridger Brewing — they must have known our tasters were getting a bit tipsy and therefore thought there was a chance to influence the vote — the results were in:
My IPA slurping friend said:
- Gold — Hopzone IPA (Bozeman Brewing Co.) — Straightforward. Right amount of hops. Delicious
- Silver — Horse Thief IPA (Outlaw Brewing) — Slightly hopped. Balanced. Lite. Yummy.
- Bronze — Lee Metcalf Pale Ale (Bridger Brewing) — Very good. Smooth. Unassuming.
- Honorable Mention — Hopper Pale Ale (Madison River Brewing Co.) and The Juice DIPA (Madison River Brewing Co.) — For the former, the taster noted that it “has a bite” and was “lemony delicious” and for the latter she said “balanced” and “yummy.”
Then the FIL weighed in:
- Gold — Hopzone IPA (Bozeman Brewing Co.) — Nice hops, not too heavy. Well balanced. Almost perfect. Wow.
- Silver — Antilogy Black IPA (Bridger Brewing) — Good hops.
- Bronze — Hangin’ Judge Imperial IPA (Outlaw Brewing) — Balanced. Could have several, easily.
- Honorable Mention — Lee Metcalf Pale Ale (Bridger Brewing) and the American Pale Ale (White Dog Brewery) — For the former, Phil said it was “a smooth, nice IPA” and “somewhat lite, but very drinkable” and about the latter commented “nice, but a little lite … low hops … drinkable.”
After a full day of tasting, in which I had one or two stouts on the sly (I lost track), the first ever Bozeman IPA Challenge was over.
Congratulations to the folks at Bozeman Brewing Co. for taking gold from both tasters. And thanks to all the tremendously nice bartenders and servers who put up with the antics of the two IPA chuggers.
Now that we’ve conquered all the IPAs in Bozeman, it’s on to the rest of Montana. Watch out Missoula, we’ve got you in our sights.
— Eric Van Steenburg
I knew I’d awakened in St. Louis when the top two stories in the local newspaper were about baseball and beer. As I was saying to my IPA swilling traveling companion, St. Louis is baseball crazy. Has been since at least the 1920s.
And we all know the arch-ladened metropolis is a beer town. Has been since August Busch decided to pummel American palates with a mediocre swill called Budwe … sorry, can’t even write its name.
But St. Louis is no longer a one-beer town as it had been for more than a hundred years. In fact, 10 years ago, when we were last among the arched throng, we found ourselves in the Schlafly taproom. This was, of course, immediately after touring the brewery of that other beer. Obviously we were in need of something good.
So the plan was to revisit the taproom this time around. But upon entering the city … we got lost. It was a learning experience, though, as we got to witness first-hand the urban plight. Are you seeing the plight kids? Roll ’em up!
The best news is that as we made our way back on course, we passed the Morgan Street Brewery, just a few blocks from the hotel. Yeah plight!
Naturally that was our first stop after unloading the Mini, which believe it or not takes longer than one would think. Who knew so much crap could fit into a Mini Cooper? Who knew we owned so much crap?
Morgan Street Brewery had half a dozen of their beers on tap, but only one each that interested us. For me, it was their seasonal Maibock. For her, the Virgin Territory IPA. After spending 20 minutes deciding where to sit, we ordered. The IPA came out immediately, but the Maibock was nowhere to be found. The doorman had told us they only had one keg left, but the waitron said they were changing to a new keg. Huh?
Turns out the door guy knew better. They were out. Since there was nothing else on the beer menu for me, we were going to leave. But suddenly the waitron showed up with a glass 82 percent full of Maibock. She’d fought another server just to bring me was left of the keg.
It was worth it. The award-winning Maibock was deliciously malty in both flavor and nose. A nice foamy head accompanied the dark golden color. No wonder it took silver in the World Beer Championships a few years ago.
The IPA wasn’t quite as noteworthy, but was still good. Checking in a 58 IBUs, there wasn’t as much hoppyness as my IPA friend prefers. But it was quite drinkable. And not bad for MSB’s first IPA ever.
Since they were out of Maibock and there was nothing else on the menu for me, we asked the waitron for a suggestion of where to try more local beers. She directed us to Hair of the Dog, just 5-6 blocks from our hotel. Once we found the dive bar, we were pleased to see almost 50 beers on tap, most of which were IPAs and Belgian Ales. No stouts or porters, though.
Fortunately, they did have a Schlafly Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout available, so that’s what I had while my partner enjoyed a Perennial Artisan Ale IPA. The stout was delicious. Lots of malt. Not too much bourbon. Just the way I like it. Dark color with a light head. But at 10.5% ABV, I didn’t need more than a pint. Too bad it came in the large format. Darn the luck.
The Perennial IPA was nicely balanced. Again, not very hopped up, so not her favorite. But a tasty beer, nonetheless.
That was enough for the night because the next evening was so important, we needed our beauty sleep.
See you in Omaha.
— Eric Van Steenburg
With apologies to all the woodchucks who regularly read Beer-and-Burgers.com, today’s question is:
How many IPAs does an IPA drinker drink
if an IPA drinker dare drink IPAs?
And the answer appears to be 24, because that how many IPAs were served up at the Virginia IPA Challenge last Saturday at Capital Ale House in Harrisonburg, Va.
It was originally going to be 28 IPAs, but apparently IPA drinkers can’t chuck that many. Besides, if my designated drinker is any evidence, 24 IPAs was enough to taste.
The way Cap Ale had the contest orchestrated was cool. Each IPA chucker who wanted to get in on the tasting paid $10 for a card that had numbers 1-24 in a column on the left side. Next to each number was a line for drinkers to write any comments they wanted to make about each different beer, and presumably to help them remember what they’d tasted as the day wore on. To the right of each line was a place to rate the beer from 1-5 stars. And finally, at the far right was a box to mark off so each drinker, and more importantly our heroic bartenders, could keep track of which IPAs each person had already tried.
Participants got to sample four beers every time they went to the bar, which meant six trips to the bar. Each small taste – and thankfully that’s all they were, small tastes – was poured in a small plastic cup with a number on the front. So no one knew which brewer had entered which beer. Even representatives from the breweries in attendance didn’t know which numbers were theirs.
As I mentioned, I had a designated drinker with me. That’s because, as many of you know, I prefer the more malty side of the beer spectrum. Or, as my IPA swilling friend told someone after trip number five to the bar, “he perfers ports and stouters.” Uh, that would be stouts and porters.
More and more people showed up as the day went along. The lines got long, but seemed to move at a reasonable clip – at least from my vantage point at a table in the back where I sipped on an Ellie’s Brown Ale from Avery, and later a Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout. And when the lines got really long, people didn’t complain too much because by then they’d already made 3-4 trips to the bar. There’s nothing like downing two dozen IPAs to make people hoppy.
Oh, and after tasting 24 IPAs, each chucker placed their vote for best Virginia IPA and then got a full pint of their favorite. Not a bad dessert.
Once the first keg was kicked, the tasting stopped and the bartenders (did I mention they were heroic), tallied up the votes. The winners were announced Monday and are:
- First place – Tall, Dark and Hopsom, a double black IPA by Isley Brewing Company (Richmond)
- Second place – The Admiral, an Imperial IPA from Three Brothers Brewing (Harrisonburg)
- Third place – Raucous Honey a double IPA by Three Notch’d Brewing Co. (Charolettesville)
I can’t contributed to the discussion on differences and qualities of the IPAs since I was enjoying my ports and stouters, but my designated drinker wrote down that Isley’s beer was “coffee,” that Three Brothers’ was “creamy” and the Three Notch’d was “yum.” So there’s the expert’s opinion.
Regardless of your beer style preference, the Virginia IPA Challenge was a blast. Shout out to D.J. at Cap Ale House for picking the excellent beers, and his fellow bartenders upstairs for working hard to make the lines move fast and keeping everyone hoppy. And a special shout out to Denise who worked the downstairs bar by herself early in the day as the IPA crowd was starting to swell, and for keeping everybody happy.
Of course, now I’m expecting a Winter and Christmas Virginia beer challenge in December. How’s that sound, D.J.?
— Eric Van Steenburg
All you hoppy beer lovers out there — the ones I lovingly refer to as grass-drinkers — be aware that Capital Ale House in Harrisonburg, Va., is hosting its third annual Virginia IPA Challenge on Saturday, Sept. 6 starting at noon. This event allows the everyday craft beer lover to weigh in with their opinion on Virginia IPAs.
The cost to participate is just $10, and your entry fee allows you to sample IPAs from 28 different craft breweries, or until the keg is kicked, and then get a final pint full of your favorite when you’re done. That should do ya’.
The competition ends when that first keg is empty, so be there early enough to get a taste of all the breweries in the event. Plus you can hob-knob with the brewers as they hover over their beers and try to earn your vote — kind of like a politician but with an IBU kick.
So for those of you who like your beer well-hopped and well-made, get over to Cap Ale House this Saturday for the IPA Challenge.
— Eric Van Steenburg