Tag Archives: Amarillo

Upslope Brewing Company India Pale Ale

I recently wrote about Upslope Brewing’s Pale Ale and today I am going to regurgitate some thoughts on the same brewery’s India Pale Ale:

Upslope India Pale Ale

What? A pale ale and an India pale ale? What the heck is going on here in the world of generously hopped ales?

The general difference between the two beers is that an IPA will be hopped to a higher degree and contain more alcohol relative to volume, e.g. the IBU and ABV ratings will be higher. This is not true in all cases as the style guides for beer have been blown apart in the past few years.

Upslope’s IPA actually tastes like a breed of beer I am going to refer to as Colorado pale ale. Why restrict ourselves to monikers created during a time when there were not 3,000 breweries in the United States? The beer has a little more body than a traditional pale ale, but it’s also hopped more and comes in with a greater boozy punch than a lighter pale ale. Colorado pale ales have a bigger hop bouquet than a traditional IPA, which is the result of using newer varieties of hops like Citra, Amarillo, and so on. It’s a distinct beer, in my opinion, that is typified by Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale.

Upslope’s IPA falls short of the benchmark set by Dale’s Pale Ale in one primary area: the hop aromas and flavors are kind of muddled, which when you think about it is the sole reason for an IPA to exist. It’s about the hops, man! There is some resin and some citrus, but nothing really shines through as the signature note of the beer. Honestly, it’s the same problem I have been struggling with recently when it comes to my homebrew recipes for a House Pale Ale. The hop profile is either over the top—usually from a single hop recipe—or muddled—the rest of my recipes using a blend of hops.

That is not say that Upslope’s IPA is a bad beer in any way shape or form. Quite the contrary, but the bar for this particular “family” of beers is pretty high in the U.S. right now when you consider how much effort is being expended to brew varying pale ales. Overall, it’s a middle of the road result:

Two Mug Purchase

Goose Island 312 Urban Pale Ale

Getting ready to be gone nearly every weekend for the next month, including nine days in Colorado, means that I am not tapping a keg for the better part of a month. To get my beer fix I have been trolling the beer cooler at the liquor store looking for something new.

Amazingly, the shelves are full of new beers from new breweries all of the time. Some of them are good and, of course, some of them are not quite up to snuff. It’s easy to pass over beers from breweries that have been on the shelf for a while. This is the way it is with me and Goose Island.

John Hall, the founder of Goose Island, is a Hawkeye having graduated from the same MBA program as me, but his career path was decidedly different. During b-school we made a trip to Chicago to visit the brewery and have a reception at the brewpub in Lincoln Park. I remember being amazed at some of the beers being made under the Vintage Ales appellation. Matilda, in particular, was a revelation in that a beer with low bitterness and fairly high alcohol could be so drinkable. For a short time I was a big evangelist of Goose Island, but lost some of my fervor as so many new breweries have come on line.

To rectify the situation I picked up a package of 312 Urban Pale Ale:

Urban Pale Ale

This is a well-crafted and balanced pale ale that comes in on the lighter side of things. Of low bitterness (30 IBU), especially for a pale ale in America, and middling alcohol (5.4% ABV) there is not a thing out of place when you drink this beer. It is akin to a “house beer” that is always on tap and always in demand, but not something that people think of when considering a signature beer of the brewery.

Craft beer is odd that way anymore. Gallons of ink and thousands of hours are spent extolling the virtues of increasingly esoteric styles of beer—including by me on this very blog—but the vast majority of craft beer consumed in America is of a very narrow range. It’s not the Pareto principle per se, but I imagine that 20% or less of the labels account for 80% or more of the craft beer sales in America. Think about what you saw people quaffing over the holiday weekend? I remember seeing a lot of Samuel Adams Boston Lager and New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale. This was in Minneapolis where great local beers are available widely.

Nonetheless, we should not discount the appeal of a well-crafted and balanced beer that you can purchase without fear of offending anyone’s tastes. Try that with a sour beer sometime. Overall, well played Goose Island:

Two Mug Purchase

Summit in Cans

With two vacations coming up and no time at home during the weekend for the next month—yes, four straight weekends of time away from home—I have been hesitant to tap into any kegs of homebrew for fear of leaving them sit too long. Even with Perlick forward sealing faucets the mechanism can get gummy and it seems silly to leave beer under pressure with no one home to drink it.

To slake my thirst for beer I trudge down to the liquor store and wade through the cooler of craft beer hoping to find something to my liking. Imagine my surprise when I came across Summit Brewing’s offerings in cans. Apparently, Summit just began making its beer available in cans in late-May 2014. Here it is in June in eastern Iowa where I went home with a six pack of Summer Ale and Saga IPA.

Summer beers are an interesting breed and Summit’s Summer Ale is no exception:

Summer Ale

Like television networks dumping sub-standard shows on summer audiences rather than risk damage to fall slates I am beginning to believe that breweries do the same thing with summer brews. What is normally a rock solid brewery pumping out solid beer after solid beer and frequently producing outstanding beer will produce a summer beer that is a real letdown.

This is the case with Summer Ale. Billed as a beer for sunny days Summer Ale has odd notes that make me think it could not decide if it wanted to be a lager or an ale. It’s made like an ale, but the aroma and flavor that lingers in the back of my throat makes me think it is a lager. Plus it’s light (4.5% ABV) and not particularly bitter (32 IBU) give it more of a lager like profile.

Summer beers are also saddled with carrying citrus or fruit flavors. Although it is supposed to have a “fruity and floral aroma” I missed that characteristic entirely. At least Summer Ale did not try and pull off any potent fruit flavorings:

Purchased One Mug RatingSaga IPA should really be named Epic:

Saga IPA

This is a hell of a beer. Named after the Norse goddess who was the drinking companion of Odin—I am taking this word for word from the Summit website—this beer could also easily have been named Thor’s Hammer. Coming in at 6.4% ABV and 80 IBU Saga is packing a hell of a punch, but it is not a story about in your face bitterness or booze.   There is so much flavor with this beer.

The menu of hops employed is extensive– Centennial, Amarillo, Citra, and Rakau which is a variety I was heretofore unfamiliar—and dry hopping was also employed to amp up the flavor. With so much resinous aroma and flavor bursting forth you completely ignore the alcohol. This is a moment when I need to warn others not to drink an entire six-pack in a sitting because you will feel it hit you quite quickly. Learn from my mistakes young Jedi.

The only downside that I can think of with this beer is that it was not suited for a hot, humid weekend in June. Saga would be oh so perfect on a crisp to cold fall day with a plate of smoked meat and football on the television. Sounds like a vision. Saga is available as a year round beer for those of you who do not mind the incongruous melding of hoppy beers and high temps.

The verdict on Saga is an uncompromising recommendation on its excellence:

Purchase 4 Mug Rating

Summit Extra Pale Ale

Finally, I got my hands on the six-pack of Summit Brewing’s Extra Pale Ale after my last trip to the liquor store ended up with me grabbing a totally different beer. Whoops!

Was it the beer of my memories?

Summit Extra Pale

This beer has been made continually since 1986 and there is a reason why: it’s damn delicious. Like I have said about other seminal beers of the craft beer movement in the United States, beers like Extra Pale Ale must have been revelatory to a drinking community raise on straw colored swill. I know that for me this was the case.

It is interesting to note how a beer with 45 IBU and 5.2% ABV is now considered to be a mild beer in relation to the much more high gravity and hop forward beers of the moment. My new favorite beer-in-a-can, Founders All Day IPA, comes in at 42 IBU and 4.7% ABV. Granted, a beer is not just the product of its raw statistics as anyone who is a fan of dry hopping will tell you. A beer can hit you with a blast of hop aroma and flavor, yet carry none of the distinctive bitterness.

Extra Pale Ale almost seems reserved in its use of hops. Horizon, Cascade, and Fuggle hops are not known as being “in your face” hops like the more in vogue hop varieties that are popular with commercial and home brewers alike. Therefore, when the beer is described as having a citrus finish the flavor is much more subtle than what would be left on the palate with a beer utilizing Simcoe, Amarillo, or Citra hops.

The only downside to Extra Pale Ale that sticks with me is that biscuit notes can come out well done or burnt. It might be like banana notes for me in that I cannot stand the slightest amount so I automatically veer toward hating that aspect.

Extra Pale Ale is a great example of the beginnings of the American craft beer movement and n excellent starting point to examine the evolution of our beer:

Purchase 3 Mug Rating

As an aside, Summit’s head brewer Damian McConn has a hilarious BuzzFeed video where he “reviews” a flight of cheap wine. Oh yeah, there is some Boone’s Farm in the house. Check it out here.

Founders Brewing All Day IPA

Beers have gotten big. I do not mean Texas Roadhouse big where a beer comes in sizes approximated by milk jugs sizes. I mean that beers are both big in terms of alcohol and bitterness. When wheat beers are over 6% ABV and 100 IBU is not an uncommon benchmark for a pale ale to meet someone has to say, “Stop the insanity!” Sorry, I went all Susan Powter on y’all.

Founders Brewing out of Grand Rapids, Michigan answers the call to offer something that is just bigger with All Day IPA:

All Day IPA

The description is that it keeps your taste buds satisfied while keeping your senses sharp. At 4.7% ABV and 42 IBU this beer is right in what I consider to be the sweet spot of easy drinking pale ales. Right now I am waiting to tap two batches of my house pale ale which are calculated to come in at about 3.7% ABV and 35 IBU, so All Day IPA was a perfect tester.

This beer lives up to the billing of all day drinkability without putting you face down on the lawn. This does not taste like a watered down IPA at all. Sometimes a “session” pale ale can taste like a cop out where it seems that the brewer just doubled the water in the brew kettle to get down to spec. All Day IPA was a recipe that was obviously purpose built to come in where it did. This is the kind of beer that I think is often overlooked in today’s ever crowded craft beer market and it is a shame.

It is brewed using Simcoe and Amarillo hops, which surprised me a bit because I did not notice the sometimes overpowering flavors and aromas present in both of those varieties. Maybe I am still scarred by a Simcoe dry hopped IPA that still lingers in the back of my throat. Ugh.

Being available in cans also means that you can bring a few to places where regular old bottles or growlers cannot go. And it comes in a fifteen pack. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

I am hesitant to call any beer a truly smashing success, but like Toppling Goliath’s pseudoSue this particular beer hits the spot:

Purchase 4 Mug Rating

Taking a Trip Down Deschutes

Here’s the thing about the craft beer “scene” in the United States in 2013.  You can walk into any moderately curated beer section, even grocery stores with well-run liquor departments, and find really good beers that you had not heard of until that day.

Take Deschutes Brewery out of Bend, Oregon.  Until I walked into HyVee and saw a monster display of six-packs I had never heard of the brewery that I could remember.  Beer festivals do not count because by hour three of samples a lot of the breweries begin to meld into one amorphous picture due to the quantity of breweries and brews.

I took a flyer on four six-packs because I hate friends coming over and my latest two batches of homebrew—a Lefse Blonde and Fat Tire clone—are not done bottle conditioning.  It also helped that the six-packs were a manager’s special for the Fuel Saver program.  Each six-pack got me 10 cents off per gallon at my next fill up.  Yeah, I got marketed.

Started in 1988, so this is the twenty fifth year of brewing, Deschutes Brewery is actually one of the major players in the craft beer scene.  According to some estimates it is the fifth largest craft brewer and the eleventh largest brewery in the U.S.  Okay, my source was Wikipedia.  Busted.

I walked out of the store with a six-pack of Chainbreaker White IPA, Twilight Summer Ale, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, and Black Butte Porter.  Let’s talk about them in that order starting with the Chainbreaker White IPA:

Chainbreaker White IPA

First off, I am a sucker for any beer that references bicycles.  It’s something in the DNA of anyone who spends a lot of time on a bike that they will also probably love beer.  Spend some time around the moving carnival that is RAGBRAI and you will understand that there is some connection.  Thousands of people on bikes in the height of an Iowa summer fueled on little more than fried food and cold beer.  I digress.

In general white or wit beers are not synonymous with the characteristics on an India Pale Ale (IPA).  The white beers are known for clean profiles and citrus/spice notes while an IPA is known for body and hops.  Mixing the two styles is a really interesting idea that works pretty well.  I would have classified this beer as a hopped up white beer rather than an IPA, as the name indicates, because the body of the beer just screams white ale.  Even though there are some pretty strong hop aromas and flavors, the light body does not allow them to linger very long so the effect is somewhat transitory.  For that reason the beer drinks a lot lighter than its alcohol (5.6% ABV) and bitterness (55 IBU) might suggest.

Chainbreaker White uses four different hop varieties, but the one that has me the most intrigued is Citra.  This particular variety has been showing up in a lot of craft beers and homebrews.  The last two times I have tried to order recipe kits using the hop it has been backordered.  A trip north to Minneapolis may be required so that I can get my hands on some to experiment.

Twilight Summer Ale is also a kind of hybrid:

Twilight Summer Ale

Craft beers brewed for the summer season are truly something that is very welcome.  At the start of the craft beer renaissance, it was like people expected you to drink heavily hopped and malted beers even in the heat of a Midwestern summer.  Sorry guys, but something lighter is appreciated.  Over the past few years brewmasters have really obliged our summer palates.

If Chainbreaker White IPA had an ensemble cast of hops than I guess Twilight Summer Ale is working from the Robert Altman script by including Northern Brewer, Amarillo, Cascade, Tettnang, and Brambling Cross.  Even though it is only one of the five varieties used, you can really taste the inclusion of Amarillo.  Like Simcoe, Amarillo is a variety whose flavor and aroma can cut through even the heaviest hand elsewhere in the brew.  At times this can be a detriment to the beer because it overwhelms subtler notes, but not with Twilight Summer Ale.  The inclusion of Amarillo brings hop aroma and flavor to the beer without imparting too much bitterness and making you feel like there is a Lucky Strike stuck in the back of your throat.

Surprisingly, Mirror Pond Pale Ale does the opposite of Chainbreaker White IPA and Twilight Summer Ale:

Mirror Pond Pale Ale

This beer drinks heavier than its alcohol (5% ABV) and bitterness (40 IBU) suggests.  If you put both Chainbreaker White and Mirror Pond in paper bags to sample I am sure that most people would point to Mirror Pond as the “heavier” beer.

Maybe it is on account of Mirror Pond relying solely on Cascade hops rather than a mix of four hop varieties.  I have found that single hop beers tend to really accentuate the “hoppiness” of that particular variety in a manner that is outsized compared to its stated bitterness.  It is like the undercurrents in aroma and flavor that might get lost in an ensemble shine through like a saxophone solo.

The other culprit is probably the malt.  Pale malt is heavier in body than either pilsner or wheat malt so Mirror Pond is going to have a heavier body, which may confuse the palate as to which beer is bringing the hops to the party.

Nonetheless, Mirror Pond is a very successful take on the classic American Pacific Northwest pale ale.  This style of beer, along with amber ale, are the standard bearers for the American craft beer renaissance.

Black Butte Porter is not a summer beer:

Black Butte Porter

Obviously, as a porter this is a dark beer.  It is also a heavy beer, more so than its alcohol (5.2% ABV) and bitterness (30 IBU) would dictate.  It is nice to see a porter not be overly bitter because it allows for the roasted and chocolate flavors of the malt to really shine.  I think a lot of porters and stouts are given a healthy dose of hops to mask the bitter flavors from roasted malts.  It takes a deft and delicate hand to get the right amount of flavor from roasted malts without making the beer reminiscent of burnt marshmallows around the campfire.

What is really nice about moderately bitter porters is that the beers are allowed to be creamy and even “bready.”  It’s an odd adjective “bready,” but I think that it describes the near chewiness from heavy bodied beers that do have a correspondingly heavy bitterness.  Maybe there is a reason a lot of beer champions refer to the product as “liquid bread.”

It is fairly obvious from my comments above that I came away impressed with the work that Deschutes Brewery is doing.  As the fifth largest craft brewer in the United States, it’s also apparent that a lot of other beer drinkers are thinking the same thing.  Go out and give them a try.

Twin Cities Beer Run

About the only thing good to come out of a quick trip to Minneapolis for a funeral is that it gives me a chance to pick up beers that are unavailable to me in eastern Iowa.  This usually translates into a run on four-packs of Surly, but I branched out this time.

Summit Brewing is a staple of the Minnesota craft beer scene.  Founded in the mid-1980s, Summit has been cranking out high quality beer since.  I think this long run of quality, however, often makes people overlook the beers the people at Summit make because you do not think of them in the same vein as the new crop of craft brewers.  Just because they have nearly three decades of success does not mean that they are irrelevant.

Quite the contrary.  Beginning in 2012 Summit embarked on a major expansion that will double the annual capacity to 240,000 barrels.  Just think about that scale for a moment.  The accepted definition of a craft brewer is one that brews less than 6 million (!) barrels per year.  Even with a major expansion the good folks at Summit are not even close.  Wow!

However, scale is just part of the story.  Summit has been and is continuing to push the boundaries of beer.  I picked up a pack of Meridian Session Ale which is part of the Union series:


At 4.5% ABV and 32 IBU, Meridian definitely qualifies as light enough to be a “session” beer.  This particular beer is heavy on the citrus notes.  It’s not veering into gimmick territory, but if you do not like lemon then I would steer clear.  Part of the story with this beer is that it uses a new-ish hop variety called Meridian.  The story behind Meridian is that it was the happy accident of an attempt to resurrect a variety of Willamette.  I did not notice anything particularly earth shattering about the hop profile in Meridian.

BTW, a note on the packaging.  A while back I lambasted the Third Shift Lager from the faux craft Band of Brewers for its use of plain cardboard as a sop to the DIY aesthetic of the craft beer movement.  It looks like the Union series is also using a similar packaging which is a major departure from Summit’s other six-pack carriers.  Granted, Summit is going through a bit of re-branding so this new package fits with some of the new logo designs.  Maybe it’s the wave of the future.

No trip to the Twin Cities is complete without a little Surly.  Not being able to get this canned goodness outside of the Twin Cities metro area turns me into a hunter of Surly when I am in the vicinity.  It does not help that I forgot the arcane Minnesota blue laws that prohibit the sale of real beer on Sundays.  Why?

I ended up with a package of Surly Furious and Overrated.  Somehow, I have not talked about Furious previously which is odd considering it is one of the brand’s year-round beers and sort of the flag bearer for the brand:


Maybe it’s me or something that the brewers at Surly are doing, but despite a 99 IBU I did not think this was an overly hoppy beer.  It was balanced by a mildly high alcohol (6.2% ABV) whereas similarly bitter beers I have seen from other brewers are easily over 7% ABV and some are starting to breach 9% ABV.  Also, the hops are a blend of Warrior, Ahtanum, Simcoe, and Amarillo.  Maybe not focusing on one signature hop—like 100 IBU of Willamette or Cascade—mellows the hop profile somewhat and makes the beer eminently more drinkable.

Whatever the reason I was surprised by how easily a can of Furious would go down despite of what the numbers told me.

On the other hand, there is Overrated:


From the second you open the can and begin your pour the distinct aromas of West Coast IPA assault your nose.  Put the glass up to your lips and the headshop is right there in your glass.  Granted, from the description on the can it seems like the brewers at Surly wanted to make a beer that kind of poked fun of the entire West Coast IPA beer scene.  Why else make an intentionally hoppy beer and call it Overrated?

It’s not a bad beer.  It’s just not what I have come to expect from Surly, which seems to take its location in the Twin Cities seriously and produces beers that are appropriate for the place.  This is something that I think is lost on a lot of craft brewers.  It’s one thing to pursue your craft and attempt to brew the best possible beer on the planet.   However, each beer has a place and what is enjoyable on the northern coast of California will not be as enjoyable on Psycho Suzi’s patio.  It’s not that one beer is better than the other, but that each has a place where it is more suitable.  Just like a stout tastes better on a cold winter afternoon with a bowl of soup and a chilled wheat beer cannot be beat when the sun has fried your brain after a day of working in the yard.

Sorry for the moment of Zen.