As warm weather approaches and temperatures heat up, it’s time to take a look at that thirst-slaking stalwart of the craft beer scene, pale ale, along with its bigger, bolder and hoppier brother, India pale ale.
I never expected an American-style IPA from Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing—given, you know, its name and all—but as much as the new Ranger India Pale Ale is a surprise, it’s a pleasant one. Rich gold in color, this moderately strong ale has a citrus-accented nose plentiful in sweet floral notes and a flavor that, while it may lean a bit heavily on the bitter side, offers an appetizing mix of piney, citrusy notes and sweetish honey maltiness. (New Belgium Brewing Company)
California’s Firestone Walker Brewing garners headlines with its special creations, such as the winter Anniversary Ale, which always is a blend of different beers in the fashion of a meritage wine, but it’s more quaffable brews such as the flagship Double Barrel Ale that pays the bills. Moderately hoppy in the British style—in contrast to the more intense and grapefruity American style of pale ale—the Double Barrel offers a fruity, vanilla-accented malt base balancing a nutty hop bitterness than never overwhelms and contributes to a dry, quenching finish. (Firestone Walker Brewing Company)
The latest cross-cultural amalgamation of beer styles is what’s become known as the Belgian IPA, a beer of IPA-esque bitterness with the fruit-edged spiciness that arises from the use of Belgian yeast. Seldom is it done better than in Belgica, a spring seasonal that showcases plentiful tropical fruit notes in the nose and a satisfyingly peppery spiciness in the body, all culminating in a fair dose of citrusy hoppiness. A bastard style, perhaps, but with lovely results. (Great Divide Brewing Company)
Although nowhere on its label does it claim the designation, there is little question that Liberty Ale is an IPA and, having been brewed since 1975, a pioneering one at that. Deep gold in color, citrusy of aroma and crisply bitter in taste, this minor craft brewing legend is worth reacquainting oneself with, especially as American IPAs become bolder, hoppier and far more aggressive in character. (Anchor Brewing Company)
On the subject of near-icons, Batemans XXXB from the over a century old and still family owned Batemans Brewery in Wainfleet, England, is regarded by many as a modern classic—and not without reason. First brewed in 1980, the multi-award winning, hoppy, fruity amber ale has come to exemplify the premium pale ale category in the United Kingdom with its ripe malt nose and satisfyingly dry and snappily bitter finish. (SBS Imports)
Straddling the thin line between IPA and the stronger, bolder, so-called “double” IPA style is HopDevil, an estimable ale from Victory Brewing that had tongues wagging during the beer tasting seminar at January’s Cheers Beverage Conference. Bearing fruity (grapefruit, peach) and piney notes in its aroma, this Pennsylvania beer shows how balance really can be achieved in a highly hopped beer, with its bitterness matched at every turn by fruity, caramelly malt. The finish has a bit of a bitter tang, but such is to be expected in an IPA. (Victory Brewing Company)Finally, lest we forget the “double” IPA category entirely, those looking for a purely hedonistic assault of hops need look no further than HopSlam, a dangerously quaffable 10 percent alcohol behemoth that just barely supports a massive amount of hoppiness on a burly, faintly candyish malt frame. As a nightcap on a cool spring evening, this has precious few peers. But make sure the imbiber likes hoppy bitterness! (Bell’s Brewery)