Best Pale Ales and IPAs 2010: #1 Bear Republic Racer 5

16 07 2010

Talk about an amazing beer! The Racer 5 is the best of what an IPA has to offer! Excellent fragrance, complex flavors and well balanced bitterness. If you are a hop lover, this is the beer for you.

Using the American Alpha Acid Monsters Cascade, Chinook, Centennial and Columbus, Bear Republic has made a deliciously smooth, hoppy IPA rich with tropical fruit notes, herbs and spices. It is a bold beer that races down the straightaway and hugs the turns.

This beer has won gold and silver at the Great American Beer Festival twice each in the past ten years, and they deserve it! This is just a spectacular beer that should be enjoyed by all.

Bear Republic Racer 5

Photo Credit: @joefoodie CC

Rate Beer Score: 98 Points (100 for Style)

Aroma: Hop nose develops tropical fruits such as mango, papaya, and passion fruit. Slight spicy notes of lemongrass and rosemary. Bready maltiness helps accentuate earthy and mossy hop qualities as well as balance the bouquet.

Appearance: Burnished bronze with thin, white head and persistent medium-sized carbonation. Slight haze possibly due to not being filtered.

Taste: Big, juicy hope notes with fresh mango rind bitterness. Malt mostly takes a back seat while occasionally acting as a spoiler to keep it from flipping over.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, smooth and crisp. Medium-sized carbonation and a slight hint of cooling astringency.

This beer is so full of tropical fruit, that is the only thing we can think of pairing it with. Make a chicken kabob with mango marinade. Or a tropical fruit salad with papaya, pineapple and mango. Thai chili curry with a coconut milk base would pair stunningly with this. And a passion fruit creme brule would hit the sweet spot.

Runner Up
Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA-

We love Dogfish Head. They are some of the nicest people we have ever met. And their beers often make our favorites lists. Until Racer 5, 60 Minute used to be our go-to beer. When it comes to local beers on the Mid-Atlantic, very few stand up to it. So mellow, so smooth, but so full of hop flavor and aroma, it is a nearly perfect beer. We wanted 60 Minute to be our #1, but it just has to settle for #1.5.

With notes of fresh pine, lemongrass and mint 60 Minute is a wonderfully complex IPA. Their use of continuous hopping and Amarillo hops allows for the beer’s aroma, flavor and bitterness to flow from one stage to the next in a beautiful song and dance on the palate.

We love this beer!


Best Pale Ales and IPAs 2010: #2 Founders Centennial

15 07 2010

Last December, we named Founders Centennial our #2 favorite beer of the year. Because of that, it should come to no great surprise that it is our #2 favorite IPA.

We chose Founders Centennial as one of our favorite IPAs for how smooth and floral it is. It has amazing hop aroma from being dry hopped and unfiltered. But what is so amazing for all the hoppy nose, the bitterness is subdued. This is the perfect IPA for people who love hop aroma but don’t quite care for big in-your-face bitterness. It is a delicious beer.

Centennial Hops are a classic American hop varietal. Famous for their spicy, floral qualities as well as its amazing bitterness, the Centennial hop is an all around workhorse and an excellent choice for a really complex and interesting IPA.

Founders Centennial IPA

Photo Credit: @Joe Foodie CC

Rate Beer Score: 98 Points (98 for Style)

Aroma: Big hop nose full of citrus (grapefruit mostly with a hint of lemon and orange oil) with some spicy grass, sassafras and bubblegum notes. Malty back end helps balance the beer back.

Appearance: Hazy (unfiltered to help retain dry hopping qualities) copper gold with thin, white head. Persistent medium-sized carbonation.

Taste: Hop forward with surprisingly little bitterness. Hops are spicy and bright with notes of rosemary, grapefruit and sassafras. Nice use of biscuit malt to mellow out the end. A lingering fruitiness on the back of the palate with some slight soap bubble bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Crisp and clean with strong, prickling carbonation. Medium-bodied and no lingering astringency.

This IPA would go well with a cheese plate of English cheddar, bloomy soft cheeses and a grassy blue cheese. It would also go very well with ribs or anything grilled meat that had a bit of sweetness to it.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Rate Beer Score:
96 Points (98 for Style)

Ken Grossman has a lot to be proud of. Celebrating 30 years with Sierra Nevada, he has been a leader in the American Craft Brew world. His brewery is setting environmental standards for the beer world. His beers are the epitome of simplicity. And he, essentially, introduced Americans to full flavored hops. Really by accident, in fact. Ken found importing British malts and hops too expensive for too poor of quality. And so, he used whatever American ingredients he could get his hands on. The result is the American Pale Ale.

Sierra Nevada is so ubiquitous, it is almost cliche. But it got there by being a really good beer. Full of crisp, hop flavor and rich with malts, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is an extremely well made beer. And we are so lucky to have it.

Best Pale Ales and IPAs 2010: #4 Dale’s Pale Ale

13 07 2010

Oskar Blues has been around for a little over a decade and they have been distributing for less than that. But already, they have fundamentally shifted the way Americans think about beer in general and can beers specifically. Oskar Blues was the first American craft brewery to distribute their beers in twelve ounce cans. Sparking a “Beer Can Apocalypse” (in every sense of the word), they have “lifted the veil” on good beer in a can. This is all lead by their flagship beer- Dale’s Pale Ale.

A monster of an APA; Dale’s is bold, dripping with resinous hops but sweet and smooth by balancing malts.  It is the first horseman of the beer can apocalypse.

Oskar Blues- Dale’s Pale Ale

Photo Credit: Bernt Rostad CC

Rate Beer Score: 98 Points (100 for style)

Aroma: Resinous, piney, vegetal hoppiness with sweet malt aroma.

Appearance: Toasted oak with thin, white head. Solid carbonation. Hazy to clear body.

Taste: Resinous, piney hops with notes of spruce tips, rose hips and spearmint. English malt add biscuit and cracker like bread notes.

Mouthfeel: Crisp, dry and slightly astringent. Strong, scrubbing carbonation with medium body. Very clean on the back end.

Pairs well with fried foods, Mexican and TexMex like burritos, tacos, and enchiladas. Good with sweet and smokey foods like BBQ chicken and ribs.

Runner Up:
Stone IPA
Rate Beer Score:
100 Points (100 for style)

We have the utmost respect for Stone and what they do.  They emphasize sturdy, in your face beers. Their brew pub specializes in local and organic food. They call imported beer “a sin.” They make good beers.

But my problem with Stone is that their IPA is a little too monotonous. It is that bold, slap-you-in-the-face bitterness that does not say much to any real depth or significance. I would rather have a beer that has nuance, subtly changes over time and has a mature complexity to it. While Stone IPA is bitter, it is not complex. Notes of grapefruit, lemon pith and a faint hint of cat piss are the predominant notes. Then it drops off to, well, nothing else. It is great if you want bitterness. But there is little more to it.

Best Pale Ales and IPAs 2010: #5 Anderson Valley Poleeko Gold Pale

12 07 2010

Last week, we argued that pale ales and IPAs are perfect for hot summer months. With light, and crisp hop bitterness; sweet, satisfying malts; and a good touch of alcohol, they are just so refreshing for sitting on a porch, at a cafe patio, or at a picnic. This week, we look to some of our favorite American pale ales and India Pale Ales (IPAs). As per usual, we will post them in reverse order and mention some honorable mentions.

Today, we start with Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s Poleeko Pale; a wonderfully smooth and hoppy selection from Northern California. Anderson Valley is renown for making tasty and refreshing beers year ’round. Their seasonal selections: Summer Solstice and Winter Solstice are fitting examples of what the weather calls for. Their names are silly. They use the local dialect known as “boontling“, a combination of Scottish, Irish and Spanish. Lately, they have started canning the beer. And for a company that has such focus on environmental stewardship, it is a fitting move for them.

We have selected their pale ale for its smoothness, crispness and their use of classically American hops which imparts notes of citrus and herbs like lemongrass and mint.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company Poleeko Gold Pale-

Photo Credit: Anderson Valley score: 74 Points (67 for Style)

Aroma: Notes of citrus (predominantly orange, lemon and tangerine) as well as herbs like spearmint, lemongrass and pear blossom. Slight maltiness helps balance out the hops.

Appearance: Hazy gold (unfiltered). Small, white head still provides excellent lacing. Strong carbonation.

Taste: Hop forward with notes of lemon, peppercorn and lemongrass. Excellent bittering and very well balanced with hints of cracker and biscuit. Very crisp and dry. Clean backend.

Mouthfeel: Very smooth and crisp. Strong carbonation. Dry, dusty back end with slight astringency.

Serve with spicy foods: specifically Thai, Vietnamese or other Southeast Asian cuisine. Also would pair very well with fresh arugula salad served with goat cheese and mandarin oranges. Would hold up very well to cold fried chicken.

Runner Up:
Firestone Walker- Pale 31 California Pale Ale

Rate Score: 91 Points (94 for Style)

My Partner and I have a soft spot in our hearts for Firestone Walker Brewery. When we first moved in together, we lived in the Central Coast of California not far from the Brewery in Santa Barbara County. We drank a lot of Firestone Walker at that time. And I always get a small twinge of hometown pride whenever I get word that they have won an award. Luckily for them and me, that happens often. In less than ten years their American Pale Ale has won nearly a dozen accolades. That does not even count the dozen or so other awards they have won for their other styles. It is easy to see why Pale 31 wins so many times. Built of a base of English pale malts but set loose with a healthy dose of Northwestern American hops including Cascade, Centennial and Chinook this is one pale ale that does not disappoint.

And yet it does. You are going to have a difficult time finding it if you do not live in California or Arizona. So, while I would love to see this beer in the top 5, it looses points for being so unavailable. Some day though, it will be easier to find. And when that day comes, I will be happy to put it in its rightful place.

‘Tis The Season: Pale Ales and India Pale Ales

8 07 2010

There is no denying it: summer is here in the Northern Hemisphere. The days are long and hot. And the nights are short and warm. It is the ideal weather for picnics, cook outs, sitting on a porch or cafe patio and for drinking beer. Every one has their favorite beer styles for the summer. But for me, in early summer, I love pale ales and IPAs. We have already gone over the history of pale ales (both English and American) and IPAs before so we won’t go into that deep of details here. But here are three reasons why I think they can be perfect for a long, hot summer day.

Photo Credit: sashafatcat CC

1. Hops, Hops, Hops-

Since I grew up in California, it should come to no great surprise that I am a bit of a hop head. While I am less and less impressed by those monotonous hop bombs, I do love a good slap you in the face IPA. Lately, however, I have become much more impressed with a very interesting and complex IPA that has citrus, pineapple, cedar, pine, moss, spruce and other aromatics. A good, crisp pale ale with strong bubbles and a complex hop profile can be so incredibly refreshing on a hot day. And the maltiness of a well balanced pale ale can be so very satisfying.

2. Sessionable. Or not…-

American Pale Ales and IPAs tend to lean toward the low end of alcohol. Ranging from 4-8% ABV, you can have have a few and maybe a few more and still feel alright the next morning. We always advocate responsible drinking at The Thinking Persons Beer and we believe pale ales and IPAs are perfect for sense-able drinking. One can drink a few until the palate is tired and then be done. Or, if you feel so inclined, you can have some Double IPAs or Imperial IPAs. At 10-12% ABV, you can feel the buzz pretty quickly and enjoy the rest of the night that way.

3. Food Parings

Photo Credt: Sonnett CC

With the scrubbing bubbles and spicy, citrusy hops, pale ales and IPAs are nearly perfect for pairing with picnic and cook out foods. Spicy hops help balance the spice of BBQ sauce or chips and salsa. The scrubbing bubbles help cleanse the pallet from fats like potato salad, juicy hamburgers or fried chicken. Maybe you are wanting to sit on the patio of a cafe, pale ales go very well with fresh salads dressed in vinaigrette and fresh goat cheese. A grilled veggie sandwich on freshly baked sourdough toast would be perfect with a good pale ale as well. And while it may sound crazy, a bold Double IPA is a better partner for a slice of New York cheese cake as the citrus matches the vanilla of the cheese and the crispness cleanses the palate of the fattiness of the cheese.

This weekend, we will be sharing some of the best pale ales and IPAs of the year along with food parings for the summer. Which is your favorite IPA?

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 14- India Pale Ales

4 05 2010

As we mentioned a few weeks ago, technology of the 17th century allowed for cleaner roasting processes and lighter colored malts. The pale ales, known as “bitters,” became all the rage. By the 18th century, it was considered a symbol of status to be drinking the more expensive and cleaner tasting bitters. It was also around this time that “The Sun Never Set on the British Empire.” Soldiers around the world required beer to consume as much of the water and sanitary conditions were below the standards of English gentlemen soldiers. Quickly, the British military learned that beer had a difficult time traveling the many months to the far flung colonies of England. For much of the time, the beer was in casks, on boats, in tropical regions. They attempted to make breweries in the colonies. But the tropical temperatures in India, Africa and the Caribbean were too hot to make beer in a time before refrigeration.

If a brewer could figure out how to solve this problem, he would be rich. From the time of Hildegaard of Bingen, brewers knew that hops had a preservative effect and helped beer from spoiling. George Hodgen had a beer called “October Beer” that often was aged for two years. He hypothesized that if he gave an extra dosing of hops to his October Beer, the increased alcohol and hops would help the beer survive the trip. He was correct and was soon sending casks of this October beer to thirsty soldiers in India.

Other breweries followed suit. Samuel Smith’s Brewery also began brewing exportable Pale Ales. The water source actually turned out to be perfect for the style. The hard water they received from their well and the river Burton-Upon-Trent helped accentuate the sharpness of the hops. Many breweries attempted to capitalize on the phenomenon by adding mineral salts in order to “burtonize” their water. Burtonizing is still a practice used today by brewers.

After the soldiers came home from the colonies, the clamored for the hoppy, sweet beers they were accustomed to. Hodgen and Smith both decided to brew a domestic version and began advertising them as India Pale Ales. Samuel Smith’s still refers to theirs as the original name they used, the “India Ale.” For a while, India Pale Ales )or IPAs) were all the rage in England. But by the early twentieth century, the fad had all but died out. After the fall of the British Empire and two very difficult wars that had taken their toll on England and its brewers, no one had a taste for the hoppy ales.

In the 1970’s the Campaign for Real Ales (CAMRA) helped resurrect many old, endangered styles. Porters, Cask Conditioned Ales and IPAs all received a big boost by this movement. As England brought back these old styles, Americans were just starting to gain a taste for things a bit more “unusual.” American brewers began bringing IPAs over to this side of the Pond. As is the case with most every beer the American’s get their hands on, they put the style on steroids and saw just how big they could go. Whereas the English had lightly increased their hopping schedule to create a sharper and stronger beer, the Americans pushed the limit by throwing as much hops into the kettle as possible.

American IPAs were bigger, stronger, and bolder. Americans began to come to like the taste of hops. By the late 1990’s to today, we saw the growth of the “hop head” those legions of beer drinkers who crave the hop. They judge the beer by the amount of IBUs and look for interesting new varieties of hops. We see the growth of double IPAs, Imperial IPAs, Double Imperial IPAs. Brewers have begun experimenting with “Dry hopping” where they put dried hops into the fermenter in order to add more hop flavor and aroma. And recently, wet hopping, where the brewers add fresh hops to the fermenter. They just keep getting bigger and bigger. And there is no sign of when or where it is going to stop.

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 14- IPAs

Subcategories: English IPA, American IPA, Imperial IPA

Aroma: IPAs tend to be hop forward with a floral, spicey or citrusy note. English IPAs, due to their smaller hopping schedule and use of English hops, tend to be more floral and spicey. American and Imperial IPAs, due to their increased hopping schedule and use of American hops, tend to be more citrusy. A light biscuit or toasty maltiness is common. No yeast or diacytl should be present.

Appearance: Dark pale to copper is most common. Occasionally, an IPA may even verge on the red end. A lovely, firm white to tan head should be persistent, often with excellent lacing. Carbonation should be medium to high. Very clean and clear. Although some brewers who dry or wet hop may not filter their beers, thus leaving a slight haze to it.

Flavor: Hop forward with a pronounced bitterness and sharpness. English IPAs will have a spicy, grassy, rosy quality to them. American IPAs will have a citrusy character with hints of lemon, orange, grapefruit, and/or pineapple. They may also have a spicy character of rose, spruce, pine, or sassafras. A good, strong malt back bone should help balance the hops with toasted bread, biscuit, or sweet malt. The use of hard water helps keep the beer crisp and light without letting it fall flat. And the yeast should be very clean. A slight booziness can help clean the palate. Oak can be present in an English IPA.

Mouthfeel: Very clean, crisp and sharp. There should be a drying or astringent quality to the end. And the large carbonation should help clean the palate and leave a prickle to the tongue.

Ingredients: Pale ales with some lighter specialty malts. English hops for English IPAs and American hops for American IPAs. Burton salts to harden the water are appropriate. A clean ale yeast.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
Final Gravity: 1.010-1.012
SRM (Malt Color): 6-15
IBUs: 40-120

Commercial Examples:
English IPA:
Meantime India Pale Ale, Freeminer Trafalgar IPA, Fuller’s IPA, Ridgeway Bad Elf, Summit India Pale Ale, Samuel Smith’s India Ale, Hampshire Pride of Romsey IPA, Burton Bridge Empire IPA,Middle Ages ImPailed Ale, Goose Island IPA, Brooklyn East India Pale Ale
American IPA: Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, AleSmith IPA, Russian River Blind Pig IPA, Stone IPA, Three Floyds Alpha King, Great Divide Titan IPA, Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, Victory Hop Devil, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Anderson Valley Hop Ottin’, Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Founder’s Centennial IPA, Anchor Liberty Ale, Harpoon IPA, Avery IPA
Imperial IPA: Russian River Pliny the Elder, Three Floyd’s Dreadnaught, Avery Majaraja, Bell’s Hop Slam, Stone Ruination IPA, Great Divide Hercules Double IPA, Surly Furious, Rogue I2PA, Moylan’s Hopsickle Imperial India Pale Ale, Stoudt’s Double IPA, Dogfish Head 90-minute IPA, Victory Hop Wallop

Women and Brewing

24 03 2010

Ed. note- March is Women’s History Month and today (March 24th) is Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace was an English writer and mathematician. By many, she is considered the first computer programmer. On Ada Lovelace Day, bloggers are encouraged to write posts on women’s roles in the advancement of science.

It can be claimed that over 99% of humanity’s interaction with fermentation has been led by women. It seems difficult to believe in the modern West where beer and spirits have become a man’s space. But from the hunter gatherer’s day of fermenting honey to mead to even today where cheesemaking,  , and even in the case of many pre-industrialized cultures alcohol making has been led by women. If, for so long, yeast production was led by women, why is it that men have so successfully co-opted beer?

But first, a history of women and fermentation.

As mentioned above, women were most likely the first fermenters. In hunter/gatherer societies, mead was the first fermented beverage. Honey mixed with water and fermented with wild yeasts, it is the most basic of alcoholic beverages. Women would gather honey along with herbs, fruit and roots. And, as water gatherers and fire keepers, they were probably the ones to control the mead as well.

Fast forward several thousand years to the beginning of agriculture. It is a common theory among anthropologists and archeologists that agriculture was begun in order to increase fermentation yields. Records found in Mesopotamia (one of the first agricultural sites in the world) showed that farmers grew as much barley as wheat. If food was the main reason for farming, it would not make sense to grow so much barley. Barley is more difficult to grow than wheat. It is difficult to mill into flour due to its hard shell and is poor for making bread. On the other hand, wheat is not good for making beer because of its high protein levels and thin shell. To grow one and not the other would show agriculture was based for food instead of alcohol. But to grow both shows a selection of grains for multiple uses.

Beer was most likely discovered by accident. Malting grain (allowing it to sprout and then drying it) is the best way to preserve grains other than baking it. Women bakers at home most likely discovered some water in their malt storage and found the sweet, fermented liquid to be pleasing to the taste and constitution. For a vast history of subsistance lifestyle, women were in charge of cooking cheese, baking bread and brewing beer (the three forms of human led fermentation).

In the pre-industrialized world, much of the alcohol consumed in home was brewed at home. Each family had their own recipes, malted local grains, grew their own hops and re-used their own yeast. In Belgium, spontaneous fermentation led to the development of “farmhouse style ales” including Saison and Lambic. In England and the New World, a process of reusing yeast called “Kreuzening” was used. This was accomplished by taking the yeast filled foam off the top of the fermenting beer and putting it in the next batch.

In Ancient Sumeria all the way to the Industrial Revolution, women weren’t only the homebrewers, they were also the tavern owners. women, being the ones who knew how to brew, were responsible for the town’s beer supply. Owning taverns and brewing beer were seen as socially acceptable ways for widowed and orphaned women to support themselves. And in England during the middle ages women tavern owners were called “Alewives.’ Their breweries were recognized by the brooms hanging over their doors. These Alewives, with their brewed potions and brooms, may have been the early models for our witches myths. As Carolyn Merchant points out in “The Death of Nature” it was precisely these witch myths that men exploited in order to consolidate power and wealth during the rise of modern industrialism. Eventually, male brewers became so tired of competing with Alewives, they had laws passed to make it near impossible for women brewers to make money off their product. They even made certain vital ingredients illegal for women to own including more than one bushel of grains at a time.

In other areas, the responsibility of the town’s beer supply was to the clergy. Some monastic orders, including the Trappists and Paulanists, are recognized for their proud brewing tradition. But some nuns, particularly the Franciscans, were also accomplished brewers. To this day, many Franciscan nuns are still very accomplished brewers. In 1976, a 26 year old nun named Sister Doris took the Bavarian brewer’s examination and came in on top.

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen was a German Bendedictine nun and mystic who wrote many books about brewing and the brewing process. There is some debate on whether or not she is the first person to write about the use of hops. But she is definitely the first person to recognized the preservative nature of the plant.

St. Brigid, a patron saint of both Ireland and brewers is said to have turned her bathwater to beer so that the local lepers could drink potable water. And it is also said that when an easter celebration had run out of beer, she had turned water to beer.

In America, beer was slow to catch on. Barley was difficult to grow. By the time German and Czech immigrants began selling beer, most Americans were happy sticking to spirits and cider. Beer did not catch on until the mid- to late 19th century. At this point, beer and taverns had been designated as male spaces. American women generally did not brew beer at home. And thus, beer in the States had become a male dominated beverage.

In the twentieth century, women still bought beer for their family’s use. Beer at that point had been reduced to the sparkling macro brews we are used to today. The development of the beer can and the six pack was actually marketed toward women as an easy way to bring home the beer. And men, who’s beer tastes had been developed during WWII, were comfortable with the beer in a can.

As the American craft brew scene developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s women’s liberation and feminism brought women right back to were we began, in the brewery. Although a small proportion of modern brewers are women, it is growing. Stoudt’s Brewing in Pennsylvania is recognized as the first modern brewery with a woman brewmaster. Harlem Brewing Company in New York City is the first brewery in America to have a Black woman brewer.

In nearly every facet of brewing, there is a woman’s touch these days: women brewers, bar owners, distributors, sommeliers, and just drinkers. an organization called the Pink Boots Society works to support women in the beer world. As of last month, their directory contained over 320 members from around the world. Any woman who makes at least part of her income from beer is welcomed to join the Pink Boots Society.

Let us raise a glass in recognition of all the women who helped make beer what it is today!