Welcome to This Month in Beer, an ongoing series of articles where I (Greg Zeschuk) discuss some of the more interesting releases in the world of beer. Dozens of beers are released every month, and my goal is to pick out a small sample of exceptional beers to share with you.
It's July, it's getting hot, and there's nothing quite as refreshing as cracking open a crisp summer beer to cool you down. This month, it's time to crank up the boldness and discuss the India Pale Ale (IPA). IPAs are one of the most popular beer styles, especially among craft beer aficionados. They're noted for being very heavily hopped, with a bracing bitterness that dominates the flavor. The really great ones also show an amazing depth of character with fruit, resin, herbal, floral, and even spicy qualities. So read on to learn about some great IPAs to enjoy this month.
Starting off our list is the Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point in California. I first tried this beer thanks to a friend in California, who brought it to my house and introduced it as "the next great IPA." It was fairly hot off the presses, and after trying it I absolutely had to agree with him. The Sculpin IPA shows an exquisitely delicate range of fruit character unlike any IPA I've ever tried. Sure, the aroma and flavor have lots of the usual citrus and pine elements in any great IPA, but what really sets it apart were the unexpected fruit notes like peach and mango. The art of making a really great IPA requires a masterful balance of hop bitterness with malty sweetness, without losing any unique character in the beer. The Sculpin is the prototypical example of this, and it hits hard as a solid West Coast IPA but also displays great subtlety. Sometimes it's really difficult to explain the uniqueness of a beer, and I'm honestly having a lot of trouble with the Sculpin -- you need to try it and find out for yourself.
Our next beer is the popular Yellow Snow IPA, from Rogue in Oregon. True to its name, this beer pours a delightful cloudy color with a fluffy head. (There's even a dog on the clever label to make sure there's no confusion about the origin of the name.) The aroma is a delicate mix of grapefruit and sweet malt; it's solidly hoppy, but not overpowering like many other West Coast IPAs. Orange rind and solid bitterness really dominate the flavor, with just a hint of malt in the dry finish. Never overpowering and very nicely balanced, this beer is quite a delightful example of a balanced IPA. The dry finish is really the key element for this beer, and it keeps you going back for more.
A unique inclusion in our IPA roundup is the Glutenberg IPA, a gluten-free India Pale Ale from Montreal. Over at my other gig The Beer Diaries, we've done a gluten-free beer guide, and the Glutenberg IPA was one of our top beers. We're pretty hard on the gluten-free beers; we expect beer to taste like beer, and this beer was one of the stars. The Glutenberg IPA is made with a variety of grains: millet, buckwheat, corn, and black rice, and it avoids any barley (the usual ingredient for beer and a source of gluten). It pours a brilliant straw-gold color with a fluffy white head, and in the first sniff it happily brings you to IPA land with lots of pine resin and citrus dominating the aroma. Right from the aroma and through the flavor is an interesting fresh fruit (almost apple-like) quality that seems to replace the usual malt character found in most beers. The flavor shows a nice and bracing bitterness, dominated again by citrus and pine, followed by the elusive orchard fruit note. If you don't consume gluten this is a great beer for you to enjoy, and even those who do consume gluten will find this enjoyable in the summer heat.
The final beer on the list is a rare and unusual IPA called Mortalité, a collaboration between Dieu du Ciel out of Quebec and Vermont's The Alchemist. Those of you that read about beer on AskMen likely saw my story on Heady Topper, the Alchemist's famous creation, so you understand anything involving The Alchemist, the esteemed Dieu du Ciel and IPAs is a major beer event. Mortalité pours a golden cloudy color with an extremely fluffy white head. Even as it pours I caught a huge mango aroma backed by a hint of pine. Bold and powerful, with no malt getting in the way, this beer is crisp and bitter, with mango, orange peel and pine needles dominating the delightfully fluffy and light bodied brew. Sure, it's bitter, but it's also exceptionally drinkable. After my first sip I felt like I'd died and gone to heaven.
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