Review: Ballast Point East to West IPA

Fresh out of undergrad in 2006, I packed up my life and moved to Japan to teach English for a year. Kind of crazy, sure, but I didn’t know what the heck to do with my life at that point (I had been so sure that I wanted to be an English professor and write and teach and then, while working on my senior thesis, I realized that it just wasn’t for me – so I felt totally lost) so I figured some adventure abroad would be the right choice. I spoke the language well enough to survive – and picked up a ton more through immersion – and was ready to give it a try.

Overall, it was a great year. My health, unfortunately, forced me to come home after just one year, when I had planned to stay for two to three. There are parts of me that regret not having more time there, but then my life would have turned out drastically differently… and I hate the What If game.

Ballast Point East to West IPA has been on a journey as well. It’s a collaboration between California-based Ballast Point and COEDO in Japan , and a close relative of another Ballast Point beer (West to East IPA), which uses sake rice and yuzu peel. This beer, however, uses the same recipe only with brown rice and Meyer lemon. It’s got some roots in Japan, but it’s been given a twist and a home back in the US.

I had this on draft at Frisco Tap House in April. It’s a deep goldenrod-colored pour that’s nice and clear in the glass. There’s no head, really, just a light smear of foam on top. There’s not much clinginess in that foam and so there’s no real lacing, either. The nose is bright, with citrus and floral notes. The hops smell is also fresh and fruity. This is, I think, what’s often referred to as “juicy.”

The taste is fairly tropical with a sharp brightness to it. That fruit-forward taste is balanced with just a hint of dankness from the hops. And there’s that late kettle addition of lemons, giving it a zippy flavor as well. The mouthfeel is light and the carbonation is fairly low.

I think it’s great for a warm, sunny spring day. I’d happily drink this all summer long. It’s just my speed. I sometimes like a big, piney hop flavor, but a nice fruity IPA can win my heart, too. Five out of five.

Review: Old Dominion Grapefruit Pale Ale

Old Dominion Brewery started life as a humble brewery in Ashburn, VA, way back in 1989 (this is fairly old by craft brewery standards, considering that much of the craft movement didn’t gain traction until the 2000s). They lovingly crafted beer and sodas for many years, supplying the Mid-Atlantic with reputable products in bottles and kegs. In 2007, they joined up with Fordham brewery out of Annapolis, MD – and in 2009, the breweries consolidated and moved their base of operations to Dover, Delaware. These two breweries are partners with the Rams Head Tavern in Savage, MD, who keeps several of their beers on rotating taps at all times.

I was meeting friends for dinner at Rams Head one April evening and, as per usual, I was heinously early. I grabbed a pint of this Grapefruit Pale Ale, their summer seasonal, which had just premiered earlier that week. Worth noting, I really don’t like trying to snap pictures of my beers in this venue because the lighting is so dark and kind of red-orange saturated. It doesn’t make for good photography.

This is (probably) a pretty, honeycomb gold color (again, those lights make it hard to tell) with a fluffy, off-white head on its beery shoulders. There’s plenty of full-bodied lacing remaining inside of the glass as the head settles. The nose is faintly hoppy, fairly grainy, and with some light notes of citrus fruit in it.

The bartender described it as “bright” and I agree: it’s very easy to drink and nicely crisp. Now, I don’t really usually like grapefruit anything, so this beer was kind of a risk – but it paid off. It’s great served cold on a warm day. It’s a little piney and reminiscent of an IPA in that way. The finish is a little dry (probably the number one complain that I make on this blog…), but not so dry that I’d never get this again. I think I would order it in the future, especially to support local craft beer.  Four out of five frosty mugs!

Review: Burnside Brewing Company Sweet Heat

Back to local Oregon beers with this one. In fact, this one was brewed only a few miles from my home base in Portland, OR. Burnside Brewing Company is based in the heart of Portland and runs a 15 barrel business, allowing them to make a few flagship beers along with some regular experimental brews, 7 days a week.

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Sweet Heat was a suggestion from James, my host for my Portland stay. He said that this was one of his favorites from Burnside, so I knew I had to give it a try. What kind of a guest would I be if I turned down his hospitality? So we split a 22oz bomber of this brew while we both did some work on our respective computers and, I have to say, it really grew on me from the first sip onward.

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Sweet Heat is an unfiltered wheat beer that’s made with apricots and dry-hopped with Jamaican Scotch Bonnet peppers. Poured from a 22oz bomber bottle into a pint glass, it was a pale golden yellow (not hazy, though) with minimal white head. It has a sweet nose (you can really smell the apricots) and makes for a sweet few first sips, too. There is a touch of tartness from the fruit, but it is mostly just sweet (though never cloyingly so) with a heat that really starts to build up.

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That sweetness begins to mellow after about half of a pint and that’s when the heat of the Scotch Bonnets really starts to kick in. It’s a heat that lives in the back of the throat, hot but never overwhelming to me. I really like spice, though, so I may be a touch biased on this one. Scotch Bonnets clock in at 100,000 – 350,000 units on the Scoville Scale (the standardized measure of spiciness for peppers). By comparison, a jalapeño pepper ranges from 2,500 – 8,000.

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This beer is exceptionally well-balanced in my mind. The sweetness is never overwhelming and the heat builds but doesn’t numb or mess with the taste of the beer. It remains light and refreshing throughout the entire drink, even in spite of the spice. I’ve had a lot of spicy beers before and few have remained this enjoyable to drink over the duration of the pint. I think this one is a summer seasonal, so it may be hard to find for a few months. But be sure to add it to your to-buy list for the next time it rears its head.

 

Review: Against The Grain Citra Ass Down IPA

Maybe it’s a little odd that I went to Oregon, seeking local beers, and ended up buying one from Louisville, KY. But hey, weird things happen… and my beer selections during this Portland trip continue to get weird.

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Ciara Ass Down by Against the Grain brewery is a double IPA that comes in a can. When I saw the name of it as I browsed the beer selection at Belmont Station, I giggled to myself and moved on. But then I doubled back to that beer and decided to give it a go. I’ve learned from some experimental, small-batch, single-hopped beers that I really like the flavor profile of Citra hops.

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Ciara hops are a relatively new varietal on the market. Introduced in 2008, they are a hybrid of a number of different hops. They’re very strongly citrusy and tropical in taste.

Poured from the can to a pint glass, Citra Ass Down was a beautiful medium golden yellow color with a delicate light tan head that dissipate quickly, leaving some lacing behind. It had no strong nose that I could detect, maybe because it was quite cold when I poured it. It was floral and sweet, with the Citra hops standing front and center, as they should be.

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It’s a Double IPA, so it had a higher ABV than a lot of the other beers I’d been drinking. At 8.2%, it was very easy to drink, which is maybe its great danger. The Citra hops keep the taste light and never too sweet and heavy like some DIPAs. I have to say, though, from experience: this beer does not pair well with candy corn.

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But then, what does? I spent Halloween night sipping on Citra Ass Down and watching old episodes of Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? together with my friends – a really perfect way to spend some time.

Review: BTU Brewery and Brasserie in Portland, OR

I’ll admit that I, personally, wouldn’t have thought to pair Chinese food with a brewery, but BTU proved to me that this is a concept that really works. Located in the Rose City Park area of Portland, BTU Brasserie and Brewery is next to a Thai restaurant by a fairly residential neighborhood. Its interior is set up, seating-wise, more like a bar that happens to serve food than it is like a restaurant, and so I couldn’t help but worry that the food would be mediocre fare, sacrificed to make the beer shine. Myself and two friends, S and J, grabbed a corner booth and got cozy with the menu.

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Photo by Rafael G via Yelp

There were eight beers on the menu at the time: the Brumanator (a strong, dark ale brewed with rye and blood orange), the Jade Tiger IPA (an American-style IPA), the BTU Lager, the Horned Hand (a dopplebock), the Imperial Red, the Wet Tiger IPA (their Jade Tiger, brewed with mosaic hops), the Ghostman White Lager, and the Buttah-Nut Gose (a tart ale made with butternut squash and sea salt).

As a team, the three of us ordered 5 of these selections and I stole a sip from each of them to taste. We also ordered a selection of food (not as much as we would have liked, which would have been all of the food on the entire menu). As a table, we shared Sichuan chicken (delightfully spicy at medium level heat), Copper Well Noodles with chicken (tofu was another option), Pork Bao Buns (like make-your-own little tacos!), and Garlic Chive Dumplings (amazing, savory, meaty, with a great dipping sauce). Most of the dishes are or could be made vegan, which is definitely a must in Portland.

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Bao Buns with Pork

The Wet Tiger IPA was my first beer of the night. An IPA brewed with mosaic hops (one of my favorite varietals), it was very refreshing and leaned toward sweet and lightly citrusy. It was maybe a little dry on the back end of the taste. A green-tasting, fresh sort of beer. I also had the Horned Hand myself, which was their higher ABV Dopplebock (8.5%, I think), and stood up well to the spicy Sichuan Chicken that we had tucked into by that point. It maybe grew a little sweet to for my palate once the food was done.

My friends ordered the Brumanator dark ale (a hint sweet, didn’t think I’d like it but I did, very dark/roasty/malty), the Buttah-Nut Gose (not overly sour, crisp, well-balanced saltiness), and the Imperial Red (smooth, slightly hoppy, not bitter, great mouthfeel and enough flavor to stand up to the spicy food).

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Photo by Chris B. via Yelp

We went on a Tuesday, which turned out to be all-day happy hour, meaning $5 dim sum dishes and $3 brews. Overall, everything was priced well, even before that discount. Perhaps more expensive than a traditional cart dim sum place, but not by very much. We stayed for two rounds of beer and talked about everything from football to writing to sewing. The restaurant grew busy around us with plenty of families with children filling it up; it grew noisy but never so loud that we couldn’t talk easily.

If I lived in the area (and wasn’t just visiting), I’d probably make BTU Brasserie and Brewery a pretty regular stop for small plates and beer. Especially with the happy hour prices, and all-day happy hour Tuesdays, it’s a wonderful local spot.

 

Review: Deschutes Hopzeit Autumn IPA

Ahh, another Oregon beer! It’s from Bend again. That town just has its beer culture together, you know? I wish it weren’t quite so middle-of-nowhere or I could see myself living among the mountains and breweries happily. We writers can do well with a lot of solitude but I find that I’m happiest not to far from a small-to-medium-sized city.

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Anyway! Beer! The Hopzeit Autumn IPA!

On another grocery run to pick up  pumpkins to carve and some more dinner-making ingredients (chicken and rice soup this time), I thought I’d grab another six-pack to check out. The words “Autumn IPA” caught my attention – why, those are two of my very favorite things! How did they know? I was amused to see the beer was from Deschutes Brewery.

In addition to being yet another Bend beer, Deschutes might be one of the best-known Oregon breweries in the states. Maybe my idea on that is skewed because of where I’m from, but Deschutes is very easy to get in the Washington, DC area year-round, both in bottles and on tap. Now, we only get a few kinds of their flagship beers (mostly the Black Butte Porter and the Mirror Pond Pale Ale) but they’re available and craft beer fans know that they like it.

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Hopzeit Autumn IPA comes in a bottle (not a can like, say, GoodLife) and I picked up a six-pack of them at a Fred Meyer for about $9. It is described on the packaging as an IPA inspired by a traditional Märzenbier – again, two things that I like. Märzen style beers are often a bit on the malty side and while they are supposed to be crisp and refreshing (like a fall day), they can easily stray into the region of “too sweet.”

Before refrigeration, brewing beer in the summer months was a dangerous business – bacteria would run amok in the heat. Brewing season traditionally ended with the spring and resumed again in the fall. Much of the supply for the summer was brewed in the month of March (in German: Märzen) and kept in cellars for cold storage for a few months’ worth of drinking. The resulting Märzenbier tend to be amber to brown in color and have a rich, toasted malt base. In Bavaria and the rest of Europe, these beers have a higher specific gravity and a moderate alcohol content, while the Americanized versions sometimes rock a higher ABV.

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This Märzenbier/IPA fusion, to me, does the jobs of both beer styles reasonably well. I wouldn’t call it exceptional in either field, but it is an easy beer to drink and enjoy. The featured hops are Herkules, Sterling, and Hull Melon – none of which I am very familiar with, I admit. I poured it from a 12oz brown bottle into a pint glass. It’s a lovely medium amber color with a light tan head (I poured better this time than I did last time with the Descender IPA). The nose is a lot like a brown ale with almost sweet, brown sugary notes in it. Hint: it goes very well with making and eating chicken and rice soup.

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It tastes crisp and light and isn’t very hoppy at all, which I expected it to be with “IPA” in the name. The Hopzeit is smooth and easy-drinking like a Märzen is supposed to be. Again, I drank this maybe slightly warmer than intended but that brought out more of the smell and flavor than I might have otherwise gotten. It’s not at all sweet, in spite of the smell.  Perhaps it’s a little dry in the mouth, but it’s the kind of dry that I like and which is the signature of crisp, autumnal beer styles.

We also carved up our pumpkins that night. Can you tell that maybe, just maybe, this is the nerdy house on the block?

Review: GoodLife Descender IPA

We’re always supposed to try new things, right? Well, I’m in Portland, OR, visiting friends for a while, and I found myself in the store, shopping for dinner ingredients and beer.

“Try something you’re never even heard of!” said the little beer conscience in the back of my head.

And I listened. And I grabbed a six-pack of IPAs from GoodLife Brewing.

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Good Life, it turns out, is fairly local to where I am now. They’re based out of Bend, Oregon, a charming ski-resort town in central Oregon. I actually visited Bend about a year and a half ago, with these same friends, for a brewery-hopping weekend adventure. Maybe that’s why Good Life spoke to me; maybe I did remember hearing of it somewhere in my distant memory.

Bend has a really incredible beer and brewing culture for a relatively small town in the middle of nowhere. There’s a strong drive to brew and drink locally here in Oregon (really, locally grown anything is a big hit here) and Bend makes that easy, with 22 breweries all packed in together. I think we hit seven or eight during our two days there.

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GoodLife Brewing was founded in 2011 near the Deschutes river (yes, Deschutes is also a Bend brewery), making crisp, clean water an easy-to-acquire ingredient for them. They actually can their beer, not bottle it, which is sometimes still a controversial choice in brewing circles. I got my six-pack for about $9 (which is way better than the beer prices back home!).

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I poured from the 12oz can into a pint glass. The color is a pale amber and the head formed nicely (although, in hindsight, I may have been a little overzealous with my pour), with some good lacing to follow. It has a nose of something fresh and bright and green with hints of floral notes. I have drank it from the can as well as from a glass and the scents really open up the open environment of a pint glass, though it tastes just fine from a can as well. It’s better colder, which I learned when I drank my first one after the cans had been in my grocery store and car for a while and had lost their proper chill.

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It’s a very crisp IPA in the NW style. Very West Coast all around. It’s got some hints of citrus but it never crosses into “fruity” territory. It’s not even as floral or green tasting as the nose would suggest. Not that it lacks flavor – it’s balanced well with a little toastiness from the malt (look at that color) and has a slight bitterness from the hops (the varietal(s) don’t seem to be public knowledge) and is well-rounded overall.

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I enjoyed one while prepping and cooking a dinner of soy/honey/red pepper marinated pork chops, roasted brussels sprouts with onions, green beans, roasted carrots, and roasted sweet potatoes.

Look, when it comes to making dinner for friends, I do not mess around. 

I had a second Descender IPA along with dinner and it stood up to the saltiness of the marinated pork chops, so I was pleased (and they were a bit salty – I can admit my faults!). I think that, at this point in my stay here, I only have one of these beers left. I promise that I will cherish it and drink it lovingly and with a pure heart.