Monday, November 19, 2012

Oregon IPAs — Bend Brewing vs. Hop Valley

Bend Brewing
Elk Lake India Pale Ale
ABV 6.5%

Hop Valley
Alphadelic I.P.A.
ABV 6.5%

We've tried a lot of IPAs. A quick search on "IPA" in this blog will confirm that fact. Many have been excellent, a few have been awful but they've all been fun to try and they've all contributed to our knowledge of the almighty hop. Our hop education continued with these two Oregon IPAs. The Elk Lake is from Bend Brewing in the heart of downtown Bend while the Alphadelic is from Springfield right outside of Eugene. 

Both had a very similar color but the Elk Lake was murky while the Alphadelic was crystal clear. They both offered strong hop aromas with the Elk Lake coming across as floral, citrusy and a bit chemical while the Alphadelic was more spicy, piny and soapy. Both were bitter in the finish but to different degrees. The Alphadelic had a harsh bitter greens/citrus rind finish while the Elk Lake was far more moderate with citrus notes.

In our extensive tasting of IPAs we've noticed that sometimes hop character can cross over from organic qualities like citrus, flowers and pine to artificial qualities like soap and cleaning solution. It's a fine line that has to do with a bunch of things from hop variety to brewing technique but regardless of how it happens we don't care for it. Sadly, to our palates, both of these beers had some of those chemical qualities so our decision was mostly based on which one had less of those qualities. So the Elk Lake took the victory since the cleaning solution aroma we detected was a bit more subdued than the soapiness of the Alphadelic. We also thought the Elk Lake had a much better finish.

Here's to hoping that your next IPA is clean tasting, but not too clean tasting. Have a great Thanksgiving everyone and don't forget to pair some beer with all that great food!

Unanimous Decision: Elk Lake India Pale Ale

Monday, November 5, 2012

Trader Joe's Beer — Boatswain vs. Boatswain

Boatswain H.L.V. Ale 
(Heavy Lift Vessel)
ABV 7%

Boatswain Double I.P.A.
(Twin Screw Steamer)
ABV 8.4%

In celebration of the newly opened Trader Joe's in Medford we thought we'd battle a couple of beers you will only find on their hallowed shelves. According to a quick Google search it appears that both are contract brewed by Minhas Craft Brewery in Monroe, Wisconsin which brews a baffling array of beer and "flavored malt beverages." My favorite part about their website however is that they have a section for "premium brews" including such tempting options as Boxer Light and Clear Creek Ice. Good stuff.
These beers are such a great deal that we were hoping that one or both might be able to make the permanent rotation in our fridge. As I recall they have three or four Boatswain beer options. The Double I.P.A. was a no brainer choice as we are always on the hunt for bargain double IPAs. The H.L.V. we got mostly because we had no idea what kind of beer it was. There is no indication on the bottle as to the style at all. The only hint was the cryptic description: "Our ale has aromas and flavors of sweet, roasted malt balanced with moderate bitterness from the high level of hops." How awesomely vague!
As usual, Ellen poured without me watching but it wasn't necessary as it was obvious which was which by the color. The H.L.V. was super dark and the Double I.P.A. was a nice bright orange with just a hint of brown. The aromas followed suit with the IPA offering up some fruity hop notes and the H.L.V. countering with solid chocolate malt and smoke. 
The IPA was very sweet, rich and full-bodied with golden raisin, honey and mild citrus flavors. I also detected some grainy notes that I associate with macro-lagers but Ellen didn't get those flavors. The finish was sweet and malty with almost no bitterness at all. In contrast, the H.L.V. was all chocolate, coffee and smoke in the flavor with a slightly acidic finish and a mild bitterness. To us, it tasted like a mildly hoppy stout.
Sadly, neither of these beers were anything special. I felt the Double I.P.A. really lacked that big hop bite of exceptional double IPAs and it was way to sweet for my tastes. Ellen thought that the H.L.V. was too smoky and preferred the IPA. On a positive note neither beer was terrible so I suppose that they are both worth tasting on the off chance that one of them is a perfect match for your palate. Or you could skip the beer aisle altogether and focus your attentions on some of the other intriguing options at Trader Joe's like chocolate covered potato chips and truffle cheese. Viva la Trader Joe's! 
Split Decision: Ellen chose the Double I.P.A. I chose the H.L.V.