Nate / April 28, 2012, 4pm

Spring is in the air. You can feel it deep in your sinus cavities, no?  Mmmmm, pollens, grasses, and insects! Grasses. Let’s think about that. Grass. Cannabis. Hops!  Hops, folks, let’s talk about hops.  They’re all fluffy and full of alpha acids that add aroma and bitterness to that delicious glass of beer you have in your little paws. And what better way to get down with the hop than by drinking copious amounts of IPA?

IPAs can be notoriously difficult to pair with cheese- they can absolutely destroy your palate with bitter-y goodness, making the nuances of more delicate cheeses (or, sometimes, anything else) difficult to discover. Heartier, bolder, roughneck cheese is what we’re gonna have to find here. Or is it? Let’s hop to it…

hop…to it? har har…

While not my most favored style of beer, for you, my sweet audience (yes all six of you), I drank copious amounts of IPA in the last two (four?) weeks.  And you know what? I’m totally OK with that. Think I’ll make it a springtime tradition.  Seriously, about 20 different IPAs have come through my door recently, not to mention the dusty taps I’ve sampled throughout NYC in that time. Narrowing down all the notes I took, I’m presenting here three that give us a sample of the IPA diaspora available out there for all you thursty turkeys.  But first, history! Or what I believe to be history…

One night while out imbibing, I met an elderly English cat who told me the story of IPA, which goes something like this: the British were in India during the 19th century and they wanted ales from the motherland.  The travel by boat would end up compromising the flavor of those pale ales, so they began adding hops to each barrel of beer to preserve its flavor for when it finally landed on the sub-continent. These beers would take on a particularly bitter character by the time it got to the Brits (ever read the Flashman books? I always of him when I drink IPAs), thus was born the India Pale Ale. Bless the English and their imperialist ways.  So they would have a more bitter beer, but they always had a more mellow brewing style than we know today, with hops that held a lighter alpha acid content, like Kent Golding or Fuggle.  So what do we do here in the ol’ USofA? MORE MALT MORE HOPS MORE ALPHA ACID!!!!! IPA has become a chance for American craft brewing to blow your taste buds right outta the top of your skulls.  No more is this evidenced than on the west coast, where some of the biggest and gnarliest IPAs reside.  So in between downloading the 1980s Motley Crüe catalog and checking out baseball scores, I found some time to think and drink.  IPA folks! Let’s get bitter, and not in a holiday family function kind of way.

We’ll ease into this with Simcoe Single Hop from Mikkeller- they’re based in Denmark but this one was brewed at De Proef Brewery in Belgium. Mikkeller is a ghost brewer, meaning they move from instillation to instillation for brewing, using their connections throughout the world of beer to create innovative brews, sometimes in collaboration with the brewery they’re working at. It’s really a cool story- check ‘em out.  This bottle is part of their single hop series, meaning they chose one hop for aroma and bittering- so we’re about to get real intimate with this bud. The Simcoe Hop originates in the fertile Northwest state of Washington; in this bottle it presents a floral aroma with notes of pine, lemon zest, and weed on the palate. It’s got a bright, balanced, and crisp bitterness that doesn’t linger.  I had this beer with some pickled herring and nice little young French crottin, and friends, let me tell you: the combo was D-Y-N-O-M-I-T-E. Bitter citrus, butterfat, vinegar soaked fish- my holy trinity.

eat more cured fish!

 Up next: Harpoon Brewery’s Leviathan Series Imperial IPA from Massachusetts.  This is exactly what I love about east coast IPAs.  It’s a beautiful amber color with a more mild nose than one would expect from an Imperial IPA with a 10% ABV- more of a subtle grain aroma than one filled with the expected floral/citrus bomb.   Full flavors of caramel malt and yeast are on the palate along with butterscotch.  Really a nice balance between malt and hop with a full, yet fine body.  This is an IPA that’s amenable to cheese pairings- I drank it with a piece of Andeer Granit- a raw cow’s milk cheese from the heavenly Swiss Alps, where a husband and wife team take the cows up to highland pasture in the spring and let them graze for months on fresh grass and sleep in the open fields under the stars. An exemplary cheese in all aspects, Granit’s nutty sweetness and grassiness play well with this IPA.

Finally, my pedestal brewery. My muse. My dream girl.  My brewery version of Will Clark. My Alesmith.  Ok, ok…our Alesmith. Of all their beers to review, I’d have never thought I’d end up dancing with their IPA, but luck happened to be on my side one afternoon while I was slithering the beer markets looking for IPAs.  A 22oz bottle was just sitting there, looking at me like a wall-eyed runt Boston Terrier on adoption day, whimpering for me to take it into my home, to over-look it’s more attractive cousin Speedway Stout, and love it for everything its bitter, citrus filled, thick, San Diego IPA goodness would provide.  This is a West Coast IPA that delivers-  a beautiful full body, sharp acidity that disappears wonderfully, and decent ABV that that gives you a warm smile and makes everything just A-OK.   This is the big boy of the group and el capitán needs the beefy, dirty, yeasty, slightly gooey body of Twig Farm’s Butterwick Big to really make this relationship work.  A rare cow’s milk treat from these guys, I’ve absolutely fallen in love with this cheese.

What, beer and cheese ain’t good enough for ya?  Well I’ve been in a fishy mood, so how about you round it out with some tantalizing fish stuffs from the ol’ Bedford Cheese Shop?  Enjoy a nice jar of pickled herring, maybe some smoked Alaskan Black Cod, or some hearty sardines on your plate.  Cured fish has the flavors and textures to compliment the bitterness of the beer and the qualities of the cheeses I was just yammering about.

SO, GO! Enjoy the fleeting spring,; drink and eat, and buy me a beer if you ever see me out. Just not an IPA.



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