Saturday, February 23, 2013

Beer Unification: Sixpoint Resin & Lagunitas Hop Stoopid

(not pictured: cauldron w/ three witches)

There's a bunch of great beers out there that are combinations of multiple styles of beer, or collaborations between breweries that each bring their distinctive flavors. I've always wondered why us slobs at home couldn't try to achieve the same effect, but in a much simpler manner - just pour two different beers into the same glass.

This is the basic concept behind black n' tans, but I've never actually seen someone pour two great craft beers together to see what would happen. In the future of this blog, I'll try a lot of crazy combinations just to see what happens, but seeing as I just wrote a post that contrasted two of my favorite IPAs and highlighted the triumphs and follies of each, I figured why not pour the remaining beer from each container into the same glass and chug it as fast as possible see if the flavors meld together in a pleasing way.

I'm happy to report that the flavor is delicious. This isn't much of a breakthrough since these beers are nearly identical to begin with, but it gives me hope that I can mix a barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout with a spice-infused Belgian Golden Ale, and it might actually taste pretty cool (or kill me instantly).

 - Brett.

tl;dr - mix your beers together

Beer Wars: Sixpoint Resin vs. Lagunitas Hop Stoopid

"size doesn't matter"

One thing I've been really excited about doing on this blog is testing my pre-conceived notions about beers that I like. In this case, I've taken two of my favorite IPAs - Resin by Sixpoint and Hop Stoopid by Lagunitas - and blind taste tested them side by side to see which properties jump out at me from each one when tasted back and forth with the other, and ultimately which is my favorite.

Both of these breweries are big favorites of mine, each one producing at least a half-dozen beers that I think are exceptional. That being said, IPAs are my favorite type of beer - especially double or imperial IPAs - so these two beers are my go-to purchase at the package store more than any other single beer from any brewer. The problem with picking a favorite is that they're so similar in so many ways, that if I drank each of these a day apart from each other, I don't know that I'd be able to write this post. So, I decided to blind taste them side by side, going back and forth from one to the other to see which properties were drawn out when sipped right after the competing beer. Kind of like how cheddar cheese on apple pie will make the pie taste sweeter and the cheese taste sharper.

I had an unbiased third party (thanks babe!!) pour the beers into identical GlenCairn glasses marked 'A' and 'B', and I dove right in:
(presented on ceremonial tasting plate)

Appearance - Right away I could see that 'A' was much brighter in appearance, however both beers had nearly identical head accumulation and lacing. I assumed that Resin would be stickier and leave more lacing than usual, but I guess that's what's so cool about doing the blind test - I could be drinking Red Tick Ale and the name wouldn't influence the flavor (although I'd like to think that I could still tell whether it needs more dog).

Aroma - 'A' hit me right on the nose with a bold, upfront citrusy hop aroma. 'B' had a much more subtle aroma, and I could actually smell the malt almost as much as the hops. This really surpised me since I always thought both beers were really aggressively hoppy.

Taste - As promised by the aroma, 'A' is really aggressively hoppy up front, with a relatively crisp finish for an Imperial IPA. 'B' has a deeper, broader flavor that lingers longer in the aftertaste. Right away I could taste a slightly soapy flavor in 'B' that I normally associate with certain belgian yeasts, and which I notice a lot in my homebrews that are bottle conditioned. This was pretty unexpected because I hadn't ever noticed that flavor in either of these beers before. Also, as I was going sip-for-sip back and forth between beers, a floral hop element started to emerge in 'A'. I'm not normally a big floral hop guy, but it was pretty cool to be able to distinguish more flavors as I kept drinking.

Mouthfeel - Both were pretty much the same, although I'd say that 'A' was more sessionable because of the brightness and crispness of the flavor.

Overall - I correctly guessed that 'A' was Hop Stoopid and 'B' was Resin. The dead giveaway was the brightness in color and crisp, citrusy hop flavor that Lagunitas is famous for. So the big reveal wasn't exactly mind blowing, but it did surprise me a little to admit that I liked Hop Stoopid better. What it really came down to was the sessionability - I wanted to go refill my glass with that more than I did with the Resin. But I don't think I'd have been able to make that call if I hadn't done this side-by-side tasting. You could hand me one tomorrow and I might confuse it for the other. What I hoped to accomplish with this inaugural Beer Wars was identify the little things that make each beer unique, instead of writing a review that simply says "hoppy flavor with good lacing", which could apply to a hundred different IPAs.

This was fun, let's do it again sometime.

 - Brett.

tl;dr - peel the labels off your beers

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Are "limited edition" beers worth the hype?

In this article from eatocracy, the writer descibes getting a frantic text from her boyfriend, instructing her (without saying 'please', no less) to run to the local package store and buy a 6-pack of Hopslam, a limited-edition beer from Bell's brewery. The reason being, since this beer is released in a limited batch only once a year, the store would only allow one 6-pack per customer. The writer did as requested (the boyfriend bought her flowers to apologize for his lack of manners), but she wondered whether this beer was really that good. Was it worth the concerted effort to get an extra 6-pack, or was her boyfriend just getting caught up in the hype of this "limited edition" beer?

Ultimately she decided that Hopslam is delicious, and that it was worth the effort. However, reading her story got me thinking......are limited edition beers really that much better than the everyday stuff? And more importantly - does it matter?

I've made mad dashes to stores and breweries before, hoping to get my hands on a limited batch of something. In fact, last weekend I hooked a ride with a friend down to New England Brewing, a brewery in New Haven, CT (45 minutes from where we live), just because they tweeted that they were filling growlers with Fuzzy Baby Ducks, their limited-edition IPA. I've had every beer NEB makes, and I love them all. I even was lucky enough to try Fuzzy Baby Ducks last time it was released, and you know what? It's great. But it's not my favorite beer. Not even my favorite from that brewery. But it didn't matter. It was the adventure of hopping in the car and flying down the highway (at the posted speed limit, of course) to try to get our hands on this beer. Well, we didn't make it in time. They were tapped out by the time we got there. We had to "settle" for tastings and growler fills of 3 of their other beers, which are all fantastic. But the excitement just wasn't there. We've had these beers before.

The taste of the beer is just part of the experience - we also wanted to hang out with all the other like-minded people that ran to the brewery to get Fuzzy Baby Ducks (y'know, the guys that beat us there and took it all. Assholes. I should have had Dom distract them while I broke into their cars and stole their growlers), and just generally appreciate being part of the craft beer community in our small state.

So, my point is that it doesn't matter whether a limited-edition beer tastes any better than it's everyday counterparts. It's the communal experience of the mad dash to get it that makes it so exciting to drink. Next time a guy frantically texts his girlfriend to pick him up a 2nd 6-pack of Hopslam, or a scandal erupts over lottery tickets for Kate the Great Imperial Stout, it just goes to show that it's not just the flavor that matters, it's the thrill of the chase as well.

 - Brett

tl;dr - drink rare beer.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Welcome to The Hop Station!

Hi all,

Welcome to my brand new, beer-centric blog.

My goal is to post beer reviews with my actual opinions, as well as any thoughts that pop into my head as I'm drinking the beers. I've read one too many beer reviews that are strictly clinical - listing the properties of the beer without any indication of how the writer actually feels about the experience they had drinking it. Okay, so it's amber in color with fruit esters and healthy lacing on the glass - does this excite you? Did it disappoint you? Was the beer everything you hoped for when you snagged it out of the cooler at the package store? I want to really express my thoughts surrounding the beer, and tell you whether I want you to try it, or steer clear. I won't even bother giving it an A thru F grade - you'll be able to tell how I feel about it by the end of the post.

A couple other things I'd like to try out:

 - Compare beers to each other. It sounds like a simple concept, but I can't tell you how helpful I would find this when shopping for something new. Is that new IPA more similar to Dogfish Head or Samuel Smith? Is the new $15 Belgian import worth the money, or is it underwhelming compared to it's cheaper domestic counterpart? There's no point in reading clinical reviews of two new pale ales, just to find out that they're both medium bodied with a hop-forward nose. Which one was better? Did either of them surprise you?

 - Blind taste tests. I try very hard to keep myself in the "beer geek" circle and not veer off into "beer snob" territory. If you're even taking the time to read this blog, then you know that the "Big 3" are crap and that there's a whole world of craft beer out there waiting to be enjoyed (or you're my family and I made you come here to generate page views. Hi Mom!). However, I've been known to drink a Keystone Light or two on a hot summer day. I'm not so upper-crust that I must drink the nectar of the gods or go thirsty. That being said, it would be interesting to see which "crappy" beers really aren't so crappy, and which "good" beers maybe aren't so great, when you don't have the pre-knowledge of the label to influence your taste buds.

 - Reviews of breweries, brew pubs, beer bars, and package stores. Which places have the best stuff? Is there a pizza joint with a surprising selection of local craft beers on tap? Is there a brewpub that's trying out experimental brews, rather than just resting on their laurels with an unremarkable blonde ale to go with their chicken wings? Is there a local package store with a "mixer-sixer" section? Sometimes the places you go to get the beer are just as interesting as the beer itself.

 - Go off topic. This blog is going to be centered around beer, but it's really more of a lifestyle blog. If I'm out to dinner somewhere and get a remarkably good Manhattan instead of a beer, you're going to hear about it. Same goes for wine, cheese, or whatever type of Doritos taco I had for Fourth Meal. Also, expect pop culture to seep in from time to time (especially when Ommegang releases their Game of Thrones beers).

I'll post my first few reviews this week, and we'll see how it goes from there. Hopefully we can get a cool little community going on in the comments section, yelling and screaming at each other. See you on the internet!

 - Brett.

tl;dr - drink beer.