One of my favorite beers in the world is the Big A IPA from Smuttynose Brewing Company. In a related note, the 18th beer in the Smuttynose Short Batch series is Durty, a “hoppy imperial brown ale” released in mid-December by the Portsmouth, N.H., brewery.
The brewery describes the limited-release beer as follows:
There’s no denying that IPA is king of the craft beer world right now. The style is getting so popular that even the big brewers are attempting their own versions, while IPA sub-styles, like session IPA, double IPA, white IPA, and black IPA, continue to be created and defined. Brown IPA combines the caramel and nutty-biscuity flavors of a brown ale, with a strong dose of American IPA character. Pretty straightforward, but very delicious.
Durty is a big beer of 8.4 percent alcohol by volume and 55 IBUs (international bitterness units). It pours an intimidating, opaque chestnut with an off-white head. It smells like an IPA — Simcoe hops used post-fermentation form a clean, pine-like nose.
Take a sip and swirl the beer in your mouth and you almost taste two beers here. On one hand, roasted malt, toast, coffee, and caramel come together in what could pass for a traditional brown ale. It tastes a little like Old Brown Dog, another Smuttynose offering, but there’s more chocolate and dark malt here.
On the other hand you have the hops. Polaris (a new German high alpha variety for bittering) and Nugget hops are used in the brewing process. The beer tastes more bitter than 55 IBUs might indicate, and it’s not an easy sipper. Lacing sticks to the side of the glass as I drink this beer down. The beer was made once — only 828 bottles were produced — and retails for about $9. I’m always up for a new take on the IPA, and this is a very good one.
It’s easy to take things right in your backyard for granted. Just a short trip west on the Mass. Pike, Jack’s Abby Brewing is quietly reinventing craft beer. Eschewing hop bombs, barley wines, and ales altogether, the brewery specializes in German lagers with an American twist. Fermentation during the lagering process takes place at or near freezing temperatures and is labor intensive.
Jack’s Abby’s reinvention efforts focus on one style in particular. Their first IPL (India Pale Lager), a year-round offering, was Hoponius Union, a delightful, subtle twist on the traditional IPA. The brewery’s two latest IPLs, Kiwi Rishing and Lashes Hopbock Lager, turn the dial even further. They redefine what you should expect from a lager and from the brewery down the street.
Kiwi Rising is a double IPL of 8.5 percent alcohol by volume and 105 IBUs. Over four pounds per barrel of New Zealand hops (Kiwi Hops) are used in the brew. It’s Jack’s Abby’s answer to the double IPA, possibly the most popular craft beer style in the market today.
Kiwi Rising pours golden yellow with a fluffy white head. Intense citrus aromas waft up from the glass. Upon sipping, grapefruit and orange flavors dominate the light mouthfeel. There’s not a ton of malt here, and that absence is welcome.
I had my first sip of Kiwi Rising just a few minutes after drinking my first-ever Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewing Company. Pliny is consistently rated as one of the best beers in the world, and it scored highly with me. But the lines that separate the best beers in the world from other very good beers are blurring.
Is one beer better than the other? Probably. If you held a gun to my head I’d choose the Pliny. But is the difference drastic enough to warrant me sending away for a Pliny from California vs. walking to my local package store for a comparatively affordable offering from Jack’s Abby? Heck, no. Do I feel better about supporting a local brewer than one all the way across the country? Heck, yes.
Lashes Hopbock Lager dials it down from its sister beer in terms of the hop profile and alcohol content. At 7.2 percent ABV and 50 IBUs, this one is more approachable.
It pours more of an amber color with an off-white head. There’s more caramel in the nose from the Munich malt, but Super Styrian, Columbus, Palisades,, and Centennial hops also make their presence known. It’s less citrus and more resiny pine.
The mouthfeel is a bit heavier, but you’ll appreciate the balance. The finish is crisp instead of smooth. Jack’s Abby continues to reinvent the India Pale Lager, and this is another great take.