While we are getting geared up for next weekend’s Ladies of Lagers and Ales tastival, next weekend at Saraveza, we look back over the past weekend and remember an amazing flavorsome celebration of another group of females – hops.
You see, hops are the female flower clusters, or strobiles, of the hop species, Humulus lupulus. At this time of year, the herbaceous perennials are reaching to high heaven, and just recently, if you’ve observed your bines, you may have noticed the flowering finger-like fruits beginning to form spicy cones.
Saraveza’s 2nd Annual IIPA Fest took place on Saturday and Sunday, July 16 and 17, and was a celebration of the most regal, magisterial, and potent of all hoppy beers. Ah, the Imperial India Pale Ale (IIPA) – bigger and bolder, and often more bitter than its already amplified parent.
These grandiose and polarizing brews range from bitter, brash, and biting to aromatic,odoriferous, and ambrosial; herbaceous, chivey, and catty to fruity, flowery, and fragrant. One thing that is for certain is that IIPAs are anything but apologetic and temperate. Definitively American in their extremely ostentatious and pioneering spirit, IIPAs range anywhere from 7.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) to more than 10% ABV, and 60 IBU (International Bitterness Units) to more than 120 IBU. This wide spectrum within the IIPA style was revealed at the weekend event, as more than 40 different commercial examples rotated through 20 taps. The pub’s side space, often reserved for special occasions such as this, was utilized to increase supply, and special city licensing allowed for sidewalk quaffing, live music, and Saraveza’s meat smoker to supply BBLTs (double bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches) and sausage and cheese plates to the omnivores in the crowd.
Here’s a look at some of the most interesting beers over the weekend. Granted, there were many more than these worth mentioning.
Most buzzed about beers: Pizza Port, under special temporary license (normally not available in Oregon), supplied two small 5-gallon kegs for the event. Both of which disappeared in a hurry. The Poor Man’s possessed an amazingly floral nose of high alpha hops that beckoned a taste, while the same could be said about their Cho Saikou (Japanese meaning “ultra best”). Of course, there was Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, which no craft beer shop employee can go a day without someone coming in to ask for.
The fabulous Belgos: Saraveza’s staff teamed up with Breakside Brewery’s Ben Edmunds to formulate a beautiful Saison de Roxana. Named for Saraveza owner Sarah Pederson’s cute baby daughter, the beer was a blossomy and decoratively nosed selection brewed using a farmhouse yeast variety. It turned out so well, that Edmunds has entered it into this year’s Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver. We anticipate a medal. Upright Brewing came strong to the table with their Alphaphylactic Hop. Making use of the brewery’s Illganumberg yeast (a derivative of the DeRanke strain) and dry-hopped with pellets of verdant Apollo hops, it’s safe to say that this particular beer was one of the most unusual brews at the fest. Another popular choice was Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch, a distinctly sweet and piquant ale from one of the nation’s best breweries. Originally brewed for the brewhouse’s 20th Anniversary, due to great popularity, the beer has returned.
Barrel-aged behemoths: A few special offerings were aged in barrels to add more complexity to the mix. Two notable Great Divide beers, their 16th and 17th Anniversary brews were deep, luxurious and rich bodied just as the brewery’s Hercules IIPA but with a prominent flavor of oak that made its presence known without dominating the masterful hoppiness. It was a great study to see how the two had evolved with age and how dynamic a hop monster can meld with prominent tannins. Southern Tier is a brewery that loves concocting head rattling giants. With an affinity for sweet signature imperials of all sorts, their Oaked Unearthly, billed as “an uninhibited fusion of hops and oak,” was quite possibly the boldest offering of the weekend. Claiming 11% ABV and an unbelievable 153 IBU (yeah, right!), the complexity was a bit of a mess that leaves the palate utterly destroyed and the liver likewise. And let us not forget about Walking Man’s Oak-aged Homo Erectus, a blast of herbal notes with a more subtle woodiness than the aforementioned barrel-aged treats. Homo Erectus is a staple for hop lovers in the Pacific Northwest, and this special batch was a real treat.
Biggest and baddest: As mentioned, the Southern Tier Oaked Unearthly came to the table with all guns ablazin’, and was an easy candidate for the biggest and baddest brew of Saraveza’s weekend. Another top candidate was Fort George’s The Resistance. Sporting an ABV of 10% and claiming 108.4 IBU (Really?!), the beer salutes Cluster hops, said to be the oldest variety in the world, in addition to Czech Saaz, Citra, Amarillo, and Galena – some of the highest alpha players in the game. Additionally, The Resistance gets originality points for using lemongrass and some flaked corn. With so many beers that could easily vie for biggest and baddest champion, we have to crown the winner to Boneyard’s Notorious. Emerging as one of the best hoppy beer brewers in Oregon, Boneyard delivered a tornado of oomph with this here TRIPA (that’s triple IPA, yo). ABV: 12%. IBU: Criminal. Big bad and boozy as you’d expect something from brewer Tony Lawrence and company, you could almost hear hammer cock before raising this killer to your lips.
Best in Show (Honorable Mentions): It’s really impossible to pick a best beer, because, let’s face it, every palate is different, and for real, just about every beer we tasted was well made. Additionally, we couldn’t try every beer that poured so it’s really hard to say. While working the festival, we had the opportunity to smell Pizza Port’s Poor Man’s. Terrific nose, with so much hullabaloo from all who tried it, and knowing brewer Jeff Bagby’s excellent track record, this one could have easily won. But it didn’t grace our lips. For those who love fruity and herbaceous hops, Block 15’s Late Gift was a top choice. Made with hops from Down Under (hence the name), the brew was replete with gooseberry, strawberry, pine, and some onion notes. A very nice representation from the Corvallis brewpub for sure. Still, not the best, but close. Laurelwood’s Catcher in the Double Rye’nbow would take home the trophy of best IIPA if name alone could persuade such a distinction. Further, the addition of copious amounts of rye adjunct married optimally with the clean esterous yeast and bright flowery, tropical hop notes. A real treat we hope to revisit again soon. Still, not the overall winner. Brewed special for this event, Amnesia’s Dopeacetic delivered what you’d expect to be delivered by the Portland brewery – a blast of mouth-changing lupulin haze propped up wonderfully by waves of yummy Maris Otter malt. Brewers Chris Spollen and Sean Thommen have been putting forth some hops-laden brews that, if had emerged somewhere like Indiana or Florida, would garner the hype of Three Floyds or Cigar City. However, hailing from Portland, Oregon, Beervana, they are another in a long list of top notch brewers (which is why we love living here). The Dopeacetic was as balanced as an IIPA can be and simply crushed most of the competition with divine drinkability. Yet, there were a few others that simply struck our fancy just a hair more.
Best of the Best: For this particular event, we award a tie to three beers so delicious, we couldn’t pick an overall winner. Here’s our top picks: Ninkasi’s Double Amarillo Dry-hopped Tricerahops was utterly outstanding. A phenomenal beer to say the least; a real West Coast winner. Perhaps we’re a little biased toward the hop varietals the Ninkasi crew plays with, or maybe it’s the deceptively light body hiding 8.8% ABV. This beer rules! Bear Republic of Healdsburg, CA not only knocked it out of the park with their Cafe Race 15, they slammed it into outer space. We’ve had this beer before and are continually surprised by how awesome it really is. At 8.5% ABV, it teeters on the limit of over-bear-ing booziness without going too far. With waves of hop complexity that range from grassy-piny to grapefruity-flowery, the dynamic malt underpinning that goes to the precipice of what these additions can sustain unveils a balance unlike any other IIPA in the lot. We love citrus and leafy dankness in a brew and this particularly fresh specimen is a dream come true. When you think of American craft brewing pioneers, one of the first breweries that should come to mind is Sierra Nevada. Their flagship pale ale paved the way for many other great brewers around the globe. Their specialty release Hoptimum was a glowing example of the Chico, CA’s ability to incorporate simple beer ingredients into unfathomably fantastic flavors. Hard to believe it weighed in at 10.4% ABV, Hoptimum, shares many of the same descriptors of the previously touted IIPAs mentioned here. The biggest whole-coned IPA ever produced by the brewery, Hoptimum is based with Two-row Pale, Golden Promise, Munich & Wheat fermented with their clean Cali ale yeast; bittered with German Magnums, and makes ample use of a Simcoes and an undisclosed proprietary blend. Then, the whole shebang is again dry dosed with these aroma hops in addition to being injected with the brewhouse’s infamous hop “torpedo,” loaded with Citra and Chinook. The result is a beckoning orange-hued body with a frothy off-white head. Awesome!
There were many a great beers at this event, beers like Vertigo’s Friar Gone Wild, Alameda’s Yellow Wolf, Walking Man Iron Man, Burnside’s Alter Ego, Oakshire’s Glen’s Hop Vice, and others that can hold their own in any international IIPA competition (btw, how do you judge IIPAs? After three or four, your palate is pretty shot). There were more we wish we’d have tried like the Hop Valley and Bier Stein collaborative “6th Element,” Coalition’s Double Dog Dare, and Beer Valley’s Black 9, but that is often the case at any excellent beer event. If having too much choice is a bad thing, than being into beer in Oregon must really stink.
Best IIPA Ever? After a long Saturday of working the festival, we settled into a few samples (mostly the beers mentioned above) and unwound with the world class staff at Saraveza. It seemed quite fitting that the best beer to hit our tastebuds was one from Wisconsin – homeland to proprietary publican Sarah Pederson and her husband Ryan. Our friend and Brewpublic contributor D.J. Paul recently returned from a trip to the Dairyland with bottles of New Glarus’ IIPA from their Thumb Print one-offs series. Undoubtedly, unquestionably, and undeniably the best Imperial IPA we’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting (at least our memory says so). At 9% ABV, this beer featuring Maris Otter as a base malt, possessed every attribute we seek out in an India Pale Ale with a vast complexity and drinkability unheard of for such an imposing alcohol level. We hope to write more on this beer as we discover a bit more about what went into it. To test our palate and judgment, we revisited another bottle (thanks again, D.J.) on Sunday evening, only to conclude that our initial assessment had been correct. Hands down, the best IIPA of the weekend. If only this beer was available to us in a keg.
Thanks to the entire staff at Saraveza for putting together one of the year’s best events. Thanks also to all of the folks who attended and helped to promote the 2nd Annual IIPA Fest. Next year is gonna be even better!