Brewed For Battle: Blind IPA Taste Test

Categories: Brew Review

Jonathan McNamara
A blind IPA taste test? Let's hop to it!
At what point does one elevate from merely drinking beer to being a full-on beer snob? Answer: when you feel compelled to tell other people what to drink. And the inevitable result of this peculiar ailment is the beer argument.

In the spirit of all great beer-related discussions, we present Brewed For Battle; a new series of Chow Bella blog posts that pits a selection of brews from a given style up against each other and lets the taste buds of one layman battle them out. Multiple beers go in. One beer comes out the victor.

This week's battle: Local American IPA

The weekly denizens of Brewed for Battle are in sudsy, booze-soaked heaven, for we're smack in the middle of Arizona Beer Week. For several days we've been tipping back the best brews our fair state has to offer, so we thought we'd continue the trend with a tasting of local examples of that favorite of beer styles: the IPA.

We've talked IPA before, but here's a quick history: the style, known full-length as India Pale Ale, developed out of British necessity to provide their boys on the ground in India with beer that didn't go bad during the long boat voyage from back home. They stuffed the brews full of hops, which both acted as a preservative as lent the drinks a nice bitter kick.

While English IPAs tend to be a balance of malt and hops, U.S. versions land decidedly on the hoppy side of the teeter totter. American-grown hop varieties give these beers intense flavors that range from citrus to grass to pine trees to flowers, with biting bitterness to match.

For this week's battle, we've spiced up this playground by making the tasting completely blind. Thanks to a neutral pourer, none of us knew which beer we were drinking at any given time. These local IPAs were judged simply on their merits as beer alone -- which is really how any beer should be evaluated.

Jonathan McNamara
Zach Fowle follows his nose.
Zach's Pick: Lumberyard IPA
I first tried Lumberyard's IPA at the end of a long night on Mill, and the first sip was an epiphany. My tongue was awash in flavors of bright pine, dank weed, lemon, lime, orange peel and honey-covered biscuits. It was so fantastic I wanted to shower in it. Beer judges at the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup must have had a similar experience -- they gave the beer a bronze medal at both in 2010.

Rankings: Lumberyard, HopShock, Hop Knot

Jonathan's Pick: SanTan HopShock
I grasped ahold of SanTan's HopShock; the only brew at the blind taste test in a can. HopShock has a more balanced feel than the other two beers. There is some hops here, but not too much. Frankly, I could use a bit more. There is also a malty taste that rounds the whole brew out.

Ultimately, the HopSock was no match for the overabundant hoppiness of the Lumberyard. Freshly-cut grass is what I'm looking for in my IPA. Lumberyard delivers by the Hefty bag.

Rankings: Lumberyard, HopShock, Hop Knot

Shannon's Pick: Four Peaks Hop Knot
Full disclosure --- This particular bottle of Hop Knot came out of Four Peaks beer rep Jon's fridge. How long it had been in there, we will never know. I do know that beer doesn't last long around that man so it couldn't have been too long. Four Peaks shoves 7 different kinds of hops into a batch of Hop Knot and the result is a clean, crisp American IPA. Due to a process known as Dry-Hopping , the slightly overwhelming floral aroma doesn't carry over to the taste leaving you with a perfectly balanced beer that you can consume by the growler.

Rankings: Hop Knot, Lumberyard, and HopShock.

The Lumberyard and the Hop Knot were so close in taste I actually couldn't pick out which one was the Hop Knot, not that I was looking for it, but I drink it quite frequently and thought for sure I could.My first pick, which ended up being Hop Knot, had a small amount of sweetness in the aftertaste compared to my second choice, Lumberyard, which was slightly more bitter. The Hop Shock was good but was lacking in the hops department.

The Winner: With first place votes from both Zach and Jonathan, the hoppy little underdog from Flagstaff known as Lumberyard IPA proved to be the hero of the day. Shannon gave her first place spot to Hop Knot, but both the other tasters marked it as their least favorite against such strong contenders.

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These are 3 pretty dissimilar IPAsHop Shock uses CTZ high alpha hops and for my money is overly bitter for the style and there is very little hop flavor or aroma payoff. It's not malty and "big" enough for a IIPA falling a few points below the ABV threshold for the style. I think they did a nicer job with their Devil's Ale which hits the lower end of the ABV and IBU for an IPA and probably the better beer to compare with Hop Knot.

Four Peaks uses Cascade, Glacier, Magnum, Liberty, Simcoe and has far more aroma and flavor than Hop Shock but is on the lower end of the IBU scale and ABV. The Cascade and Simcoe come off "catty" which is good if you like those kind of American Hops. It's not everyone's cup of tea, though and that's why they have Raj which uses English hops- Fuggles and Goldings.

Which brings us to Lumberyard, a beer I am less familiar with in terms of brewer's intent. I believe they use a blend of American and English hops and deserving of the accolades that were written here.

As an aside, using a beer that has questionable age (especially for an IPA) is inexcusable. A beer in a beer rep's fridge could be bound for a lab analysis for all you know. It's interesting to me that in one editorial we hear about Four Peaks ubiquity and in another we can't be troubled to get a proper bottle. I think it's time for Editorial cohesion.

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