Six well-experienced, well-traveled craft beer drinkers participated in BrilliantStream.com’s December tasting panel by evaluating four IPAs. Five of the panelists were IPA fans, while one panelist was neutral on the style. All had sampled many IPAs from breweries around the country in recent years.
Using a blind tasting format, panelists were poured a sample of each beer but were given no hint of the brand. They rated the beers individually on:
- how much they personally enjoyed the beer as an IPA,
- how they perceived the beer’s competitiveness nationally,
- how likely they would be to buy the beer.
Last, each panelist ranked the four beers against each other on overall quality and attractiveness.
Three of the beers tasted were from West Virginia breweries and one was more of a reference beer from a highly respected California brewery.
- Devil Anse, Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company
- Citrus Tsunami, Parkersburg Brewing Company
- Humulus Lupulus, Bridge Brew Works
- Pure Hoppiness, Alpine Beer Company
Unfortunately, the Citrus Tsunami had a problem. It was full of diacetyl, with the characteristic buttery flavor dominating its aroma and taste. That would ensure the beer a bottom ranking, so I decided not to include its scores in the write up. (Diacetyl is a chemical that causes a buttery or butterscotch-like flavor, that in high levels is an off-favor, undesirable in beer.) The Citrus Tsunami was purchased at the brewery in a one-quart Crowler and refrigerated for four days before being served at the tasting. It’s hard to guess where the problem arose. It’s a shame, though, because we had heard many good things about this beer. Hopefully, we’ll get to give it another try at a future time.
Humulus Lupulus tied Pure Hoppiness in the panelists’ average score for how much they enjoyed the beer’s taste. This was the most notable result of the tasting and an impressive feat for Humulus Lupulus. If the score of the one panelist who is not an IPA fan was eliminated, Pure Hoppiness eked out a win by the narrowest of margins.
Devil Anse, last year’s BrilliantStream.com Beer of the Year, fell significantly behind Humulus Lupulus, with all but one panelist rating Devil Anse neutral or lower on the enjoyment scale.
Perceived National Competitiveness
In this rating, the panel found only Pure Hoppiness as clearly nationally competitive within the IPA style. The panelists were equally ambivalent on Humulus Lupulus and Devil Anse when it came to them being competitive nationally. Humulus Lupulus was likely hurt here by the appearance of a significant amount of hop floaters in the beer. Devil Anse was held back by falling flat on the enjoyment scale.
Would You Buy It
Only Pure Hoppiness received a solid thumbs up on ‘Would you buy it?’ On average, our panelists were equally ambivalent on whether they would buy Humulus Lupulus or Devil Anse. The two tied for second place. Humulus Lupulus was likely hurt here again by the presence of the hop floaters. It received two likely buy ratings, For Devil Anse, only one of the six panelists rated it as a likely buy. This was a surprise because all of the panelists have a positive opinion of the beer, it even being a personal favorite of some.
In ranking the beers one through four, the panelists made Pure Hoppiness a solid number one. Panelists were more mixed in their rankings of Humulus Lupulus but it ended up a solid number two. There was more agreement that Devil Anse belonged in the third spot.
You have to be careful not to read too much into a one shot tasting exercise with six people, even a blind one. But the results do provide some food for thought and fodder for discussion. You invariably get some unexpected results when you taste beer blind.
From the ratings Devil Anse received and from other recent discussion around the local craft beer community, we wonder if anything is different about Devil Anse that could be changing its flavor. Maybe it’s the fickle taste of IPA drinkers or maybe its their imagination, but this blind tasting raises a flag. On the other hand, Devil Anse is still selling very well and getting very solid marks on Untappd.com. The can of Devil Anse we sampled was five weeks old, which is pretty typical for what you see in the market.
We suspect that recent tweaks to Humulus Lupulus, which was always a decent brew, have moved it up a few ticks in the pecking order of West Virginia hoppy beers. Whatever they are doing to its recipe, hopefully they will keep doing. As for its appearance, the panelists didn’t mind the cloudiness, but do wish the brewer would keep those larger chunks of hops out of the bottle. Maybe the bottle we sampled was simply an aberration that accidentally got a dose of hop pieces. Who knows.
Nothing much to add about Pure Hoppiness except the panelists found its IPA-ness purely wonderful. Finally, it would be good to give Parkersburg’s Citrus Tsunami another try because it surely does not normally taste like the one we had.
A rundown of the beer
Pure Hoppiness (Alpine Beer Company, San Diego County, CA) is a classic West Coast Double IPA that is heavily dry hopped. It is one of the higher-rated IPAs to ever hit WV. Resinous with a pale golden hue and a bright white beer foam, the aroma presents pine notes that are dominated by sweet citrus with some perfume like qualities. It’s juicy grapefruit and pine flavor is supported by a nice dose of caramel malt body. Adequate but not overpowering bitterness. Brewed with balance and finesse, it’s one of the more quaffable double IPAs. 8.0% abv. (12 oz. glass bottle)
Humulus Lupulus (Bridge Brew Works, Fayetteville, WV), reformulated for its current version, it has increased dry hopping and cranked up newer hop variety flavors, like Topaz, while producing only moderate bitterness. With its lab tested 48 IBU, the brewery calls the beer a Pale Ale, but it drinks like a modern American IPA. Its pale malts give it a light medium gold color. In this beer Bridge Brew Works uses lots of whole leaf hops in the hopback and then heavily dry hops with hop pellets. The beer is unfiltered, and some of the hop chunks, at times, may find their way into the bottled beer. This does not affect the flavor, but does affect the beer’s appearance. 6.7% abv. (16 oz. aluminum bottle)
Devil Anse (Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company) is a modern big-hopped IPA, featuring lots of citrus and tropical hop flavor and solid but not overwhelming bitterness. It is richly amber-colored from the addition of some British Crystal malt. Generous late and whirlpool additions of Amarillo, Galaxy, and Simcoe hops are included. Last year, when it was introduced, IPA fans in WV praised it as the state’s first truly nationally-competitive modern American-style IPA. BrilliantStream.com named it WV Beer of the Year for 2016. 6.9% abv. (12 oz. can)
Citrus Tsunami (Parkersburg Brewing Company) is billed as an off-dry “grapefruit IPA” featuring pale malts and citrusy hops. Made in a modern American IPA style. 7.2% abv. (32 oz. aluminum Crowler)
Tasting blind is the best method to formulate an unbiased opinion about a beer. Not price, not preconceived notions, not others’ opinions, nothing will cloud your judgement or influence your assessment. Tasting a beer blind forces you to concentrate on every aspect of the beer and focus your attention on subtle nuances that relate to a beer’s style and its enjoyment. You will often be surprised at your assessment when the brand is revealed.
BrilliantStream.com tasting panels are a fun exercise and not meant to be taken as overly authoritative. Our panelists do focus their attention on the task and give an honest evaluative effort.
BrilliantStream may do another IPA blind tasting soon to see if we get similar or different results. No matter, blind tastings are fun, and you could easily do one of your own with a few craft-beer-loving friends.