Top Beers of May 2010

Let's hear it for the lupulin!


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Merriam- Webster defines lupulin as a fine yellow resinous substance of the female catkin of the hop (Humulus lupulus of the mulberry family) from which humulon and lupulon are obtained. American Heritage Dictionary defines it as minute yellowish-brown hairs obtained from the strobili of the hop plant, formerly used in medicine as a sedative. To “hop heads” and IPA lovers, it is the stuff that makes beer extra delicious.

Hop lupulin can vary in color from pale yellow to a strong golden color. Its concentration is associated with the bitterness of the hop variety, with astringent hops possessing greater quantities of lupulin than more aromatic types. It also has preserving properties; the resin present in lupulin prevents the multiplication of bacteria that causes lactic fermentation, which spoils beer.

Perhaps one of the most widely known styles consumed to satiate lupulin cravings are India Pale Ales, or IPAs. The style originates in England where it was crafted to have greater stability and the structure to withstand long voyages (including to India, where it was commonly traded).

As one of the most popular beer styles in the market today, there are a wide range of interpretations ranging from the more delicate and floral offerings to knock-your-socks-off hop bombs. Typically, the West Coast brews like to showcase more of the over-the-top potential of the category, while East Coast and international examples tend to show a bit more restraint. Generally speaking, IPAs are medium-gold to copper in color, moderate in alcohol at around 5.5–7.5% abv, light to medium bodied and obviously hopped in the aromas and flavors with IBUs (International Bittering Units—the measure of bitterness of a beer) around 40–60+.

If you’re brave and thinking you might be a true hop-head at heart, then you can also venture into the world of Double or Imperial IPAs. These brews are essentially IPAs kicked up to 11—more malts, more alcohol, and most importantly, more hops! The result is a complex, strong sipping beer with IBUs climbing above 60 and, in some cases, well beyond at upwards of 100.

Everyone’s preferences are different, so don’t be afraid to try new things while finding where your lupulin threshold lies. Just be ready to share some of the more extreme offerings with friends. Prost!

94 Deschutes Hop Henge Experimental IPA ( American Double/Imperial IPA; Deschutes Brewery, OR); 8.75% abv, $6/22 oz. Pours a slightly cloudy, dark burnt-orange color with a substantial head and wonderful lacing. The aromas are undoubtedly intense but not intimidating: floral ethers, blood orange essence and hemp oil dominate. The mouth is just as intense and full, with so many layers of different hop profiles unfolding in a symphony of resiny citrus flavor. You can also find notes of toasted brioche, crisp red apple and a touch of golden raisin. The finish is complex, at first a bit syrupy but then dry and long with the bitterness fading cleanly. A beautiful DIPA.

93 Avery duganA IPA (American Double/Imperial IPA; Avery Bre wing, CO); 8.5% abv, $7/22 oz. You’re fairly warned on this one, with the label clearly stating, “Lupulin Rapture Incarnate! As fervent devotees of hops, we found ourselves on a quest to create a transcendental IPA capable of quenching our voracious lupulin desire.” Strong aromas of pine, grapefruit and pineapple citrus abound, followed by a hint of tropical stone fruit on deep inhalation. The mouthfeel is full and slightly oily, and the flavors are loaded with hop resin and pine sap. Even though it’s plenty bitter at 93 IBUs, there’s a good malt backbone supporting the intense hop bitterness. Dry and long on the finish.

92 Heavy Seas Loose Cannon Hop ^3 Ale (American IPA; Clipper City Brewing Company, MD); 7.0% abv, $10/12 oz 6 pack. With over three pounds of hops per barrel, added at three different times in the brewing process (hence the hop to the third), one would think that this is going to be a beast of an IPA. But, despite the looming “threat” of extreme hops, it’s remarkably well balanced and drinkable. The nose is fresh and vibrant with intense floral notes and beautiful ruby red grapefruit. The medium-full mouth shows moderate hop bitterness balanced by a nice caramel malt sweetness. Well-integrated with flavors of fresh lemon slices and tangerine oil on the finish.

91 Southern Tier IPA (American IPA; SouthernTier Brewing Company, NY); 6.5% abv, $8/12 oz 6 pack. Pours a clear golden orange color with a substantial head that lingers but, when it finally subsides, leaves behind beautiful lacing. Aromas of resiny hops, clementine essence, sweet woody spice and a roasty nuttiness fill the nose, while the round mouth is loaded with hop florals, fresh pine needles and tangerine rind. The finish is drying, somewhat astringent, but well-balanced and seems to work with the robust, slightly viscous body of this IPA. Modern and technologically savvy, too: for more info, text “STBC IPA” to 77950.

90 Full Sail IPA (American IPA; Full Sail Brewing, OR); 6.0% abv, $8/12 oz 6 pack. A light peach color in the glass with a well-balanced nose of hop citrus, fruit esters and a solid malt backbone. The mouth is light-bodied with delicate carbonation; the palate has a good juiciness to it, like fresh grapefruit supremes, and a hint of pine on the finish. At 60 IBUs, this is not overly hoppy or overdone, showing great balance and excellent drinkability. Because of its subtlety, this would be a great choice for spicy ethnic cuisine.

90 Goose Island India Pale Ale (American IPA; Goose Island Beer Co., OH); 5.9% abv, $NA/12 oz 6 pack. A beautiful, crisp clear orange gold color with decent lacing left after the moderate head falls. The nose is mildly hoppy, not particularly overpowering, with soft pine resin and citrus balanced by notes of roasted malt. The mouth is full and highly carbonated, with more hop bitterness appearing on the palate than what was anticipated after nosing. The finish is long and mildly astringent with intense woody notes. Overall, a well balanced IPA with a solid structure and a clean finish.

90 Samuel Smith India Ale (English India Pale Ale; Samuel Smith Old Brewery (Tadcaster), England); 5.0% abv, $4/550 ml. History and heritage are huge factors here, as the brewery was established in 1758 and the beer is fermented in traditional open-topped stone (slate) vessels known as Yorkshire Squares. Roasty caramel-drizzled malts abound on the nose, with dried apricots, fresh-baked bread and earthy, woody spice softly playing in the background. The flavors are malty but with plenty of resiny hop notes to balance it out, with a slightly oily texture in the mouth. The brisk, drying finish shows some black tea astringency along with peppery spice and hints of citrus essence.
 

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