It isn’t often that I am presented with a once-in-a-beer-drinker’s lifetime opportunity. I got an email from a rep at Brewdog asking me if I’d like a sample of their newest beer project, and I said yes like I always do. I didn’t read the text of the press release too carefully, but was eager to review it. If I had read it more closely, I would have been beside myself waiting for it…
What I found out was that this was no ordinary IPA. In the United Kingdom (UK) there is a trend lately that the famed IPAs are getting weaker and weaker. Outraged and frustrated, lead brewer James Watts set out on a mission to change the way UK beer drinkers see beer, by brewing stronger and more traditional brews.
The story of the India Pale Ale is an interesting one – the brews were made for shipping to India and were very hoppy to act as a natural preservative. The four-month voyage at sea would also give more character to the beer as well.
Armed with a recipe from 1850, Watts had a brillant idea. What if this beer could be created exactly to the historical methods? So he took the recipe, followed it, put it into a barrel and then aged it – at sea – for two months. Their website features video and video blogs of the beer’s journey – six casks were strapped to a fishing boat as it traveled around the North Atlantic and got thrashed with wind, waves and everything else. It was then brought back, bottle conditioned and shipped.
I got a bottle with a beautiful scrimshaw-inspired blue on white design, and noticed it was filled to the brim. No mechanical bottling here, I suspect. It is a cloudy, copper brew with a persistent little head. The smell on this one is very oaky – smells like a wooden cutting board with hop oil resin and orange peel lingering on it. And I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense, either. This, I thought, is going to be interesting to taste.
Wow. The Atlantic IPA is really different. Its, for lack of a better term – woody – and spicy and… salty? There’s a hint of sourness in the back end with the hops, and I really like it. Its sweet finish is probably a result of the bottle-conditioning, and it is a welcome balancing factor. It is a story in each sip. It has character. Kind of like a mysterious, road-worn traveler sitting alone at a bar. I think this is the most unique IPA I’ve ever tasted. I love the rough taste but it is still all IPA. Each sip tasted better than the last, but also made me sadder with each sip that I would eventually reach the bottom of my glass, unable to ever have this tasting experience again.
I am thankful for the opportunity to sample this brew, and I wholeheartedly support the efforts of Brew Dog brewers to go back to their country’s history of brewing. Much like the US locovore movement (eating foods produced and grown locallg) are both great direction for beer to progress in. To know where you are, you have to acknowledge the past and the culture associated with a brew. And I think that Brew Dog has done a great job with this here. I can only hope that they (or other brewers) try similar things to keep the history alive.