by Arkaidy Wisniowska
Style: India Pale Ale
Alcohol by Volume: 6.9%
Color: Deep Golden Yellow
Brewery: Smuttynose Brewing Company
Location: Hampton, New Jersey
So there I was, sitting alone in my apartment, bidding adieu to what little sunlight had managed to filter in through the wall of black clouds that threatened to swallow my whole town. Most of the day had already slipped away into the howling, windy, wet, washed-out hell that was this evening’s weather. Quite a difference considering just yesterday the beating sun was roasting ants on the pavement. But today, going outside was not on my list of ambitions.
I went to the kitchen and reached around in the refrigerator, taking inventory of a few bottles of beer that had been patiently awaiting their destiny. I looked past the aging leftovers and the fluffy bunch of leafy spinach that sat on the second shelf. I studied the labels on a couple of wheat beers, a handsome lookin’ stout, and what I knew would be the guest of honor this evening…a purportedly super-hopped IPA I had yet to try.
Funnily enough, although I’ve always loved a great tasting beer, I didn’t always love IPA’s. As a matter of fact, the million taste receptors on my tongue and I hated them for as long as I could remember. I normally stuck to palate pleasing brews, enjoying the full-flavors without any of the adventure (although I didn’t look at it like that at the time). However, somewhere along the road and hundreds of mildly-hopped brews later, the iconic taste of hops began to appease my palate more and more. I don’t know if I was just getting tired of the same old thing, but I like to think I became more sophisticated, you know, like I was a fuckin’ adult or something.
Regardless of how I got there, I had arrived, and so my love of beer grew even further. My wallet and my liver are debating if this is a good thing. I popped the top on my brew, called “Finestkind IPA”, quite adoring the name. A brewery named Smuttynose Brewing Company sounded pretty damn good too, or at least unique! The label had 2 happy old fellas sitting in lawn chairs on some nice lookin’ green grass. A little lawn gnome and a couple of empty beer bottles laid out in the lushness. Hey, on a day that my building may get 1. blown over or 2. washed away or 3. both, I sat down in a nice chair myself, ready to let Smuttynose turn me into an old happy man sitting in a grassy knoll.
When the first citrusy sip filled my mouth, it hit me like an exploding bitter hurricane. I picked the usual culprit…citra hops, guessing they packed a truckload of them in there! Later, I clarified my suspicions and learned that they were in fact Simcoe and Santiam hops, with a bit of Amarillo hops to mellow out the flavor. With a kickin’ 75 IBUs this beer is not for those who still have their pilsner training wheel on!
I was in love with the full-flavor I got in each sip. The bitterness is definitely present, but to my accustomed tongue, it was hoppy-heaven. I wondered how the old fellas on the bottle palate this one? Like I said, they looked pretty damn happy, and with 6.9% ABV, I was feelin’ pretty happy myself. Impending doom outside? What doom? All I was seein’ was that sneaky little gnome in the grass, bet he had a couple IPA’s himself!
All this hop flavor got me thinking about the whimsical story of India Pale Ales, and how funny it is that they actually aren’t from India at all! No, the British get all the credit for this one! Actually, they don’t really get any of the credit! But! Around the late 1700’s, when fisherman and sea merchants made constant trips between Britain and India, they found they couldn’t transport beer – because the brews wouldn’t keep and went rancid by the time they arrived! I can’t imagine a journey such as that, on a dark, cold, dingey vessel with not a drop of sudsy heaven in sight! Eventually, a smart London brewer added large amounts of hops to the beer, which acted as a preservative, and because of this the beers could make the long journey across the sea – if the fisherman didn’t drink it all first! This new, hoppy style, although British, became known as an India Pale Ale. Brewers have created thousands of variations over the years, and with the resurgence of craft beer, they don’t seem to be slowing down at all! Absolutely no complaints here.
As I sit sipping and reminiscing with this finest kind of IPA, rolling thunder and bellowing winds bring me back to reality. No wooden walls or 18th century shipmates here. Just the quiet, modern conveniences of a downtown apartment under liquid siege. I pictured those Brits one last time, slightly filthy and reeking of fish, below deck on some great big wooden ship. Nothin’ but barrels of beer and an oil lamp to light their way. I’m sure they didn’t care what the beer was called as long as they got to drink some of it!
The last little bit of hop-heaven drips from the bottle, producing not much sediment given this was an unfiltered beer. The bitterness sticks to every surface in my mouth like an invitation for Smuttynose #2. I think about it briefly, and being that I’ve grown quite fond of the two old ‘gents on the bottle and my imaginary sea merchant friends, I happily choose to digress.