Despite Budweiser’s snarky/defensive commercial during the Super Bowl, craft beer continues to enjoy a rennaisiance of sorts that does not seem to be waning anytime soon. Even Eric Asimov, in a New York Times article waxed poetic about the James Beard Award winning restaurant Eleven Madison Park and their, wait for it, beer menu? Yup, 130 selections that they will pair with any food.
Not just any craft beer will do at the moment, though, for our autumnal affinities call for us to step it up a bit selection-wise. Cooler temps have arrived, leading us to crave stronger flavors in both food and drink. Certain beer styles are reaching the pinnacle of their appeal, seasonal (have you noticed that the market is saturated with an array of pumpkin varietals?) and more robust brews currently at the front of the pack. Still – and this may seem rather pedestrian in this era of fancy beer brands – we can’t help but allow this season of first frosts and fall foliage to draw us toward a good full bodied IPA.
New to this brew? Basically, IPAs (Indian Pale Ales) are to beer what cabernet is to wine. You have to work your way up to them before you can fully appreciate their flavor, but once you develop a taste for that intense hoppyness, it’s hard to give other beer styles a nod.
The questions nowadays is who makes it the best. As far as regions go, one might think New England would be the leader, their beer-making history (Samuel Adams lager is similar in style) and overall weather and atmosphere screaming IPA. Delaware-based DogFish Head, another fine contender, produces the 60 minute, 90 minute and 120 minute IPA, considered to be some of the best beer around. Yet, people who are truly familiar with IPAs know that the real cradle of IPA civilization is in fact 3,000 miles west in California – San Diego County, to be exact.
Hey, we can’t tell you what to do, but we highly recommend you put down that pie-flavored concoction and give one of these three West Coast wonders a try this fall:
Ballast Point “Big Eye” IPA – San Diego, Calif
The most complex of the three, Ballast Point has a light amber, almost honey color which is very deceiving. This beer brings some serious flavor, including generous amounts of hops (of course) but also orange peel and spice notes that round it out and make it a truly complex, delicious IPA.
Green Flash IPA – San Diego, Calif
We’ll give you fair warning: this one’s by far the hoppiest of the bunch. IPAs can match great with food, but a Green Flash might be better off at the end of a meal, as the hops in this offering can torch your palate. That said, if you are sitting down at the bar for one quick drink and want a true IPA hop experience, this is your beer.
Lagunitas IPA – Petaluma, Calif
We like a good compromise, and this IPA, a perfect balance between the aforementioned selections and also the most widely available – is just that. It goes to show that color doesn’t have any baring on a beer’s hop concentration, as Lagunitas is perhaps the darkest of the three (though still clearly an amber color) and yet it’s the least hoppy – but that’s all relative. It still brings a lot of hops and, with some nice citrus and spice notes, is the most balanced of the three.