IPA Blind Taste Test Challenge – Round 1

Our friends Amy and Kim from Syracuse, both of whom are certified hopheads, are visiting Columbus over the Columbus Day weekend.  So it seemed the stars were aligned to carry out this blog’s inaugural blind taste test where we aim to identify the best beers without the biases of rarity, price, reputation, etc.  This first taste test will culminate in crowning the “Best IPA in the World (that you can buy in Columbus)”.   The tournament is structured into three rounds.  In each of the first two rounds we sample a handful of IPAs with the winners moving onto the final round.  I’ve given Amy’s all time favorite beer, Flower Power IPA, as well as a fresh batch of Stone’s Enjoy by 11/12/13, byes into the final round. We start with round 1, IPAs of the Midwest.  Here’s the tale of the tape for the four contenders:

Beer #1 – Two Hearted IPA (Bells Brewing): A favorite IPA of many midwest hopheads (and currently tied for first place in my poll, What’s your Favorite IPA).  Made exclusively with Centennial hops.  This is the only beer of the four that was dated, bottled on 9/4/13 which makes it about 5 weeks old, which I would call relatively fresh.  Beer advocate rating = 4.27 (out of 5), ABV = 7.0%, Cost = $10.99 per six pack.

Beer #2 – Antihero IPA (Revolution Brewing): This one is a relatively new one to me.  I came across it at the Tree Bar last week while attending the Dock Ellis Band concert (see the post entitled Dock Ellis Band’s #1 Fan for details).  The Revolution Brewing website says Anti Hero is made with four (unspecified) hop varieties.  Unlike the other contenders this offering comes in cans.  Beer advocate rating = 4.11 (out of 5), ABV = 6.5%, Cost = $9.99 per six pack.

Beer #3 – White Rajah IPA (The Brew Kettle): This is my personal favorite IPA.  Big time citrus hops (although the varieties of hops used are something of a secret, probably Citra hops are involved).  I don’t think this beer is distributed to widely outside of Ohio.  Beer advocate rating = 4.33 (out of 5), ABV = 6.8%, Cost = $11.99 per six pack.

Beer #4 – Columbus Brewing IPA (Columbus Brewing): The local favorite and another citrus hop forward IPA.  Made with Amarillo and Simcoe hops.  This one is the least expensive of the four.  Beer advocate rating = 4.25 (out of 5), ABV = 6.5%, Cost = $8.99 per six pack.

We sampled the beers consecutively, each in the same glassware (a snifter), splitting a bottle/can three ways.  For each beer we: rated it, guessed its identity and wrote some descriptive notes.  The identities of the beers were not revealed to us until all reviews were in.  Here are the results.

Two Hearted IPA

Amy (Rating = 6, Suspected identity = Two Hearted IPA): Stinky, relatively lame, but drinkable after an 8 hour road trip that took 10 hours.

Kim (Rating = 6, Suspected identity = Columbus IPA): Bitter but not very hoppy.

Pat (Rating = 7, Suspected identity = Columbus IPA): Not much aroma for an IPA.  Good hop-malt balance and easy drinking, but nothing jumps out at you about this beer.

Anti Hero IPA

Amy (Rating = 7, Suspected identity = Anti Hero IPA): Tastes lovely but lacks the telltale scent of a good IPA, improves as it warms up.  I’d give it a 7+ by the end.

Kim (Rating = 7, Suspected identity = Anti Hero IPA): More hoppy than the first, smooth drinking.

Pat (Rating = 8, Suspected identity = Anti Hero IPA): Hazier and more aromatic than the first beer.  This beer leans toward the floral side of the IPA spectrum, with some pine notes in the background.  Oily mouthfeel.

White Rajah IPA

Amy (Rating = 8+, Suspected identity = White Rajah IPA): Big grapefruit scent, nice, smooth and hoppy – why is this sample so small.

Kim (Rating = 9, Suspected identity = White Rajah IPA): Citrusy hops, crisp beer with a nice aftertaste.

Pat (Rating = 9, Suspected identity = White Rajah IPA): This one has more tropical fruit character than the first two.  Bitterness is just about right, comparable to beer #2.  Malts are in the background but support the hops nicely.

Columbus IPA

Amy (Rating = 8, Suspected identity = Columbus IPA): Steady, true IPA. Goes well with the stylings of the Dock Ellis Band.

Kim (Rating = 8, Suspected identity = Two Hearted IPA): Citrusy hops, more malts than beer 3, too much malt.

Pat (Rating = 7.5, Suspected identity = Two Hearted IPA): This one is the most aromatic of the group.  The smell is almost medicinal.  Like all of these beers it is a tasty, smooth drinking beer, but the medicinal aroma knocks it down a notch in my book.

Order of Finish

  1. White Rajah (26 points)
  2. Columbus IPA (23.5 points)
  3. Anti Hero IPA (22 points)
  4. Two Hearted IPA (19 points)

Summary – White Rajah is the clear winner coming in first with all three reviewers and netting 26 out of a possible 30 points.  Interestingly Two Hearted IPA which has the 2nd highest rated on Beer Advocate (among the four) and is the second most expensive, came in last on all three ballots, and received pretty tepid reviews.   For the most part Columbus IPA held its own with the more expensive interlopers.  Amy was impressively able to correctly identify all four beers and takes home the title of top beer reviewer of the night.  White Rajah moves into the finals.  Tune in tomorrow for round #2, West Coast IPAs.

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