Welcome to round 2 of the IPA Blind Taste Test challenge. For today’s round we had envisioned a showdown between some iconic west coast IPAs, but we had to modify the plan a little based on the difficulty in finding fresh beer here in Columbus. We planned to have Sculpin IPA in the mix, but at both Savor Growl and Weiland’s Market there was no Sculpin to be found, and the bottles I saw at Giant Eagle last week were marked best by Feb 2013. Apparently there just isn’t enough Sculpin being produced to distribute to Ohio. If you go shopping for Sculpin I’d strongly recommend checking the best by date because the quality drops off when it gets old and it is always a pricey purchase.
We did manage to find two west coast IPAs to add to the mix—Racer 5 by Bear Republic and Alesmith IPA. The Racer 5 bottles were dated 7/9/13, which made that batch about three months old. It’s a little older than we’d like to see but it was not ridiculously old and that was the best we could find in both stores where we looked. The Alesmith IPA, which only comes as 22 oz bombers around here, was not dated, but we decided to take a chance on that one. The other two contestants hail from Ohio. Headhunter IPA from Fatheads in Cleveland and Mystic Mama from Jackie O’s in Athens, Ohio.
Beer #1 – Racer 5 IPA (Bear Republic): One of the most iconic west coast IPAs. Made with Chinook, Cascade, Columbus and Centennial hops. As mentioned above the beer was about 3 months old. Beer advocate rating = 4.21 (out of 5), ABV = 7.0%, Cost = $11.99 per six pack.
Beer #2 – Mystic Mama IPA (Jackie O’s): A brand new beer for all of the judges. Made with Amarillo, Warrior, Simcoe and Columbus hops. Like the Anti Hero IPA from last round this beer comes in cans. Beer advocate rating = 3.92 (out of 5), ABV = 7.0%, Cost = $9.99 per six pack.
Beer #3 – Alesmith IPA (Alesmith): This is also a new beer to me. They don’t give details on the ingredients at the website. Beer advocate rating = 4.27 (out of 5), ABV = 7.6%, Cost = $9.99 for a 22 oz bomber (that would be about $33 per 6 pack).
Beer #4 – Head Hunter IPA (Fatheads): Brewed in Cleveland, this beer won a silver medal at the 2012 World Beer Cup and a Bronze medal at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival. Made with Columbus, Simcoe and Centennial hops. Beer advocate rating = 4.38 (out of 5), ABV = 7.5%, Cost = $9.99 per four pack (that would be $15 per 6 pack).
Tonight we’re joined by a fourth reviewer, our old neighbor Chris. Unlike Amy, Chris is not a total hophead enjoying a variety of beer styles. Otherwise everything was the same as last night. The identities of the beers were not revealed to us until all reviews were in. Here are the results.
Amy (Rating = 7+, Suspected identity = Head Hunter): Wine like scent at first, nice finish, good aftertaste. The samples are so little and my beer appetite is so big.
Kim (Rating = 6, Suspected identity = Alesmith): Bitter, lacking carbonation, malty.
Pat (Rating = 7, Identity = Racer 5): Hazy and golden colored. It has a slightly medicinal scent like the Columbus IPA from yesterday (I’m starting to think these snifters are not ideal glasses for IPAs). A solid IPA but overall this one struck me as pretty average.
Chris (Rating = 6.5): Cloudy with a bit of a bite. Bright and green, seems a little underaged. Seemed a little flat, could do with more carbonation.
Amy (Rating = 8, Suspected identity = Mystic Mama): Pleasantly bitter, does not smell like cat pee despite the perception of some in a room full of people using unsophisticated snifters. If I am right about this one it has a cool can (Editors note: She was right)
Kim (Rating = 8, Suspected identity = Headhunter): Hoppy and tasty.
Pat (Rating = 8, Suspected identity = Headhunter): Also a hazy, golden colored beer that definitely has more aroma than the last one. More bitter than the first beer with a nice pine/citrus balance. Fantastic, smooth mouthfeel.
Chris (Rating = 7): Lovely honey color. Smells a little catty with some citrus notes. Smooth taste and fuller bodied than the last beer. Just the right level of carbonation.
Amy (Rating = 8, Suspected identity = Racer 5): This beer is nice. It’s very tangy. Tried and true, still pungent hops even though it is a bit old (Editors note: Here Amy was assuming this was Racer 5, although it wouldn’t be a stretch that the Alesmith was a few months old as well.)
Kim (Rating = 9, Suspected identity = Racer 5): Hoppy, citrusy and tasty.
Pat (Rating = 7.5, Suspected identity = Mystic Mama): Clear unlike the first two beers. Citrus and floral smells. This is a less assertive beer than the last one, mellower with the slightest hint of fruity flavors. A pleasant easy drinker, but a bit of a wallflower.
Chris (Rating = 6.5): Clear with nice dry notes. Kind of boring, but is a steady, utilitarian IPA without any highs or lows. Very drinkable with a nice head.
Amy (Rating = 7, Suspected identity = Alesmith): Bitter and piney. Drinkable but it lacks the citrus smell I like so much.
Kim (Rating = 9, Suspected identity = Mystic Mama): Hoppy, citrusy a little too malty.
Pat (Rating = 7.5, Suspected identity = Alesmith): This one is also clear. It is the least aromatic of the four. More bitter and more pine than the others. If you like pine-leaning IPAs then this is a good choice for you.
Chris (Rating = 6.5): This one is also a little catty, although not as much as the second beer. Nice head and a good hop-malt balance. I like it.
Order of Finish
- Mystic Mama (31 points)
- Alesmith (31 points)
- Head Hunter (30 points)
- Racer 5 (26.5 points)
Summary – Unlike last night where there was a clear winner, here we have something of a dead heat between Mystic Mama, Alesmith and Head Hunter. Although Mystic Mama and Alesmith finished tied for first I’m giving the tiebreaker to Mystic Mama because (1) it was the favorite or tied for the favorite beer of three of the four judges (everyone but Kim), and (2) it’s a much better value for your money. Based solely on the Beer Advocate ratings Mystic Mama should have finished at the bottom, but it pulled off the upset. I wonder if we would have come to the same result if the taste test was not blind. We were all a little surprised that Racer 5 finished at the bottom, not that it was bad but it just didn’t stand out. I guess it goes to show you how important freshness is for an American IPA. It’s a good reason to drink your locally brewed IPA, usually both fresher and cheaper. With a different panel I think Headhunter could have emerged on top. Both Amy and I like IPAs that have big citrus and tropical fruit aromas, but Headhunter is more of a piney IPA, which probably cost it a couple of points.
We are now set for the finals tomorrow. Last night’s winner, White Rajah, and tonight’s winner, Mystic Mama, will face off against the pride of the Finger Lakes, Flower Power, and an uber fresh bottle of Stone Enjoy by 11/12/13. We plan to capture the finals on video, which will be a first for the site. Don’t forget to tune in for the results.