My Monday post on the final round of the King of Ohio IPA challenge generated quite a bit of activity in the various social media platforms. Brewmaster Trevor Williams seems to be well liked by everyone who has interacted with him and I’m not surprised. He is working hard to build up Hoof Hearted, brewing some great beer, and seems like a really nice guy to boot. I’m glad I went to the free homebrewing talk he gave at the Worthington Library a couple of weeks back, and I’m looking forward to trying my hand with the Musk of the Minotaur recipe he gave out at that talk.
The Phoenix Brewing Co in Mansfield was off the radar for many Ohioans (including yours truly) and their strong showing generated some interest. Hopefully this will draw a few people in to give their beer a try and see how it stacks up against better known Ohio breweries. I know I’m curious to try more of their beers and will look for an opportunity to do so the next time I head north on I-71, possibly followed by a detour to Wooster for a return visit to JAFB.
As always when you express your opinion online some people have different opinions and that’s fine. Most people are savvy enough to realize that taste is a subjective thing and take your opinions for what they are, but there are usually a few people who question your qualifications or the method in which the contest was conducted. The qualifications of the judging panel are what they are and have been discussed in earlier posts, so I’m not going to revisit that question. However, I would like to give some more information on legitimate questions that have been posed about the contest. I finish with a summary of the tasting notes for the beers that I tasted so you can draw your own opinions on what beer best maps onto your own flavor preferences. After all how often do you get a one source scouting report on the best IPAs coming out of Ohio.
The Freshness Question
We all know that IPAs are best when fresh, so it’s only natural that there were some questions about the freshness of the beer. The most accusatory dismissal of the contest came from someone who commented in a thread on beeradvocate.com
“if breweries supplied the beer this would be a much more legit “contest” but there is no doubt these guys had 2 day old beer next to 2 month old beer.”
To refute this comment I will simply let the facts speak for themselves. Eight of the fourteen beers were served from growlers that were picked up directly from the brewery within a few days of the contest and kept sealed, cool, and in the dark until the tasting started. Musk of the Minotaur from a growler that I picked up at the Daily Growler in Upper Arlington the night before, thus saving me a drive to Marengo. Columbus Brewing Company IPA and Gangster Frog were in bottles that were picked up directly from the brewery within two days of the contest. PsycHOPathy and Truth were in cans that were bought at the store within two weeks of the contest. The former had an October brewed on date, while Rhinegeist does not freshness date their cans so the age cannot be verified, but there is no reason to expect this six-pack was past its prime. I guess if you are a big fan of Truth and into conspiracy theories you might still be skeptical, but I can sleep at night with a clean conscience.
What the Hell is a Half Wet IPA?
Some people questioned why we included Half Wet Musk of the Minotaur rather than the standard version of Musk of the Minotaur. The simplest answer is that all of the places around town pouring Musk of the Minotaur at that time were pouring the half wet version. I’ve also checked the BJCP guidelines and consulted a couple of my friends who are BJCP judges to see where a wet hopped IPA would be entered in a sanctioned event, and the answer seems to be it would be judged with the other IPAs. It’s also worth noting that Trevor Williams (brewmaster at Hoof Hearted) is constantly tweaking the hop recipe on Musk of the Minotaur so every batch is a little different and the one we tasted last weekend represented what Musk of the Minotaur was on the last week of October 2014.
A more interesting question is what the hell is a half wet IPA? I know what a wet hopped IPA is, but this is the first half wet IPA I’ve come across. So I asked Trevor if he could clarify this for me, and his response gives some interesting insight to the ever evolving nectar that is Musk of the Minotaur:
The beer was made the same way we usually do with one exception. Some fresh picked Mosiac & Citra hops that were overnight shipped from Washington State were added with other traditionally processed dried hops during the flameout addition. Having never making a wet hop beer before, I didn’t order nearly enough quantity to do a traditional wet hop beer so they were more supplemental than the star. The beer was then dry hopped with Mosiac and Citra pellets. So the beer really didn’t veer off course too much from our normal hop procedure which is to use whatever hops are exciting us that particular moment.
What makes a winning IPA?
Since we were comparing the best IPAs from around the state I can’t help comparing the beers that made it to the final round to see if there are some common characteristics.
- Musk of the Minotaur – 7.2% abv, 70 IBU, made w/ Mosaic & Citra hops (+?)
- Headhunter – 7.5% abv, 87 IBU, made with Columbus, Simcoe & Centennial hops
- Redemption – 6.8% abv, 70 IBU, the hops used are unknown to me
- Golden Ratio – 7.0% abv, made with Galaxy and other southern hemisphere hops
Not too many surprises here I suppose, the typical profile is 6.8-7.5% abv and 70-90 IBU. Maybe the most interesting thing is to note that all of the top beers use one or more newer hop varieties that pump up the fruity flavors/aromas and tend to add some dank, earthy funkiness at the same time. The days are probably gone when you can stick to Cascade and/or Centennial and make an IPA that can outdo its peers when evaluated by a panel of beer geeks (sorry Two Hearted Ale).
Here is summary of the tasting notes I’ve complied for the beers from group A. These beers were judged by myself, Tom Aguero and Cory Smith. Tom is a certified BJCP judge and Cory is an avid homebrewer. It was a pleasure and educational to judge with such knowledgeable companions. I’ve not included the group B beers because I didn’t judge those, but I have included notes on the two beers from Group B that made the finals, Head Hunter and Golden Ratio. The description of Golden Ratio comes from the Central Ohio IPA tasting I hosted back in September, while the notes on Head Hunter are my own review from a bottle enjoyed at home while writing this post.
Cleveland IPA (Buckeye Brewing) – This one has the classic American IPA hop profile and the highest level of bitterness of any beer I tasted in the contest. Taking quotes directly from each of our tasting sheets (recorded before we started discussing the beer), “The first thing that hits you is bitterness” (Pat). “Upfront bitterness dominates fruity hop flavors” (Tom). “Lingering grassy bitterness, big back of tongue bite” (Cory).
Gangster Frog (Hoppin’ Frog) – This is almost the exact opposite of the Cleveland IPA. The hops have been chosen here to accentuate fruity flavors and aromas, but ones that you don’t find in an everyday IPA—melons, tangerines and oranges. We actually thought it could use a little more bitterness to keep everything in balance. So if you like your IPAs fruity and not bitter it would be worth your while to track down a bottle of Gangster Frog.
Hopgoblin (Flatrock Brewing) – Tropical fruit nose with a touch of dank, earthy aromas for complexity. It has a complex fruity flavor, good hop-malt balance, and dry finish. This was a completely unknown beer to me from a small brewery located in Holgate, Ohio but it held its own against some stiff competition.
White Rajah (The Brew Kettle) – It has a big complex nose that was described using adjectives such as floral, citrus, cannabis-like, pungent, earthy, and borderline catty. The dank, earthy hop party continues into the flavor. Interestingly, I wrote “hops to the fore, malts in the background” on my tasting sheet which is pretty close to the language used on the label (“malt take a back seat please”). Tom felt this was an excellent example of an IPA that showcases Simcoe hops. The Brew Kettle doesn’t share the ingredients for White Rajah, so I can’t verify his tasting instincts, but his analysis seems on the mark to me.
CBC IPA (Columbus Brewing Company) – This beer finished last in the group on all three of our scoresheets. Compared to the other beers in this group there was less flavor and aroma, what there is leans toward pine with some dank, earthy notes. Something in here, maybe phenols, give it an almost medicinal aroma. I’m surprised at the poor showing, but then again it only finished middle of the pack in the Central Ohio IPA blind taste test I held with a completely different group of judges. Maybe the brewers at CBC, who can do masterful things with hops as shown by their medals in the IPA and Imperial IPA categories at this year’s GABF, should revamp the recipe for this classic beer (I’m sure they’re happy to get those kind of suggestions from bloggers like me).
Redemption IPA (The Phoenix Brewing Co) – Tom and I both liked this beer a lot, while Cory’s praise was a bit more muted. Tom felt it was very citrus forward while I was picking up more of a tropical fruit vibe. We all agreed that it was fruity and hop forward, with just the right level of bitterness for an IPA, and a clean finish.
Half-Wet Musk of the Minotaur (Hoof Hearted) – The nose is fruity yet at the same time a little dank. The balance of flavors in this beer is unlike any IPA I’ve tasted, which makes it a little difficult to describe. It’s definitely fruit forward with flavors that remind me of mangoes, peaches, and grapefruits. There is very little bitterness at the finish, but at the same time enough to keep the finish crisp and refreshing. It captures all of the good things you can get in an IPA made with modern hop varieties without bringing in the taste/aroma elements that are more challenging to the palate (our tasting notes are devoid of descriptors like earthy, catty or pungent). The end result is an extremely high level of drinkability.
Golden Ratio IPA (Seventh Son) – Darker in color than its competitors, Golden Ratio is slightly cloudy with a deep reddish copper hue. The use of Australian Galaxy hops gives it hoppy notes that are decidedly different than the citrusy flavors traditionally found in American IPAs. The judges had some difficulty putting the flavors into words but terms like tropical fruits, dank, and piney were used by multiple judges. The malt backbone here is more substantial that any of other beer in the contest, which gives it a nice body and mouthfeel.
Headhunter IPA (Fathead’s) – The nose begins with grapefruit and pine but pretty quickly the dank, earthy, catty flavors that come from the Simcoe and/or Columbus hops make themselves known. This follows through to the taste where dank, piney, resinous hop flavors dominate. There is an assertive bitterness that comes early in the taste and keeps an even keel through to the finish. Each drink leaves you with a swell of hop flavors that remind me a little of a Christmas tree at a cat shelter. This is not a beer for the casual IPA drinker, there are too many challenging flavors, but for the hard core hop head it’s like nirvana in a glass.