Time for another round of Ohio vs The World, an ongoing series where Ohio beers match up against some of the most sought after, highly respected beers on planet Earth in a blind taste test. The basic premise is to see how well our local beers match up against the hard to find, highly coveted white whales of the beer world.
Today we turn a spotlight on American Pale Ales, the overlooked middle child that occupies the ground between the insanely popular IPA and Session IPA styles. The archetypal APA, the poster child for Citra hops, the top ranked ranked American Pale Ale on just about every community rating site out there is none other than Three Floyds Zombie Dust. In today’s showdown this beer brewed in the gritty eastern suburbs of Chicago to survive a zombie uprising of biblical proportions goes head to head with not one but two Ohio beers: Seventh Son’s Humulus Nimbus, and Thirsty Dog’s Citra Dog. The latter is technically listed as an IPA, but like Zombie Dust it is all an Citra hop beer and only 0.3% higher in abv. So as the absolute and unquestioned arbiter of the Ohio vs The World series I’m declaring it an APA for today’s contest. After all deep down we all know that each of these beers could easily pass as an IPA.
Today we have a different judging panel than in past rounds of Ohio vs The World. I’m joined by longtime Pat’s Pints taste test judges Ted Clark and Chris Mercerhill, as well as a newcomer to a Pat’s Pint’s judging forum, Kyle Davison. I know some of you might be asking, just what exactly qualifies Kyle to be put in a position of such influence. After all there are half-dozens of people whose purchasing patterns might be influenced by the outcome of today’s contest. In answer to those skeptics you should know first and foremost Kyle’s knowledge and passion for craft beer runs deep. Secondly, both Ted and Chris vouched for Kyle. The final and deciding factor is that Kyle somehow came to posses and was willing to share a bottle of Zombie Dust for the competition, which when combined with Ted’s bottle gave us enough to hold the contest. Without further adieu let’s get to it.
Like a welterweight championship fight here’s the tale of the tape for the long awaited day of reckoning in the world of American Pale Ales.
Humulus Nimbus Super Pale Ale
- Brewery: Seventh Son (Columbus, OH)
- ABV: 6.0%
- Price: $9.99 for a 4-pack of 16 oz cans
- BeerAdvocate Weighted Rating: 3.90
- Freshness/Form: 16 oz cans purchased at Pace-High Carryout on the day of the tasting
- Notes: Brewed with a mixture of Mosaic and Simcoe hops
- Brewery: Thirsty Dog (Akron, OH)
- ABV: 6.5%
- Price: $11 for a 6-pack of 12 oz bottles
- BeerAdvocate Weighted Rating: 3.76
- Freshness/Form: 12 oz bottles purchased from Palmer’s Beverage on the day of the tasting
- Notes: Like Zombie Dust this is a single hop beer, relying exclusively on Citra hops for all of its lupulin goodness
- Brewery: Three Floyd’s (Munster, IN)
- ABV: 6.2%
- Price: Varies, $10 for a 6-pack at the brewery when in stock, but generally on the order of $3 per 12 oz bottle in Columbus (if you can find it)
- BeerAdvocate Weighted Rating: 4.54 (The world’s top rated American Pale Ale)
- Freshness/Form: Poured from 12 oz bottles purchased at Weiland’s Market roughly two weeks before the tasting
- Notes: Arguably the best known example of Citra hop only beer.
At the time of the tasting the beers were just labeled A, B and C to keep their identities blind, but to make it easier for everyone to follow along I call each beer by its name in the description that follows.
In appearance all three competitors are pretty similar—each golden amber in color, good clarity for the most part, and topped with a respectable head of white foam. Citra Dog is just a little darker than the other two; Zombie Dust is a little hazier. Moving into the aroma department the differences start to show through. Zombie Dust is arguably the least aromatic of the three, but the smells that are present are bright and citrus forward, just what you would expect from a beer that features only Citra hops. Humulus Nimbus is easily the most aromatic, a trait noted by all four judges. It regales your olfactory system with a more complex bouquet of scents than the other two competitors. Melon notes from the Mosaic hops mingle with citrusy notes, while subtle hints of dank, cannabis-like aromas lurk in the background. Citra Dog also brings a hop-forward nose to the table, but the aroma is the least fruity and citrusy of the three. If we stopped at this point Humulus Nimbus would be the hands down winner.
All three beers are a pleasure to drink, but just like the nose there are clear differences. Citra Dog drinks more like a classic IPA. The malts are more apparent, it’s not as fruity as the other two beers, and all four judges agreed that it had the most lingering bitterness on the finish. Zombie Dust is notable for the excellent balance between the bright flavors of the citrusy hops, and the grainy, slightly sweet flavors of the pale malts. The fruitiness is easy to find and the bitterness is well masked, all of which makes for a supremely drinkable beer. Humulus Nimbus is the most hop forward, with big notes of citrus and a touch of melon on the finish. Nearly all of the residual sweetness has been fermented out resulting in a crisp refreshing beer with a very dry finish.
For the first 15-20 minutes the atmosphere of our tasting event was comparable to a library—minimal talking while the judges intently examined their beers using the full range of senses, all the while scribbling notes on BJCP scoresheets. This was followed by a discussion where we shared our thoughts on each beer. Finally each panelist rank ordered the beers in a blind ballot. The results are as follows:
- Chris – Humulus Nimbus (#1) > Zombie Dust (#2) > Citra Dog (#3)
- Kyle – Zombie Dust (#1) > Citra Dog (#2) > Humulus Nimbus (#3)
- Pat – Zombie Dust (#1) > Humulus Nimbus (#2) > Citra Dog (#3)
- Ted – Zombie Dust (#1) > Humulus Nimbus (#2) > Citra Dog (#3)
For me the choice between Zombie Dust and Humulus Nimbus was a difficult one. Both are excellent beers, but in the end the balance of Zombie Dust won out by a hair over the delicious, complex hoppiness of Humulus Nimbus. Ted followed suit, while Chris came down on the opposite side of things placing Humulus Nimbus in his top spot. I felt that Citra Dog was the definite outlier of the three, less fruity and more bitter. It’s a perfectly acceptable IPA but not a great stand-in for Zombie Dust. I guess that goes to show that making a great beer, even an APA or IPA, is about much more than just the hop variety. On the other hand, Kyle preferred the West Coast IPA stylings of Citra Dog over the über dry, tropical fruitiness of Humulus Nimbus, but felt that neither was the equal of Zombie Dust.
In world where beer geeks go to great lengths to track down hard to find, big, flavorful beers Zombie Dust is something of an anomaly. It doesn’t blow you away with over the top hops, but relies on balance and drinkability to win you over. To be honest on the few occasions when I’ve been lucky enough to try it I walked away a little underwhelmed, which led me to believe that its status as one of the country’s most sought after beers is inexorably linked to its limited supply. However, as the dust settles on this contest I have to tip my hat to Three Floyds apocalyptic American Pale Ale. Their masterful integration of pale malts and fruity citra hops makes for a beer whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
While I’m happy to sing its praises, everyone knows that Zombie Dust is notoriously hard to track down, even in its native Indiana/Illinois habitat. So it’s good news to know that local favorite Humulus Nimbus Super Pale Ale is a worthy peer. The combination of Mosaic and Simcoe hops lends complexity that gives Humulus Nimbus a superior nose and a more interesting hop profile. While not quite as balanced as Zombie Dust, it is in many ways a bolder, more modern interpretation of what an American Pale Ale can be. So next time you see a Zombie Dust sighting on social media and realize that it will be long gone by the time you get off work, relax and take solace in the fact that you will have a much easier time tracking down the hoppy elixir that comes in the 16 ounce sky blue colored cans.
Zombie Dust’s victory over not just one but two Ohio beers evens up the score at 2-2 in the ongoing Ohio vs the World series. If you missed them don’t forget to check out earlier posts in this series: