For me summertime usually comes with plenty of travel. While I get a bit homesick for the great beers of Central Ohio, it does provide an opportunity to try beers that are not distributed to the Buckeye state. This year my first extended trip of the summer was an 1800 mile cross country road trip in a U-Haul truck, accompanied by my teenage daughter. Our journey across the American heartland began in Southeast Idaho and ended three days later in Columbus, Ohio.
The nature of this trip did not facilitate brewery visits. Quoting from the theme song to the 1977 hit movie Smokey and the Bandit, we had a long way to go and a short time to get there. (As an aside this movie is perhaps the earliest appearance in popular culture of someone hoarding hard to find beer and then trying to sell it for a premium price on the black market, strangely prescient don’t you think?) Even if we had more time there are large stretches of that trip where breweries are few and far between. On the other hand, driving a U-Haul makes it all too easy to stash away some packaged beer for later. So I planned a stop in eastern Iowa to seek out a white whale of a beer that has eluded me far too long—pseudoSue an über hoppy pale ale brewed by Iowa craft beer darlings Toppling Goliath.
For those of you blissfully ignorant of this beer, pseudoSue is brewed exclusively with Citra hops and skirts the line between a pale ale and an IPA. It’s very much in the same vein as Three Floyd’s Zombie Dust, but even harder to acquire. As we all know, the harder a beer is to find the better it tastes. So it should not surprise you too much to find out that pseudoSue is neck and neck with Zombie Dust in just about every list of the best American Pale Ales out there (it’s the #3 APA on BeerAdvocate, #5 APA on RateBeer).
Just because you happen to be driving through Iowa doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to track down some pseudoSue. About two years ago I drove about a hundred miles off the beaten path to visit the Toppling Goliath Brewery in Decorah, just to find out they were all out of pseudoSue (as was the entire town of Decorah). Not keen to repeat that excursion I decided to try my luck at John’s Grocery in Iowa City, a locale that was en route anyway. When we pulled into town the buildings were bathed in the warm glow of the evening sun. We found a place to park and walked a couple of blocks to John’s, which is housed in an old brick building that sits on the corner of E. Market and N. Gilbert streets, not far from the heart of downtown Iowa City. The food selection is maybe one step up from a convenience store, but if you make your way to the back corner of the store there are two rooms filled floor to ceiling with a wide ranging selection of imported and craft beer. After coming up empty in the first room, I walked into the large beer cooler and scanned the shelves. A palpable wave of satisfaction surged through me when I spotted a tall boy can sporting an image of a T-rex. Thirty minutes later, slightly chilled from perusing the well-stocked shelves of the walk-in beer cooler, I walked out of John’s carrying a box full of beer from the likes of Funkwerks, Crooked Stave, Prairie, Surly, and the object of my quest, a 4-pack of psudeoSue.
Now safely back home let’s see if this prehistoric monster of a pale ale can live up to my lofty expectations.
The white can is emblazoned with the image of a green and purple T-rex. There is a freshness date on the bottom that indicates this batch was canned on June 21, which is exceptionally fresh given the purchase date of June 29 (the tasting notes were recorded on July 8). The brewery description of the beer reads as follows:
This single hop pale ale showcases the Citra hop for a well balanced beer that is delicate in body with a mild bitterness in the finish. She roars with ferocious aromas of grapefruit, citrus, mango and evergreen. PseudoSue’s unique and addictive taste is clean and bright with just enough bite!
To the eye pseudoSue is a translucent golden color with a resinous appearance, perhaps from the hop oils suspended in solution. The two fingers of pure white head dissipate in a fairly standard fashion. While visually pleasing, it’s your olfactory system that gives the first indication that you are not dealing with just any pale ale. I can almost picture waves of volatile aromatic molecules breaking free from the surface of the liquid and dispersing throughout my kitchen like a giant gallimimus herd fleeing chaotically from a marauding T-rex. To get an idea of the scent of pseudoSue imagine you are sitting in an evergreen forest holding a large bag of marijuana (strictly for medicinal purposes of course) while a friend drizzles freshly squeezed citrus juices over your weed. The taste is just as fruity, coniferous, and resinous as your nose would suggest. There is enough malt sweetness to balance the hops without getting in the way. For such a hop-forward beer the bitterness is on a pretty short leash. The finish is dry and clean, and the slight twinge of bitterness at the finish doesn’t linger long on your palate.
Despite my lofty expectations I’m happy to say that my first encounter with pseduoSue did not disappoint. This American pale ale is a glorious showcase for the dank and fruity goodness of American-bred citra hops. The aroma and lack of bitterness make it a pretty safe bet that most of the hop additions come in the whirlpool and dry hopping stages. Although I have to compare from memory I’d say the hop-profile is even more aggressive than Zombie Dust. For those in central Ohio looking for a similar experience, my recommendation is track down a can of Seventh Son’s Humulus Nimbus, an excellent home grown example of a pale ale on steroids.
Rating scale: 10 = perfection, 9 = excellent, one of the top beers in the world, 8 = very good, one of the top beers in its style category, 7 = good, a solid beer I’m happy to be drinking, 6 = average, not bad but not something I’m likely to buy again, 5 = below average, 3-4 = poor, should be avoided, 1-2 drainpour.