I haven’t posted a dedicated beer review in well over a year, but when Columbus Brewing Company releases a new Imperial IPA it demands your attention. Following in the footsteps of GABF medal winners Bodhi and Creeper, Cowboy Bernie is a 9.3% Imperial IPA featuring experimental hops from the Yakima Valley. Given the photos CBC posted on their website I’m led to believe that Cowboy Bernie is a real person, not the first in a series of beer names that pair Tesla’s greatest hits with the socialist hall of fame (don’t get your hopes up for a beer named The Great Che Guevara Controversy). This Bernie looks like he knows his way around a horse, and for all I know he might have picked his share of hops. Enough of my babbling let’s cut to the chase.
- Brewery: Columbus Brewing Company (Columbus, OH)
- Style: Imperial IPA
- ABV: 9.3%
- IBU: 90
I always appreciate breweries that include an easy to decipher packaging date on their product. This four pack was bottled on August 20, which would make it about 2 weeks old when these tasting notes were recorded. CBC describes the beer this way on their website:
Giddy up! Cowboy Bernie is a friend and a truly unique character. This limited Imperial India Pale is deep golden in color with a refreshing, firm bitterness and aromas of orange, orchard fruit, pineapple, and spice. Prominently featuring the experimental Bru-1 hops from Brulotte Farms in Yakima, Washington.
Cowboy Bernie cuts a striking figure when decanted into my IPA glass. Deep golden in color, with impressive clarity for such a highly hopped beer, topped with a glorious three-fingers of creamy white head that protects the hoppy elixir below from oxidation. It looks a bit hazy in the picture, but that’s due to condensation on the outer walls of the glass from the stupidly hot, humid weather we experienced over Labor Day weekend. From what I’ve read Bru-1 hops are meant to be high in tropical fruit character, but I found the aroma to be dank and coniferous, like walking through an old growth forest in the Pacific Northwest or sticking your nose in a bag of freshly picked hops. At first I struggled to find fruit aromas amid the overwhelming dankness, but if you concentrate there are citrus notes underneath that to my senses are reminiscent of grapefruit or possibly bitter orange. You may want to take my fading sense of smell with a grain of salt, because this Brulosophy post on Bru-1 hops concluded they were rich in tropical fruit and melon flavors (albeit in a 4.7% pale ale, not a 9.3% DIPA). Having said that Bru-1 hops are known to be rich in myrcene, which is a key essential oil in plants like cannabis, bay leaves and thyme, so maybe I’m not barking up the wrong tree.
Even with a beer like this eventually you need to stop smelling it like a cat meeting a new friend, and start drinking it. When you do Bernie regales you with flavors of herbaceous, freshly picked hops riding on a wave of sweet golden malts. The hop flavors follow the nose pretty closely. There’s a big malt backbone here, and all of it is needed to balance the assertive, in your face blast of Pacific Northwest hops. For a beer of this potency the alcohol is dangerously imperceptible. The mouthfeel is slightly resinous and coating. There’s an old school bitterness that lingers, and a drying sensation at the finish that leaves you wanting another drink. In fact trying to quench your thirst with this beer is a task of Sisyphean proportions.
If I’m honest the first few drinks were something of a shock to my palate. Apparently, I’ve grown soft on a diet of hazy IPAs, fruited IPAs, milkshake IPAs, saffron infused mango lactose IPAs, and other trappings of an easy life. A younger, more idealistic version of me would not have found the hops too dank, the bitterness too firm, or our trade deficit with Canada alarming. Two days later when I sat down for second encounter with Cowboy Bernie, I found the experience less extreme, more enjoyable. This is a big beer on all counts, but the folks at CBC have managed to keep the elements in balance. If you find yourself sliding toward a life of sipping hopped guava juice by the pool, or worse yet starting to rationalize the existence of hard seltzer, a 4-pack of Cowboy Bernie might be just what the doctor ordered.
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.