India Pale Ales, or IPAs, have become a favorite beer style for craft brewers looking to experiment with flavors. The beers, which originated in Great Britain in the late 18th century for shipping to India, are defined by their elevated hop levels, making them especially popular with hop-happy West Coast beer companies. But even Texas brewers better known for German-style beers are getting in on the act.
While one might think the style would be rather constrictive, given its focus on one particular ingredient, the range of flavors is incredibly broad. They can be anything from the subtle, soft British-style IPAs to puckeringly bitter West Coast hop bombs to the bright, yeasty variants dreamed up by Belgians. Even the differences between domestic breweries' takes on the style (which are sometimes lumped together as "American IPAs" under the generalization that American IPAs are stronger and hoppier) can be quite drastic.
Recently, the Meddlesome Moth offered a rare taste of a barrel-aged version of Lost Gold IPA from Real Ale out of Blanco, Texas. It seemed a perfect opportunity for an all-Texas, all-IPA edition of Hophead. After the jump, it gets subjected to the Hophead Beer Ranking Scheme, along with Stormcloud IPA from Fort Worth's own Rahr & Sons.
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Real Ale Empire (Barrel-Aged Lost Gold IPA)
Appearance: Hazy gold with a big, puffy, sticky white head. Intriguing, as IPAs are usually amber or copper-colored. 10/10
Nose: Subtle, with caramel notes offering a false promise of sweetness over floral, fruity hops. 10/10
Taste: BITTER. Big bitter, earthy hops with a complex fruity essence of peaches or apricots. I'm not noticing much in the way of oak as expected with a barrel-aged brew. Some faint caramel and toffee maltiness, but not sweet at all. Not exactly what you'd call balanced, but nice for serious hop fiends. 35/40
Body: Light bodied, and it almost dries the mouth out. 8/10
Finish: Quite dry with a long-lasting bitter aftertaste. 8/10
Style/Originality: Having not tried the draft-only summer release Lost Gold before, I can't compare it to this barrel-aged version. But this was quite memorable, out-bittering even some of the biggest hop bombs I've ever had. 10/10
Party Factor: At $8.50 for a short pour (looked like about 8 oz.) at the Moth, this 6.6 percent ABV draft-only beer had a Party Factor of just 0.52, barely rounding up to 1.
Rahr Stormcloud IPA
Appearance: A darker amber color, clear with a creamy head that leaves no lacing behind. 8/10
Nose: Grainy and bready along with clean, fruity hops. 10/10
Taste: Very balanced with fruity hop notes, some spiciness and a slight malty sweetness. Much mellower than the Real Ale version. It's a lot closer to the smooth, subtle British IPAs than a typical American IPA. Either that, or the massive hops of the preceding Real Ale Lost Gold just blew out my tastebuds. 35/40
Body: Light bodied and smooth. 9/10
Finish: Refreshing and bitter, but not unpleasantly so. 9/10
Style/Originality: According to Rahr's description, it's a "German-style" IPA, with Vienna malt (commonly used in bocks) among its ingredients. Interesting idea, for sure, but it's still not an especially memorable IPA. 9/10
Party Factor: At $4 for a pint during happy hour at the Moth, this 6 percent ABV draft had a Party Factor of 2. (It's also available in six-packs, usually retailing at around $7.99, which would put the factor at 4.5, rounding to 5.)
Total: 82, tying it with Real Ale's Lost Gold when compared side by side at the bar, but edging it out with an 85 if you take into consideration its retail availability.