sixpoint and the opposite question
I was pouring beer for a tasting on Saturday, attempting to define a hard-to-describe beer from a notorious brewery with the same characteristic difficulty.
What is the Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale? It is just as style-shirking as many of their other beers in this informal series that stems from the infamous brewery shutdown of ’05.
The category that the brewery offers is “Imperial Mild”, yet another playful jab at the entire situation which has become some what of a legend told via a nationwide game of Telephone. What I am trying to say is… who knows what actually happened, but regardless, we are left with this beer.
The Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale is a hoppy imperial red ale. It is a malt-forward double IPA. Or, for most, it is considered a part of the catch-all category called American strong ale.
A gentleman approached the bar and I poured him a taste of Undercover. I described the beer as hoppy but malty, and strong.
“Hoppy and Malty? Aren’t those contradictory?”
He asked a very interesting question which hadn’t ever occurred to me.
Of course they aren’t oppositional flavors, and that was how I responded. But the fact that he asked it really got me thinking.
One of my favorite high school teachers used to tell his students to ask questions that seemed unimportant or silly. “If one person is wondering,” he would say, “chances are that ten more people are wondering the same thing.” The same teacher also said that for every one mouse you find in your house there are ten more. Both of these proverbs have proven true in my life.
So let’s riff on this idea of hops and malt interplay for a bit.
The man asked a good question for a number of reasons. First, because beer folks often categorize beer this way, as “hoppy” or “malty”. And whether or not we recognize it, there are beers – many of them – that don’t fall one way or the other very clearly. Beer is even judged with separate categories for malts and hops which draws attention away from the interplay of the two elements.
Coincidentally, I had another beer this weekend that reminded me of this question, and I think my experience with it offers some insight.
The Sixpoint Global Warmer is a new favorite beer of mine (nevermind the fact that it only makes it as far as Eastern Wisconsin) which was brought to a bottle share at my house. I tasted Global Warmer after drinking two very hoppy beers. To me it didn’t taste very bitter at all. I noted some caramel, toasted character, and mild to moderate earthy hops.
Since the label contained “Warmer”, I didn’t realize that my taste buds had been duped.
Cue surprised face on Sunday when I tried this beer with pizza. Whaaa? A very fragrantly hoppy and pungently aromatic beer with a backdrop of caramelized malt and depth. The bitterness was completely unexpected.
Sure enough, in small print on the cute little can: 70 IBU.
It actually reminded me a lot of the Lagunitas with a bit less alcohol. Another example of malts and hops playing nicely together.
But, going back to our question, are malts and hops really ever equally contributing to the taste of an individual brew? I would argue that this is rare, even though I describe several of my absolute favorite beers as “balanced”.
I find, with much more frequency, that the majority of American beers feature one or the other more prominently, and it seems that right now in US beer culture, Citra, Mosaic, and Cascade are much sexier elements to play with than Two-Row or Caramel 40.
It is also true that discerning drinkers taste malt and hop at different times throughout the drinking experience. Hops often are found in the finish where in many cases sweet maltiness is present initially. In the case of the Global Warmer, after about 3 sips of hop-shock, I was finally able to enjoy the caramelized malts that I initially enjoyed.
And finally, as for the role of expectations, as with the word “Warmer” in this case? I would say that they can be much more powerful than is often recognized. I can recall many experiences were something set me up inappropriately for one reason or another (remember my “Jack Pine” soapbox?). A dark, viscous beer that is floral or fruity, or a beer that smells hoppy but tastes anything but bitter can magnify a certain taste or characteristic.
Like those malty-hoppy-strong beers? Try the Sixpoint Global Warmer: American amber / 7% ABV / 70 IBU
Have something to add on the subject or want to ask a poignant question of your own? Share below!