Beer Wednesday: The FIWK IPA Tasting

Towards the end of April, Aaron came down to LA. We decided to celebrate this occasion by assembling a crew and drinking some beers. Aaron loves IPAs so we focused the tasting mainly around those. Here is the list:

- Longhammer IPA by Redhook (6.5% ABV)
- Blind Pig IPA by Russian River (6.1%)
- Pliny the Elder IPA by Russian River (8%)
- Torpedo IPA by Sierra Nevada (7.2%)
- Hop Ottin' IPA (organic) by Anderson Valley (7%)
- Big Daddy IPA by Speakeasy (6.5%)
- Ruination IPA by Stone (7.7%)

- Noble Pilsner by Sam Adams (5%?)
- McGarvey's Scottish Ale by Left Coast (5%)
- El Camino (Un)Real Black Ale by Stone, Firestone Walker, and 21st Amendment (9.5%)
- Red & White Ale by Dogfish Head (10%)
- Victory at Sea Vanilla Coffee Imperial Porter by Ballast Point (10%)

Pictures are forthcoming. Feel free to add your comments in the meantime, especially if you've had these beers before.


  1. I haven't stopped thinking about the El Camino (Un)Real Black Ale. Amazing.

  2. It's a good thing I wrote down my notes... I'm going to try this one beer at a time.

    The Longhammer IPA smelled better than it tasted. It smelled like a perfect IPA with plenty of hops, but tasted a little light or weak for an IPA.

    The Blind Pig IPA smelled fine (not as good as the Longhammer) but tasted like hop water. I mean that it had plenty of hops (good hop content), but was missing some of the beerness. It tasted a little weak as a beer as if it wasn't brewed properly or thoroughly and hadn't fermented properly.

    Pliny the Elder was smoother and had better balance than the Blind Pig. It was easier to drink, which is relevant considering the higher ABV. Another flavor in addition to the hops helps provide the balance. Good all around beer with an 8% ABV.

    The Torpedo is an Extra IPA by Sierra Nevada, better known for their Pale Ale. While this tasting did not go as well (I don't think the beers survived the drive from SF), I have thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the 24-case I got from Costco. Great hop balance, smooth pour with a firm head, especially when poured cold. Has the perfect weight, that it must be savored instead of chugged, but you can keep taking sips without feeling full.

    The Hop Ottin' didn't quite taste right and in my mind I associate that with being an organic beer. Give me those fertilized and pesticized ingredients any day.

    Foes had a good take when saying that the Big Daddy IPA appeals to a wider range (or array...I wrote arrange in my notes...wider range?...wider array?) of beer drinkers. It has good flavors and appeases IPA/hop fans even though you can easily tell it is rather light on the hops and bitterness. Good IPA flavor without plant taste that can come from too much hops.

    The Stone Ruination IPA is my absolute favorite beer and as such, it deserves its own post for a Wet Wednesday in the future.

    I'll get to the non-IPAs tomorrow.

  3. Awesome reviews Aaron! I'll have to check out the Big Daddy as I'm not the biggest IPA fan....

  4. I'll put up my individual notes tomorrow as well. Keep in mind I'll definitely do a separate Wet Wednesday post on the El Camino (Un)Real Ale because it was very interesting.

    I'm glad you are doing the Ruination as a separate Wet Wednesday.

    I had occasion to try another of Speakeasy's beers, the Prohibition Ale, and I now want to do a dedicated Wet Wednesday to Speakeasy and their Big Daddy and Prohibition. Big fan.

  5. I'm normally a wine girl, but love the Torpedo! Had it at the brewery itself a while back, which was fun. Middle of nowhere, but fun. Great reviews - can't wait to see yours, Royce! Very handy info for hosting purposes.
    Any plans to try Sink the Bismark?

  6. You know-- I'm not an IPA fan, but am totally anticipating your reviews. Especially the Hop Ottin' because I've heard good things.

    Summer is beer time, and I am so looking forward to it.

  7. I agree that the El Camino (Un)Real Black Ale also deserves its own post. Easily the best non-IPA and maybe my third or fourth favorite beer of the evening. Which is saying something since I'm a huge IPA fan. To give you an idea, I had a few friends over for a playoff football game and three people each brought a different type of IPA. I think Scott supplied a Longhammer 12 pack.

  8. It looks like Sam Adams replaced the White Ale with the Noble Pilsner as their spring seasonal beer. I have always enjoyed the Sam Adam's seasonals (at some point I'll do a Wet Wednesday analysis Sam Adams as a whole) especially their Summer Ale (a nice wheat) and their Winter Lager. (Oktoberfest is the fall beer.) Of those four I liked the White Ale the least. I'd always get a six pack every spring, but rarely went back for a second. It seemed to spicy for it to be a good spring beer.

    Noble Pilsner has stepped up well. While it might be the closest to a blonde or traditional American lager (Bud, Coors, Miller, etc.), it's light and smooth and perfect for drinking outdoors while playing catch (which is properly done with the bottle of beer in the left hand and catching and throwing only with the right hand).

  9. the rest of my notes...

    "McGarvey's scottish ale (left coast 5%) - bad

    Red and white (dogfish head 10%) - worse"

    These reminded me of Sam Adam's Cranberry Lambic, (from their holiday mix packs) which is also horrible. It's closer to juice that was left out too long and has fermented than actual beer. I think the higher ABV of the Red & White made it worse. These were simply hard to finish the few ounces we had for tasting.

  10. Forgot the Victory at Sea... I can see why Royce likes it so much, definitely a quality beer, just not my cup o' tea. I remember the non-Royce consensus being that the vanilla flavors and after taste were strong...not bad, but very defining.

  11. Femme - glad you like the Torpedo, it is a great one. I'm also a wine person, so you may like my upcoming Wet Wednesday focused on a Pinot Noir tasting we did at my place this week. The tastings have been a big hit.

    Speaking of which - once you live in the neighborhood you are welcome to join in the fun. There are some good wine bars nearby that offer good tasting opportunities.

    Beccasaurus - I felt the same way about IPAs, which is why I was excited to try a bunch and really get a feel for the style. The Hop Ottin' underwhelmed but I'd definitely recommend the Big Daddy as a great entry point into the style. The Sierra Nevada Torpedo would also be a good example to try.

  12. My notes on the IPAs:

    The Longhammer IPA by Redhook had a great nose (i.e. smelled great, thanks Aaron) but had limited flavor. I thought it was too light and gave it an overall "meh".

    The Blind Pig IPA by Russian River was similarly light and didn't impress me. Its flavor was more interesting than the Longhammer, but Aaron was right on when he said it tasted like "hope water." It completely lacked any body weight.

    Pliny the Elder by Russian River was like the good version of the Blind Pig. (In fact, it made me wonder why Russian River even makes the Blind Pig. Why make a crappier version of the same beer?) It had the requisite body weight and way better flavor. And yet as Aaron said it was also smoother. I'm not sure if the extra 2% ABV helped give it that extra weight. The flavor was very good and it had a good hop/spice balance.

    The Torpedo Extra IPA by Sierra Nevada had such a distinct "Sierra Nevada style" to it. That crispness and total pine needle flavor in overdrive. I think Aaron is right that the beer probably didn't survive the trip very well, and we didn't drink it cold enough, but I still liked the beer.

    The Hop Ottin' (organic) IPA by Anderson Valley was disliked by everyone except for Foes. Someone (Aaron?) said that it tasted like a "bastardization of an amber and pale ale", summing up our universal distaste for the beer. I do not recommend it based on this experience.

    The Big Daddy IPA by Speakeasy, on the other hand, was the consensus favorite of the IPAs. Foes' comment about appealing to a wider range is spot on. It had the spices and flavor of an IPA without the heavy hops. It was very smooth also. Highly recommended.

    Ruination IPA by Stone got the highest marks for me as an expression of the IPA style, if that makes sense. It smelled the best by far of any beer, like honeysuckle and citrus and warm spices. It was very full bodied and matched its spicy flavor with its hops extremely well. It was slightly too heavy for me to make it a rotation beer but I think anyone interested in IPAs should absolutely try it.

  13. My non-IPA notes:

    The Noble Pilsner by Sam Adams was delicious and easy-drinking. It was however kind of one-dimensional and I wouldn't go out of my way to have it again. But if someone had it in the fridge I'd certainly drink it.

    McGarvey's Scottish Ale by Left Coast was sour, disjointed, and watery. Nobody like it and we questioned if it had gone bad or something.

    The Red & White Ale by Dogfish Head was an interesting concept (a white ale into which they brewed some Pinot Noir juice), but in practice it was all bad. Aaron sums it up well - it just didn't work and tasted like a lambic gone bad. It actually reminded me a lot of the Ephemere by Unibroue in its light, fruity lambic style - except gone very wrong.

    The El Camino (Un)Real Black Ale by Stone, Firestone Walker, and 21st Amendment was extremely interesting. It will get its own post one Wednesday. My quick notes are that it was very unique, smooth for its style, and I loved the flower, candy, caramel, and chocolate flavors coming together on the palate. It was supposedly inspired the Historic El Camino Real in California, which for those who aren't Cali natives has a pretty cool history.

    Finally the Victory at Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter by Ballast Point finished up our evening and I think people generally liked it. I was out on a little bit of an island (along with Foes) in my absolute love for it however. I am apparently a bigger fan than most people. Some felt the vanilla flavor on the finish and aftertaste was too manufactured tasting. In general it was well liked considering how heavy a style it is; I think the complexity of flavors was a plus, especially for a crowd which had a lot of wine drinkers.

  14. "Why make a crappier version of the same beer?"

    Good question - why make a crappier version of anything?

  15. Oh, oh... unbelievably low blow by you Scottie...

  16. Awesome Scott...thank you.

    Royce, you did remind me of a few other thoughts (not all of which are mine, but at this point I can't distinguish my own thoughts from others because I used up all my notes).

    The Hop Ottin' called itself an IPA, but everyone was shocked by the color. It was so dark it looked more like a red ale or even a Newcastle brown color.

    I like the "pine needle" aspect of Sierra Nevada beers...that description fits.

    Your Big Daddy description sounds like the Corona benchmark; no one's favorite, but on one dislikes it. For me it was only the 6th or 7th best of the evening.

    An important distinction, which I will expand when breaking down my favorite beer...Stone makes an IPA and the Ruination IPA, which it considers a double IPA. So the Ruination IPA is even more IPA than a normal IPA.

  17. That is a really important distinction, great point.

    I need to back up and make special mention of something FemmeCurieuse said above... she knows about Sink the Bismarck! That's very exciting, it is currently the world's strongest beer, at 41% ABV. Huge ups to Femme for knowing about this, I award you five out of five smiley faces for your knowledge.

    I do plan on trying it sometime, but it's very expensive to order.

  18. Aaron what's your ranking of the beers? Rank your IPAs, and let me know where in the ranking your cut off for "you recommend it" is. Then give me your ranking of all the beers there, mixing in the IPAs.

  19. "So the Ruination IPA is even more IPA than a normal IPA."

    That's dumb. That's like saying something is extra medium.

  20. 1) I highly recommend:
    Stone Ruination IPA (of course)
    Pliny the Elder IPA
    Torpedo Extra IPA

    2) I suggest trying (or are acceptable if that's all the restaurant has):
    Longhammer IPA
    Big Daddy IPA

    3) Skip to something else:
    Blind Pig IPA
    Hop Ottin' IPA

  21. Overall recommendations:
    1) Stone Ruination IPA
    2) Pliny the Elder IPA
    3.5) Torpedo Extra IPA
    4) Longhammer IPA OR 3.5)El Camino (Un)Real Black Ale
    [I consider the Black Ale to be a superior beer, but it is likely that given my own personal tastes I might order the Longhammer IPA or the Big Daddy IPA before the Black Ale. I could even bump the Black Ale up over the Torpedo.]
    6)Big Daddy IPA
    7)Noble Pilsner
    8)Victory at Sea

    Continuing the rankings, but I do not recommend these:
    9) Blind Pig IPA
    10) Hop Ottin' IPA
    11) McGarvey's Scottish Ale
    12) Red & White Ale

  22. My list is exactly the same as Aaron's. I would swap the positions of the Big Daddy IPA and the Torpedo if you are not familiar with IPAs yet.

  23. As for my overall beer list from the event, based on my personal beer preferences:

    1) Victory at Sea Imperial Porter
    2) El Camino (Un)Real Ale
    3) Pliny the Elder IPA
    4) Stone Ruination IPA (this is one where it might be a "superior beer" than the one above, but my personal preference is the Pliny)
    5) Big Daddy IPA
    6) Torpedo Extra IPA
    7) Longhammer IPA
    8) Noble Pilsner

    Skip these:
    9) Hop Ottin' IPA
    10) Blind Pig IPA
    11) Red & White Ale
    12) McGarvey's Scottish Ale

  24. Aaron, just read a glowing review of the Maharaja IPA by Avery over at Daily Beer Review. I am getting my hands on this as soon as I see it in a store.

    PS - had another bottle of the McGarvey's Scottish Ale over the weekend, and it was just as bad as the first. Absolutely do NOT recommend that beer.