Arguably, if there is a single style of beer that best represents the craft beer movement, it is probably IPA, or India Pale Ale. This may stir up some debate. (Good!) It’s a bold statement about a bold beer style which exists in a universe of great beer styles. It is a style with a storied past, an influence on other hundred-plus-year-old styles and an active standardbearer in the growth and evolution of modern craft beer.
This week’s tasting is with Dale Patterson, owner and brewer of Hop’N Moose Brewing Company, Rutland’s first and only brewpub. Patterson grew up in Canada and went to UVM, where he played hockey. He later became a proficient homebrewer who wanted to make the jump and go pro. Now he has a family in Rutland and a very nice brewpub on Center Street.
The “India” in India Pale Ale harks back to the creation of the style and is a major touch point of where beer and history intersect. Almost two centuries ago, British troops stationed in India yearned for the pale ales that were then popular back home in their native England. Yet the unrefrigerated kegs of pale ale didn’t fare well on the long journey by sail from England to India, so British brewers responded by making a special variation of pale ale that was higher in hops (a mild, natural preservative) and had more alcohol content (which deterred bacterial growth). The result was India Pale Ale, a hoppy, robust pale ale. The higher alcohol content was achieved by using more barley in the mash, which yielded more fermentable sugar, which was consumed by the yeast during fermentation and converted into ethyl alcohol (and carbon dioxide). Non-fermentable sugars remained to contribute to flavor and body.
The spinoff style was a hit and was brewed and kept alive by various breweries until the birth of modern craft brewing. The hoppy, flavorful style was such a contrast to the domestic American premium pilsners of the post-World War II era that craft brewers and their fans embraced it as a symbol of craft beer’s distinction.
Beer: Fiddlehead IPA (6.2% ABV/53 IBUs)
Brewery: Fiddlehead Brewing Company, Shelburne, Vt.
Dale Patterson had wrapped up a day of moving beers through his 3.5-barrel brewhouse in Rutland to join me for a tasting of Fiddlehead IPA. Patterson pours Fiddlehead IPA as a guest beer at Hop’N Moose, and says it does tremendously well.
This unfiltered, slightly hazy, golden beer seems to emit its own light from the glass in which it’s served. The aroma is dominated by floral hops. Patterson considers it a uniquely Vermont or Oregon IPA, “with multiple citrus notes . . . a little pineapple, some orange and tangerine,” he said. “There’s a sweetness in the aroma,” he added ,“. . . maybe Amarillo hops giving those tangerine notes?”
The carbonation level of Fiddlehead IPA in draft form was low to moderate, and the head dissipated quickly but left very good “lacing” on the inside of the glass. The term refers to the visual effect that some beers produce on the inside of a glass as the beer drains from it, which to British beer drinkers resembled the lace of a bishop’s collar.
“Very satisfying. I like it a lot. It’s a really nice beer,” said Patterson, “although it may be a tad sweet for my go-to everyday beer.”
In Rutland, Patterson uses a 3-1/2 barrel brewing system to make his beers and for the most part is able to keep up. He brews twice each week. Hop’N Moose, on Center Steet downtown, has about 125 seats, with live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights. They make and serve brick-oven pizza, too. Hop’N Moose Brewing Company has nine to twelve of their own beers on tap at any given time, along with a respectable offering of guest beers.
IPA as a style has continued to proliferate and to evolve, particularly in the hybrid styles made popular in recent years. Red IPA, white IPA, black IPA, double IPA, and session IPA are all children of such creative crossings. Amidst a roiling sea of IPA’s, Fiddlehead Brewing Company owner Mat Cohen has formulated a flagship brew that is fairly distinctive and a standout in its class. Sample one yourself and see if you agree! Cheers!