Wednesday, August 22, 2007

'Poonage

I tried to get to the new Dock Street today, after reading how apparently everyone was there on Monday when I was slaving away writing about 3,800 words for Malt Advocate and Portfolio. (Hey, when you click over to Uncle Jack's site, he's got some good scoopage (and bald speculation) on the Yards situation and the tentative Victory operation in Easton.) I packed the kids in the new Rabbit (Cathy's commuter car, and a slick little 5-speed -- good to be driving a manual again; she had the Passat today to fill up on cheap NJ diesel) and we drove down to Philly, only to find a handwritten sign on the door: "Wed-Fri opening at 4:00. Thanks!" Yeah, you're welcome.

I backtracked a bit and headed out Lancaster Ave. to Bryn Mawr, headed for a comics shop the kids like (okay, I bought three more collected Queen & Country, a brilliant bit of espionage story-telling), but we were all getting hungry. I tried to stop at a local pizza place (under construction), a local pub (out of business), and a deli (didn't do sandwiches between 2 and 5!), but finally wound up at a Bertucci's. All was not chain-lost, though: Bertucci's carries Harpoon IPA.

I hadn't had a 'Poon IPA in years. Bring a pint! I was just reading Eric Asimov's piece on Belgian pale ales in the Times (registration required) this morning: "Not content with a sturdy ale awash in refreshing bitterness, many brewers are making their I.P.A.’s stronger and stronger, with a hop bitterness so aggressive it will knock anybody out of her hammock." I thought of that quote as I took a pull on the 'Poon: this was an IPA from back in the day, drinkable but zesty. Harpoon IPA has a solid malt base and a firm hop flavor and bitterness. It was smooth, tasty, and wonderfully drinkable. Lucky Boston. If I hadn't been driving with the kids in the new car, I'd have had another.

Is it an IPA? Who watches the watchmen, who makes the call? The guys who have been guilty of stuffing in the hops with the safety valve tied down? Hell with that. I don't know why we should let a bunch of guys with scar tissue all over their taste buds tell us what we're drinking.

42 comments:

geoffrobinson said...

While every style has a range, it would be unwise to stray too far from the accepted mean with a style description. It helps consumers figure out what you are. However, Harpoon IPA is a known quantity.

Lew Bryson said...

Not sure what you're saying here, Geoff. Harpoon IPA was once square in the "accepted mean." Other beers with "IPA" on the label stretched the definition; Harpoon stayed the same. Fritz Maytag never called Liberty Ale an IPA. With beers like Great Lakes Burning Pale Ale, maybe we should just throw the whole idea of "pale ale vs. IPA" out the window and start over. The whole thing's pretty muddled, and depending on any number solution seems pointless when it's just chasing a slice of a market that is hellbent on bitterness.

Stan Hieronymus said...

Interesting that you should reference the Times' tasting of Belgian beers pale in color in a discussion about style.

The Belgian selections came from a variety of BJCP style categories. These are essential if you want to judge beer, but need restrict a brewer only if he or she is interested first in winning competitions.

Same with those who brew IPAs - and Harpoon's is robust enough even for us New Mexico hopheads - even if you want to make that "winning competitions and satisfying hop zealots."

Steven said...

In honor of Steve Harrison, I've been enjoying a six pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale over the past week. Drinking the final bottle with dinner last night, I reflected on what a great, flavorful, refreshing beer it really is.

And to think that it used to be that beer the original hop-heads clammored for. I'm glad it's still around, it fills my hop quotient right nicely for an everyday drink.

Eric said...

A grown man reading comic books.

You should be ashamed...

Lew Bryson said...

Stan,
Yeah, well... those NYT tastings throw the net pretty wide sometimes.

So: is style a good idea in labeling? And if it is...how accurate does it have to be to be helpful?

Lew Bryson said...

A grown man reading comic books.
You should be ashamed...


If I thought you were serious, I'd get wordy, but... Queen & Country is grown man (or woman) comic books. And when the movie comes out, I'm gonna be there on opening day. Good writing.

Lew Bryson said...

Steven,

A quote from an old USENET sig file of mine:

"Their clothes are weird, their music sucks and they drink
malternatives. And now you tell me they probably don't think Sierra
Nevada is cool? This is what the passage of years does to you: It
makes everyone around you more stupid. -- Michael Stewart 6/24/02"

SNPA is a classic, much like Liberty Ale. I hear people saying ridiculous things like SN has cut the hopping in the Pale Ale, or that it's just not that good, or that it's "not that hoppy," and it makes me furious. Damned newbies. Need to build some serious beer appreciation chops.

I can't really talk about Steve Harrison. It's too upsetting.

Steven said...

"A grown man reading comic books.

You should be ashamed..."


Um, how about a grown man drawing comic books?

http://cgi.ebay.com/VINTAGE-COMIC-BOOK-GASTRIC-ULCER-TALES-1_W0QQitemZ250033637126QQihZ015QQcategoryZ64QQrdZ1QQssPageNameZWD1VQQcmdZViewItem

Yeah, that's my work! Of course, there's that whole "grown up" definition, I suppose.

Steven said...

BTW -- That's not me selling that book, just some misguided collector!

(needed to verify that I'm not using Lew to advertise!!)

Steven said...

"I hear people saying ridiculous things like SN has cut the hopping in the Pale Ale, or that it's just not that good, or that it's "not that hoppy..."

Yah. The In-Your-Face crowd with no respect.

Stan Hieronymus said...

So: is style a good idea in labeling? And if it is...how accurate does it have to be to be helpful?

If it serves us consumers - and many of them seem to think so - then it is good.

The rub, of course, is what is "accurate."

Look at the BJCP style guidlines for India Pale Ale - from British to Imperial. Pretty broad. Pretty helpful.

Consumers are probably closer to the left side of the spectrum. Hop zealots at the far right. I'm thinking the latter are the guys with the "scar tissue all over their taste buds" who would argue Harpoon IPA isn't an IPA.

They shouldn't be the ones "who make the call."

Mark said...

American IPA has become the Buffalo wings of the beer world. It's not so much about a balance of taste so much as it is a chance to prove one's machismo by making or swallowing the most IBUs.

This is a pet peeve of mine (as you see, Lew, I have a lot of them) in the craft beer scene, and it's why, when I find a well-considered, balanced American IPA, such as Victory Hop Devil, I stick with it.

And no, I don't have anything against brewers pushing the boundaries. It annoys me, however, when the boundaries are picked up and moved altogether.

Lew Bryson said...

Stan,

I'm not sure that "Pretty broad." and "Pretty helpful." fit together that well. If a 'style definition' is too broad...is it still helpful?

And Mark: I don't have anything against brewers pushing the boundaries. It annoys me, however, when the boundaries are picked up and moved altogether.

I like it!

Stan Hieronymus said...

I'm not sure that "Pretty broad." and "Pretty helpful." fit together that well. If a 'style definition' is too broad...is it still helpful?

You wouldn't want to call the beers the Times lumped together a "style." In fact the BJCP does have a "Belgian Pale Ale" style which is quite specific.

I don't mean to hold the BJCP guidelines up as some holy grail. I think IPA has meaning to consumers - something they are allowed to define.

Sorta like "craft."

Steven said...

"when I find a well-considered, balanced American IPA...I stick with it."

This reminds me that it's been too long since I've had a Goose Island IPA (local taken too much for granted). The last time I sampled it I remember thinking how well-balanced and delicious it was -- maybe even better than their Honkers Ale (pale), and far from tissue scarring!

Lew Bryson said...

Stan, fergodssake, don't try to hang me on Eric's lumping together a bunch of Belgians as "Belgian Pale Ale"! I didn't do it, I didn't endorse it, I just liked the quote about IPA. You're throwing out a big red herring here.

But "IPA" as defined by the BJCP or the GABF is pretty broad. You say the consumer defines it pretty broadly as well. I'd say that different groups of consumers define it differently, and those definitions, taken together, make a pretty broad range. I'll grant you, that may be a distinction without a difference. But...if Harpoon IPA went out west to be served to a bunch of normal beer drinkers, not geeks: would it be considered wimpy? I'm not setting you up, I don't know. Be an interesting experiment.

Loren said...

Um...if it's not brewed in India should it really be called IPA anyway?

[ducking]

Lew Bryson said...

Y'know, Loren, I'm amazed that doesn't come up more often, with all the geeks who are trying to be so I'm-more-painfully-correct-than-you.

Steven said...

In India, or for India?

Maybe that should be a stipulation? If this beer hasn't sailed around the horn of Africa, it's merely a hoppy Pale Ale! ;-D

Lew Bryson said...

Damn, this blog thing it getting out of control. All these comments, just on a pizza lunch and a glass of 'Poon IPA?

Jeff Alworth said...

On the 'Poon
First of all, while I have privately referred to this beer as 'Poon, I would never do so out loud nor in my blog. You're a braver man than I. However, I'm with you on the beer. It's fantastic. My wife's family is from Boston, and I always track down a bottle or pint when I'm in town. New England has a wealth of good beers, but such is Harpoon's quality that it always moves to the front of the line.

On Styles
There are two considerations here, I think. Styles are valuable for comparison and valuable to consumers. In the former case, more fidelity is needed than in the latter. The average drinker doesn't necessarily have a subtle sense of style, so seeing "IPA" on the bottle communicates "aggressive hopping and robust strength." What's robust strength? Well, BridgePort IPA has just 5.5% alcohol, but passes consumer muster. However, when that brewery enters the beer in competition, they put it with smaller beers so judges can compare apples to apples.

Asimov
That article was one of his stronger contributions. His selection is often suspect, but he selected a nice range of mostly exceptional beers for this article.

However, he erred in making an issue of style and then botching it by including a variety of beers of distinct style. (Egregious: Orval can only be classed as a "pale" if the only criterion is color.)

Still, if people just go buy those beers, no harm done.

Bill said...

When I started homebrewing, one of the neat things about Charlie Papazian's book was that it suggested styles involved certain types of malt, certain types of hops, and a certain alcohol level once finished. Reading Michael Jackson's work confirmed it. Now, folks can stretch these boundaries, but don't kick out the originals. Samuel Smith IPA is a favorite of mine, as is their imperial Russian stout. The first barleywines and old ales I had were British versions. All of these are classic examples of their respective styles -- but should they be kicked out because American versions back load hops for flavor and aroma (often to the extent that any true bitterness is hidden by the flavor), or raise alcohol levels higher and higher? Just because people cut their teeth on newer versions of something and make those their benchmarks doesn't mean older versions need to be reclassified.

Lew Bryson said...

Ha! I've been referring to pint-after-pint of Harpoon as "'Poonage" for years; we used to live in Connecticut, and made the run up to Boston fairly often, way back when Harpoon was Mass Bay Brewing and the brewers played darts in the brewhouse. I think it is the first time I used 'Poon in public, though. Be Brave, Jeff!

Good distinctions on style. Relaxed, too.

Steven said...

"Just because people cut their teeth on newer versions of something and make those their benchmarks doesn't mean older versions need to be reclassified."

I'll second, and even third that if I have to! I couldn't agree more -- we need Charlie Finkel to make a ruling!

LStaff said...

>Y'know, Loren, I'm amazed that doesn't come up more often, with all the geeks who are trying to be so I'm-more-painfully-correct-than-you.

Ah, I hope you are including yourself in that catagory Lew. YOu never pass up the opportunity when you write an article or blog entry about hoppy beer at putting down those that like hops, or looking down your nose at "those hopheads" who are only looking for more bitterness. Way to be "more correct" than those who love hops. You just don't understand hop heads and probably never will - that's ok - but if its not your world, then realize that you are out of your element and think twice about making assumptions about hopheads.

Why can't you realize there are different people who want different things in the craft market? It would be nice to see a little more inclusionary speak when it comes to the diverse population that enjoys well made beer regardless of what your opinion on what beer should or shouldn't be.

More on point though, Harpoon IPA has changed througout the years. I believe the great Tod Mott had a hand in designing this beer, and he says it is not anything like the beer he designed. Back in the late 90's when I started enjoying this beer it was THE hop bomb in New England (outside of McNeill's anyway) - of course there has been a shift in what someone considers a hop bomb to be today. Just before Harpoon bought Catamount and before they upgraded to their new system in Boston, the IPA was getting weak hopwise and was probably closer to a pale ale than IPA. During the transition and after the new brewhouse in Boston, consistency was all over the place, but it seemed to be substantially maltier with less focus on the hop character. But in recent tastings, I'm finding it coming back to what I remembered it to be in the late 90's.

This beer definitely created alot of hopheads in New England over the years. More and more local Harpoon IPA lovers are switching over to Smutty IPA though.

Stan Hieronymus said...

But...if Harpoon IPA went out west to be served to a bunch of normal beer drinkers, not geeks: would it be considered wimpy? I'm not setting you up, I don't know. Be an interesting experiment.

Gee, Lew, I've just been trying to agree with you. Just think how much fun we could have were I disagreeing.

NM breweries (mostly pubs) make many in-your-face IPAs. Stone does well here; people are begging for Lagunitas; Avery, etc. among things available in bottles.

If you went Il Vicino tasting room on a Friday you'd find regular people, a mix of contractors, painters, etc. and people in "casual Friday" garb. Just the folks you expect to pack a beer place on a Friday afternoon.

They'll be drinking IV IPA and Double IPA when it available. I don't think they'd call Harpoon IPA a (slip into demeaning tone of voice) pale ale or wimpy. They'd call it a different flavor IPA.

Steven said...

"You just don't understand hop heads and probably never will"

First of all, I don't believe Lew has ever said he thinks hop heads, or even alcohol heads are wrong in their thinking. He's said that those who can't see both sides (as he always does, yet I find my own self growing more narrow in my tolerance) and say we can't "appreciate" a beer unless it's extreme are just a bit shallow in their perspective.

Most will agree that there's a time for extreme, but there's also a time for subtle. But there's a certain faction of "geeks" out there who think in-your-face is the only good beer around.

Lew Bryson said...

Lstaff--

That is such a ridiculous post I'm not even going to bother. I've done my time in the lupulin mines, crushed fresh cones in my IPA... Actually, here's my retort, first writ over ten years ago on USENET in response to just such an accusation, since updated (with apologies to Mike Fink):

"Hear me ROAR, I drink Pliny the Younger by the straight yard glass just to hear strong men scream in fear, I drink 120 Minute IPA upside down in a square steel cup, I AM RESIN!! The barstool ain't made that can contain me, I grind up Simcoe hops for snuff and sneeze out bottles of Weyerbacher Double Simcoe at precisely 56.75 degrees! Tom's of Maine makes special toothpaste for me from Blue Point oyster shells, Hydrogen Peroxide and the year's highest-alpha hops, I suck it from the tube and spit out the eye of my dog Barley!! I can swallow mythically overhopped IPAs without batting an eye AND FART FEMALE CONES FOR A WEEK!! Brewers lock the hopstore when I start my car, I sleep on a flaming bale of whole-flower Cascades, my daddy was John Hodgson and my mama was an alewife! When I drain my mug, kegs disconnect themselves from the taps in FEAR, I AM AN EMPTY YAWNING ABYSS OF BEER-THIRST!!"

Ridiculous.

As to the history of Harpoon IPA...I've noticed the same kinds of changes in German Oktoberfest beers. There's not nearly the consistency in brewing that some folks would have you believe.

LStaff said...

"I don't know why we should let a bunch of guys with scar tissue all over their taste buds tell us what we're drinking."

If this isn't projecting disdain towards hopheads, I don't know what is....wait, I do know, and I could fill up a page with quotes of Lew's digs and backhanded jabs at hop lovers that show that Lew "knows better" than the average hophead. Maybe this isn't Lew's intentions, but this is the way he is coming off.

>But there's a certain faction of "geeks" out there who think in-your-face is the only good beer around.

I see nothing wrong with someone knowing what they like and going after it. Hey, its putting more money into craft brewers pockets instead of mega conglomerate breweries- and its having an effect on how beer is precieved and priced -how can that be a bad thing for craft beer? If these beers didn't sell, there wouldn't be so many on the market. Small brewers can not survive on the tiny margins that flagships provide and these big beers give them a little more flexibility in pricing which in turn raises the preception of what beer can be and what people are willing to pay for beer. And until the craft segment can sort out their freshness issues, big beers provide something very worthy to craft beer lovers.

I do agree that beer drinkers may be missing out on some wonderfully drinkable beers if they only go after the extreme beers, but its their money, their perogative. I just don't think anything can be accomplished by thumbing your nose at certain segments of craft beer consumers.

Mark said...

I don't see why beer lovers should be separated into hopheads and non-hopheads.

My favorite style of beer is Munich Helles, but sometimes I want an Irish stout, Baltic porter or imperial IPA. What's wonderful about beer is the sheer range of flavors, body, textures, aromas and colors we can get out of (usually)four basic ingredients. Anyone who turns their nose up at all but one flavor profile is shortchanging themselves as much as the guy who only drinks Busch.

Now i'm not accusing anyone in this comment thread of being that narrow-minded. My concern is that newbies to the craft beer world will only find the extremely hoppy stuff, get it in their heads that only really bitter = good beer, and never bother to try some of the really great stuff out there. In that sense, it's a detriment to the craft beer industry.

We've all sat on a barstool next to that guy who smugly said "I don't drink anything I can see through." I don't wanna clink glasses with someone who feels the same way about IPA.

Lew Bryson said...

Good for you, Lstaff.

But I've been on the receiving end of "if you don't drink what I drink, you're a loser" for almost 30 years, and it doesn't sound any different coming from hopheads than it does from BMC drinkers. So I do occasionally get salty about it.

Try to think of it as balance, as something other than the 24/7 "HOPS RULE!!!" soundtrack of much of craft beer brewing and enthusiasm. Or ignore it. Or let it bother you. Better yet...start your own blog and rant about it.

STAG is not a blog about just beer or whiskey. It's about life in that world. Putting up with the T.Rex attitudes of hopheads -- excuse me...some hopheads -- is part of that life, as is reacting to it.

bill mc said...

Still don't like IPA, like American pale ales more.

Bill said...

lstaff -- spending any time on the beer fansite forums quickly provides evidence that the vocal fans aren't just drinking what they like when it comes to highly hopped brews and high alcohol brews and extreme brews, they're using that to slam other brews. The latest thing that made me shake my fist and chase the kids out of my yard were folks slamming Three Floyds' Gorch Fock, which is a helles. They were slamming it because it wasn't hoppy. They. Were. Slamming. A. Helles. Because. It. Wasn't. Hoppy. There are vocal folks on these sites who dismiss Sierra Nevada and Anchor because they're "pedestrian" and merely "gateway beers." I think it's clear Lew is going after such attitudes here, not expressing disdain for hoppiness. It's certainly fine to have different people who want different things... but if the leading fansites are full of folks who diss beers they don't like purely because of their hop content, I don't mind having Lew providing a counter to them.

Steven said...

"I just don't think anything can be accomplished by thumbing your nose at certain segments of craft beer consumers."

I don't think that's what anyone here is doing, in fact -- I think we're trying to defend against that from the IYF crowd -- and believe me, there's a lot of that around -- see Bill's & Mark's comments above, more eloquent than I could type.

Loren said...

Wow...all this back-and-forth over a freaking Harpoon IPA and pizza?

Was the pizza at least good? Oh wait...if it wasn't from New Haven how could it be!

TGIFF!

Kathy said...

"This reminds me that it's been too long since I've had a Goose Island IPA (local taken too much for granted). The last time I sampled it I remember thinking how well-balanced and delicious it was -- maybe even better than their Honkers Ale (pale), and far from tissue scarring!"

Steven, I had a similar reaction to Goose's IPA recently. Had it at the WI State Fair a couple weeks ago and was bowled over at the malt balance, at its rich backbone, at how JUICY the malt made it. I must admit, I found myself craving hops over a year and a half ago and find it difficult to be satisfied by a beer that doesn't have a higher hop profile. Thankfully, that's bled over into FINALLY appreciating pilsners, kolsches, and the like -- the styles that sometimes get pushed aside in favor of bigger-balled beers. (I hope that my new-found love for pilsners will swing my pendulum [speaking of balls] back to the malty side of the world. It better... I have nearly a case of old ales, stouts, porters, and such to be enjoyed!)

Anyhow. I thought, also, that it might be nice for a woman to comment in a thread in which one hell of a slang term's being tossed around like discs at a hippie convention. ;-) Glad to see this discussion; I always find it enlightening and entertaining.

Steven said...

New Haven?! If it wasn't from Chicago, how could you even consider it? ;-)

Actually, Piece Pizza & Brewpub in Chicago boasts New Haven-style pizza -- both beer and pizza at the place are worth a visit!

Drew said...

Hey Lew.. glad to see that the ole Harpoon is still worthy. That, Otter Creek Copper and Long Trail Amber are the beers that ruined my life and set me on this beery path.

Thank god.

jay said...

When ever I interview a brewer about a beer, I always ask him/her what the REAL style of the beer is, not what it's brand name is or what the label reads. It's usually different, because it sells better under the catchier style.

Point taken Lew & Jeff - The label "IPA" seems to be what the consumer wants to buy (or buy into), irrespective of what style better fits the beer. It's truth in labeling.

It's also a slippery slope: When an apple is sold as an orange, then shouldn't all apples taste like oranges?

Lew Bryson said...

Kathy,

You can come by any time -- great comment!

roan22 said...

Gawd there sure are some idiots out there who hate you Lew, aren't there? Doesn't anybody understand your role as a beer writer? As if writing their comment is going to make you "see the light" and quit. As if. Reading all these dumb comments just pissed me off!