Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Trip Down HopHead Alley

 There’s a reason mouth-puckering IPA’s are considered de rigeur by many beer drinkers these days, especially among those called millennials.

And that’s because they pucker your mouth.

Some do more than others, of course, and the variety of hops used in different beers also leave various lingering impressions on the palate. Good session IPA’s like Founders All Day or Oskar Blue’s Pinner, or  the outstanding Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch are quite delightful, and in the PubScout’s personal opinion, preferable to the ones that blow your mouth and palate apart. Though I’ve never understood why “dank” is considered a desirable flavor, even some of those can be quite pleasurable—at the right time and with the right food.

But where does a true Hophead go to sample some of the most interesting IPA’s all in one spot? Simple. IPA Alley at The Old Bay in New Brunswick.

I attended yesterday’s event early due to other commitments, so I had no way of knowing if the Alley got packed as the night wore on. I do know that beer raconteur Gary Rosen was expected to make an appearance, and that alone usually produces a gladsome and special mayhem. But he wasn’t there when I was.

What was there, however, was a raft—twenty-one, to be precise-- of special IPA’s selected by Tommy Sheehan, The Old Bay Restaurant’s Beer Meister. Each beer came with a well-written description of what the IPA nut was about to throw across his palate, and there was even a special menu provided by Chef Joe Donlin that was geared to match all those hops.

At Sheehan’s suggestion, I ordered the “Hopped up Flight of the Day” (six four ounce pours for $16) and one of Joe Donlin’s special pizzas—BBQ Bacon.

The flight, progressing in intensity from sessionable IPA to Triple IPA, included Founders All Day, Ballast Point Sculpin Grapefruit, Brewdog Punk IPA, Carton 077XX, Kane Overhead and Captain Lawrence Seeking Alpha.

It was good to see the two Jersey beers on the list, and, as I had enjoyed them before, I knew what to expect. Ditto with the Founders. The Ballast Point Sculpin Grapefruit, 7% ABV, 70 IBU’s and rated a 100 at was certainly intense, but this drinker was glad he only had to finish four ounces, otherwise his lips would have slammed shut. Oddly, it did go well with the BBQ Bacon Pizza, leaving me to understand why some people enjoy grapefruit juice with their eggs and bacon in the AM. Normal people opt for orange juice. Sorry, but that’s the way I see it.

But the other two on the list were true winners. The Brewdog Punk IPA, a “fusion” IPA, is hopped with New Zealand hops and they shine through from beginning to end. The write up said the finish was “aggressive,” but I didn’t think so, which is why I probably liked it so much.

The Captain Lawrence Seeking Alpha is a TIPA (as opposed to a DIPA) and its presence at the end of my serving board caused me no small consternation. Would it cause not only my lips, but my nose and eyes to be sucked fully into my oral cavity, never to appear again? And how would I ride my motorcycle to wrestling practice with this baby checking in at 11%?

The answers, in order, are “no” and “quite ably, thank you.” The pizza probably helped with the latter.

But I found the CLSA to be quite delicious and in no way intimidating. The array of hops (Tomahawk, Mosaic, Cascade and Citra ) blended very well indeed with the two-row malts to make this a nicely balanced, very tasty brew.

Tom Sheehan told me this event was his second annual one, and that he also has a stout-centered event during the winter which is quite popular. I haven’t been there, but if this event for Hopheads was an indication, Stoutheads might want to stay tuned for January news.

I passed the time waiting for my food and beers to come out by chatting with the delightful and efficient Sabrina, who was doing extra work this day due to an injury to her regular bar-back. Had she not been so busy, she probably would have had more time to chat with me, provided, of course, that my lips could open enough to speak after the beers.

Bottom line? This is an event Hopheads should not miss.

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