I absolutely adore Greek mythology. The creatures were probably the first aspect to grab my limited attention, but the imperfection and compellingly human nature of the gods, the odd sense of justice, the creativity and cleverness of classical civilization have never ceased to captivate me. "I, my, me" - isn't this supposed to be about beer? It will be, but first let me tell you about a youth named Narcissus.
Born to a river god and a water nymph, the boy was impossibly beautiful from birth, and he knew it. Men and women alike threw themselves at Narcissus and all were rejected. Ovid writes: "Thereupon one of the scorned raised his hands to heaven and cried: 'So may he himself fall in love, so may he not be able to possess his beloved!' and Nemesis heard it." One hot day, Narcissus bowed down at a spring to drink and unwittingly fell in love with his own reflection. Unable to grab the object of his desire and unwilling to leave it, he wasted away to death by that spring, and in his place grew a yellow flower botanists call by his name. The rest of us call it a daffodil, and I noticed a bunch of them beginning to push up through the frosty ground this week. Spring is beginning, and with spring comes spring beers.
The workers at Red Hook Ale Brewery, located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, must not be strangers to the excitement of spring. Nor are they probably unfamiliar with the sandy slush, manic/depressive weather patterns, or the mud - the shoe-sucking, floor-tracking, car-splattering mud - which comes with it. I'm guessing that's why they named their seasonal Mud Slinger Spring Ale.
This ale is barely aromatic, with a very thin head and a color on the grungy side of red, as is fitting, but clear and transparent. Tip the glass and strong toasted grain notes swell on the tongue, along with sharp carbonation that brings a spiky counterpoint to this very smooth and un-hoppy ale. There is a slight alcohol flavor which is surprisingly detectable in a welterweight 5.8% beer. That alcohol becomes part of the bouquet as the beer warms, and the grain flavor changes to include a tiny hint of cereal sweetness as the carbohydrates break down in the mouth.
Not as ubiquitous as Newcastle, and less costly than Sam Smith's Nut Brown, Mud Slinger is an English brown ale, and would make a good spring house beer for those who would keep something a little more interesting than the usual macros, but not dark or intense enough to scare off the general population.
Keeping with our theme of the return to green in the north, we'll move on to Thomas Hooker Hop Meadow IPA. This Connecticut-made IPA pours a dark amber with a medium head and a fresh, herbal, and decidedly spring-like scent. Hop Meadow is an American-style IPA with a big hop punch at first sip. The five different hop varieties roll across the tongue and finish very smoothly, considering the initial bite. That bite mellows as the beer warms, your palate adjusts, and the malts smooth the flavor. Hop Meadow holds a good amount of lace inside the glass as the the drinker sinks the level down and appreciates what a fine IPA they hold. Freshness, as ever, helps, and it's always good to buy local, but people anywhere would be proud to be discovered in the company of this Hooker.
We do like our hops around here, and for good reason. Most of the world's best hops are grown in the United States - mainly in the Pacific northwest. Simcoe hops are a hybrid variety related to the aromatic Cascade variety which give Hop Meadow its irresistible aroma, but Simcoes are used primarily to bitter a beer instead of being used as an aromatic. They are clean, piney, slightly citrusy, and the soul of Weyerbacher Brewing Company's Double Simcoe IPA. This is an imperial IPA, and at 9% can launch the drinker into orbit alongside the space shuttle Discovery's final flight - currently passing 173 miles over my head as I type.
This double pours the same color as the Hooker IPA, but slightly cloudy. It's capped with a respectable head which gives off a deep aroma of those Simcoe cones - the only variety of hop used. The hops passed through me like a chill on the first sip. I've definitely had hoppier beers, but I actually got goosebumps. There is a lot to discern here:a tiny sweetness like wild cherries, a rich maltiness, and hops with so much depth of character development they could be in a Wes Anderson movie.
If I had to describe this beer as an object, it would be round, but big, and with all kinds of clockwork on the inside. The lace left sticky rings as the beer level made its way from inside the glass to inside me, and I enjoyed every molecule of it. Weyerbacher is in Easton, PA, and its beers are fairly easy to find. The Double Simcoe IPA is available on tap and in 12oz. to 750mL bottles. It is potent in both its effect, and its ability to prove good beers belong at any table fine enough to have them.
So let's not get so caught up in naval-gazing that we forget to lift our eyes and appreciate the world around us, especially this time of year. The Greeks looked at spring and saw dark-robed Demeter's mood changes making the Earth fruitful again. I, for one, plan to take full advantage of the fruits (and fermented grains) of her bounty.