Someone - I don't recall who, and I'm forced to paraphrase here - once said the amazing thing about books is that a writer who may be hundreds of miles away or hundreds of years dead can speak directly from their mind into that of the reader. A recipes is the same, because what is a recipe but another cook speaking into your head and guiding your hands? A recipe is thus a combination of people and ingredients - ideas of taste and texture made physical manifest. In this way a chef is the same as a brewer, and a dish is like a beer.
Artisinal foods and beers are the result of obsessive dedication to recipes using prime ingredients to produce an idealized flavor. How much closer can you get to your ingredients than visting the actual dirt from which they spring? That's the idea behind Victory Brewing Company's Ranch series of double IPAs.
The name comes from Victory working with family owned hop farms, which are sometimes called hop ranches, as if the hops detach themselves and wander the moonlit world when the humans aren't watching. Victory worked with growers from Roy Farms, Carpenter and Seagal Ranches, and and Perrault Farms, among others, to create this series.
The brewers work with a single, agreed upon recipe of malts, and then change up the hops they use as they produce batches of beer designed to call attention to the different aroma and flavor profiles of the various varieties. The focus with the Ranch beers, which are given slightly different names, is to avoid the overwhelming bitterness which is often the hallmark of imperial/double IPAs.
The Victory Hop Ranch double IPA I had was served to me in a ceramic mug, so unfortunately I cant comment on its color, but it poured with a medium head and gave off a straightforward aroma without any single defining characteristic beyond "hops." It was sharp and light on the first sip, with a pungent, earthy bitterness which came on late without being showy. It was a satisfying bitterness, and the hops had a sort of deep flavor, like the smell of walking in a forest.
There was no mistaking this IPA for any other style of beer, but it was light enough that having one wouldn't put you off having another. And another. I suspect this was the batch made with Cascade hops from Roy Farms in Moxee, Washington. These hops aren't uncommon, so the price is reasonable for a DIPA, and the taste isn't esoteric to the point where one would need to be worried about sharing it with non-hop-head company. Ranch would work as a fridge beer or something to bring to party just fine. The current Ranch DIPA appears to have been made with Mosaic and Azacca hops, so it should be much more lively and fruity, but I haven't had that one yet. Try it out and let me know what you think.
Knowing the land means traveling through and exploring it. In Fairfield County, in all too many instances, this unfortunately means slogging along I-95. Two Roads has made the mention of that accursed highway's very name slightly less galling just recently, however, with the release of Rye 95, a Belgian style tripel weighing in at a rage-reducing 9%ABV.
Rye 95 was a golden amber with a medium head, as it was poured into my glass, and there was a vague sweetness to the nose with a dusting of hops. Prickly carbonation belies a surprisingly smooth mouth feel in this beer, with a round sweetness balanced out by spicier rye grains and pebbly hops. There's a nice fruit there from those hops as they give texture to the malt - not reminiscent of citrus so much as apricots. There is very little bitterness to this beer, but the rich grains and yeasts provide a pleasingly substantial body. I sampled a grip of these from the fridge at a Super Bowl party when it first came out because I couldn't help myself, but it's readily available nowdays at nearly any bottle shop which stocks craft beer.
It may be difficult to know the land right now, frozen as it is, but soon enough that ground will thaw and we will all become intimately acquainted with the resultant glop. Our fellow New Englanders up at Smuttynose know mud season well enough, and figure the best way to deal is to become one with it. While most spring seasonals focus their attention on the crisp petals of spring's new life, Smuttynose Durty represents the accompanying mire.
Durty uses a collection of four different malts to end up with a very dark brown color and a hell of a head. The recipe calls for several different hops to weave their way throughout and on top of the robust malt and alcohol presence, including Magnum, Nugget and the Zeus/CTZ variety, which is itself a hybrid of Columbus and Tomahawk hops. All this manifests in light, toasty aroma, and a beer that is impressively malty, yet so clean you almost feel like it's playing a trick on you. Durty is no dainty "here comes the Sun let's dance around the maypole" spring beer - it's big, and it's heavy - but it's also a big winner.
This, then, is craft beer: the land, its harvest, and the people who imagine new ways to create flavors from what they give us. I call that a noble pursuit.