Friday Froth: Hop Heaven

James Gribbon

Holy Mother of God, do I love IPAs. Hops are as important an ingredient of beer as water, in my opinion. Without any hops you may as well put a plate of dry barley and yeast in front of me - I guess I could do something with it, but it's not really worth the effort. Hops are the spice of beer, I've said it before, and as such India Pale Ales occupy the same space in the temple of my mind as Thai and Mexican food. I will shoulder your grandmother out of the way if she comes between me and a kaeng phet. This week we're going to roll around in IPAs like a freshly bathed dog in a questionable pile of dirt. My tongue's already hanging out, but don't worry, hop-shy readers: there's something for you, too.

Cavalry Brewing in Oxford, Conn. was started in 2008 by Mike McCreary. The name is an homage to his time in the U.S. Army and the people with whom he served. His Marauder IPA was bottled, according to the brewery's Twitter, two months to the day before I drank it. It pours a brownish red, almost a tarnished brick color, with a thick head that left a crown as it melted down. Roasted malts come through strong in the aroma, and are also the primary takeaway flavor of this beer. Hungry yeasts are put on a diet during the brewing of Marauder I guess, as they only manage to spit out just over 5% ABV, and hop heads will be similarly famished: this is possibly the least hoppy IPA I've ever had. That said, this is a great tasting beer and would make a super snappy brown ale. Brown ales are a favorite for a significant portion of the population, I know people who practically have bottles of Newcastle and Sam Smith's sewn to their hands, and this local brew is fantastic for them. This particular batch may not be a bitter IPA (remember: this cavalry has just begun its charge), but it definitely is a fine, fine beer.

Rich Doyle and Dan Kenary started Harpoon Brewery in Boston in 1986. This year, 25 years later, they've announced the 37th installment of their Harpoon 100 Barrel Series: Rich and Dan's Rye IPA. Each limited release in this series of finely crafted brews is its own special recipe, and two kinds of spicy rye malts join Maris Otter, Pale and Vienna malts, three varieties of wet hops and one dry hop process using Falconer's Flight hops in the creation of this special beverage. The rye adds a slight ruddiness to the amber color of this beer, and a fresh, light hop scent fills your nose upon close inspection. A thick heads hangs around in a lasting film and leaves distinct rings in the glass as you drink it down. This specialty IPA has a somewhat restrained hop character - it's definitely been dosed, but not overdosed. It's a remarkably smooth profile for a rye.  It's a fine summer beer: smooth, but the hops keep it more sharp than dull. Dull knives are dangerous, dull beers suck, and dressing sharp is a good thing. Drink sharp and try to find yourself a pint of this stuff before it's all gone.

Smuttynose is a brewery I've mentioned before in relation to IPA, and they've hit another home run with their "Finestkind" IPA. The label art depicts two old New Englanders chilling outdoors on a nice day, and damned if I don't want to crawl through that scene and share a beer or five with them. Old guys can be the best drinking partners, and that art told me this is a beer I want to hang out with. Good thing, too, because the brewers say they had hop heads like me in mind when they made it. Finestkind is also dry hopped, and includes Amarillo, Simcoe and Santiam hop varieties for a 65 IBU, 7% ABV liquid dream. The hops float in an aromatic cloud above the golden brew, while tiny specks of yeast float and swirl amongst the bubbles. This unfiltered beer will froth up with a robust, lasting head upon being poured, and the hops will sit you down and give you stern talking to: they will be your best friends if you can hang, if not, they will kick your mouth to the curb, son. I drank it with a funky chunk of abbey cheese on the side - the fatty, pungent dairy pairing well with the biting hops.

The trip to hops heaven doesn't require a ladder. It's more a stroll through a verdant landscape of fields and vines, with some well placed lawn chairs along the way. Strap on some shoes and join me for the walk. If not, join me later: I'll be up the road a bit, on or under one of those chairs.