Friday Froth: I Give You IPA...Firefly Hollow, Victory & Beer'd Brewing Co.

James Gribbon

We're going to ignore the seasonal background noise this week, and focus on the always topical subject of IPAs. Two of the beers we taste in today's Froth are Connecticut originals, and I'm also taking the opportunity to introduce the newborn Vital IPA from Victory Brewing. A single can of this last made its way into my sinister grasp a few days before its official introduction to the world, and your first look is below the jump.

First, though, I have to geek out about some Firefly Hollow trivia...

Firefly is located in Bristol, and run by partners Rich Loomis, Bill Collins, and brewmaster Dana Bourque. Two out of three at UConn grads, and I've mentioned their beers here before. A while back I had the opportunity to try another one of their beers, Lil Troll session IPA. As the name suggests, this one is just under 5% abv, and pours golden with a big head. The hop aroma is earthy, and maybe even a bit sour on the nose. The brewers make this one with Chinook, Nugget, Ahtanum and Simcoe hops, according to their web site, but the flavor ended up tasting super English in profile, like it had been hit with a bushel of Kent Goldings. It's not too bitter, Lil Troll rather has a sort of dry bite. This is usually paired with sweeter, richer hops in an English bitter, but here the malts are fairly light, so the hops are thrust into the spotlight. Did I mention having this beer just so I could tell you something else about Firefly Hollow? Possibly!

Firefly Hollow has some seriously compelling label art. To wit:
These are the designs of one Nick Gamma, who you can find at Hops&Branding. Nick used to work at Jive Records back before that, and he's responsible for the cover art for three of A Tribe Called Quest's albums (Low End TheoryMidnight Marauders and The Love Movement),  NSYNC’s No Strings Attached, Backstreet Boys’ Millennium, and Matthew Sweet’s In Reverse, plus who knows how many others. I have completely worn out my original copies of those Tribe albums, and I did a little flappy-hands thing when I found that out, so I thought I'd share. ANYWAY...
Victory Vital IPA's snappy hops were present from the second I cracked the can. I poured it into a glass, and saw a perfectly clear straw colored beer with a thick head and ample carbonation, and fruity, new world hops to the nose. Vital is crisp and almost lager-y on first sip, as the all-German Pilsner and Cara-Pils malt bill draws the focus. Aroma has a lot to do with taste - the hops mainly reside in this beer's nose, and in a bitter finish as this IPA walks its cleated feet over your tongue. The peachy notes wafting off the beer's resilient head tend to stay in the ether, and aren't present in the flavor to the same level as those light, crackling malts and a slight yeastiness. There is a definite earthy flavor imparted by the Simcoe hops, however, and I'm a sucker for Simcoes. 

This beer actually makes a lot of sense in Victory's IPA portfolio which, apart from the Hop Ranch series, is profoundly dark and heavy. (See Hop Devil, and Dirt Wolf.Victory just didn't produce this sort of brisk, golden tonic, with a body on a level with Two Roads Lil Heaven. I don't mean to draw too close a comparison between the two - at 6.5%, Vital is no session IPA - but it's a wholly different animal from the Wolves, Devils, and other mascots representing Victory Brewing. Vital hit shelves yesterday, so there will presumably be plenty to go around very soon. It's canned, so keep an eye out for it. Vital is another winner from the Pennsylvania brewery.

Beer'd This Side Of Paradise is another imperial IPA from the young Stonington brewery which has rapidly made a name for itself based largely on the exact style. It pours a slightly brassy and cloudy amber, with a bright white, stubborn head. There's a little hop sweetness to the nose, but it's a very reserved aroma for the generally stankin' dank of Beer'd beers. Taste it, though and there is a big, juicy hop flavor at first - like biting a nectarine the size of a volleyball. The sweetness fades as you drink down through the glass, and eventually the IBUs throw off the blanket completely.

Wheat malt can get a bit lost in some IPAs, but this one isn't afraid to speak up in class, making its presence known with a smooth, rounded feel at the end of each sip. Sweet, then smooth, then bitter, goes this beer. This Side Of Paradise was a limited offering, but it cold be a huge seller if Beer'd decides to make this a volume offering, even at an elevated price point. It may not be the all-consuming hop avalanche of other Beer'd IPAs, but that's why they make the others, too, and anyway, at 8+% alcohol, this one's not exactly some dainty brew. 

This one was for the hop heads. I hope you dug it. See you out there.