Tuesday, April 3, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Wet Hopped vs. Dry Hopped Pale Ales: Estate Homegrown Wet | Sierra Nevada Brewing | Chico, CA vs. Dry Hopped | Founder's Brewing | Grand Rapids, MI

Pale Ales are the reason why Springtime was invented a fafillion years ago by Persephone and Ceres in anticipation of mild days in collaborative harmony with mild beers.  And when face-painting, chest-thumping tailgaters discuss how American Adjunct Lagers are their default "session beers" while wasting away long days on State of Texas owned asphalt,  what they really should be discussing is which Pale Ale they are currently working on to ride that buzz into game time.

In my personal opinion, pale ales, much like porters, are most valuable as a transitional "flushing of the system" beers inbetween the hardcore beer guzzling seasons of summer and winter.  Pale ales (spring) and porters (fall) act as excellent palate cleansers between the bitter IPAs of summer and the chocolatey stouts of winter.  Therefore, not only are pale ales delicious, but they are utilitarian as well. And, as I've alluded to, drinking one in the 79° weather is like listening to Andrew Bird whistle The Fishin' Hole.

The primary beauty of pale ales are the characteristic nose and frontal palate hops, their light body, and their typically low ABV.  This means that gardening becomes less of a death wish when you're on your fourth of the afternoon.  Also, you will not likely pass out in the plastic wading pool afterward, drowning like a bloated, sad, and exponentially less famous rendition of Jim Morrison at Rue Beautreillis 17.  So, that's nice.

And because the pale ale is the precursor to my full swan dive into summertime IPAs, I like them to impart a bit of balance between the malts of winter-past and the hops of summer-future.  My favorite pale ales are able to do exactly that.  These are my two of my favorite:

Sierra Nevada's Estate Homegrown Ale may just very well be the most perfect beer in America.

Let me emphasize that this doesn't mean its the best beer in America, but I personally think it may be the most skillfully crafted.  Here is why:

First, every ingredient -- most notably, the hops and barley -- that went into this bottle was farmed in-house on the Chico, California estate owned by the Sierra Nevada brewing company.  There are probably less than 1% of breweries worldwide that could produce this kind of scratch material that would make a commercially available and financially viable beer.

Secondly; despite its luxurious resources, the beer has a price point of just around $10.  And yet, because they are tending to every element of this beer-making process, including farming of the crop, maintenance, and harvest, it is literally one of the most expensive beers to be produced in the entire universe.  You will not find a tastier, better-crafted beer for that kind of foldin' change.

And thirdly, because of its genesis as a literally hand-crafted beer, it is deemed a certified organic ale, which every asshole with re-usable grocery bags and an electric car tells me is the shit.

So, this is why Estate Homegrown is a special kind of pale ale -- and we've yet to have even discuss its magical flavor crystals.

Estate Homegrown is the most perfectly balanced beer I've ever enjoyed.  The combination of hops and malts appear to be in total choral harmony, nuanced by the late addition of wet hops to the fermenter to impart additional aroma and flavor.  And though I'm getting a bit out of my element here with the actual brewing process -- that more Melissa's area of wisdom -- I could definitely tell that this addition of these volatile hop oils during the late stages, while adding very little bitterness, makes the "wet" part of its moniker a very appropriate title.

It is the type of beer that really takes half a bottle to understand its greatness, and therefore you are scrambling to put all the clues together in the final act of this movie so that you can interpret and figure its complexity by the time the big reveal hits the rest of the morons in the theater.

ABV: 6.7%
Acquired: Hyde Park Market

Interestingly enough, hop-head as I am, I really do prefer for my vessels of bittered alcohol to come from the Midwest rather than its ancestral region of Southern California.

The reason being is that I prefer the art of subtlety that the Midwest displays in their IPAs, whereas the Westcoasters enjoy the fine art of clubbing your palate with hop bombs as if clearing the arctic of baby seals.  That's like ten times too much clubbing for my sensibilities.  I enjoy moderate hopcide -- like Zanesville --  not BP oil spill, where the whole ecosytem of my mouth is destroyed by herbs.

In an ironic twist, I don't particular favor Midwestern pale ales because of their lack of hop tits.  They tend to be overly malted, and not at all bright on the tongue -- because remember, we're talking about a spring beer here.  In fact, California pale ales, because of its emphasis on mild, but distinct hops, taste very much like a full Midwestern IPA. But if you can apply that theory to Midwestern pale ales, then they are just really kind of boring and flat -- as if these northfolks don't really understand the blessed nuances of a spring day.  Maybe they don't get it the way those of us in the south don't understand 'autumn'.  

So, I decided to see what my favorite -- and in my opinion, the best -- Midwest brewer could do with a dry-hopped pale ale.

... and what I discovered is that, while nice and easy drinking, it doesn't really elicit the same spirit of a western, wet-hopped pale ale.  It really doesn't even compete with many of Texas' pale ales from breweries still in their infancy.

The dry-hop of Founder's pale ale indicates a lack of freshness to its flavor and body by use of these bittering agents to the nearly final product -- and compared to the egregious freshness of the Estate Homegrown -- its pretty much an unfair fight.

The taste was too sweet -- again delicious -- but not how I prefer my pale ales, and also a bit citrusy without the complex layering.  There were some overt notes of grapefruit, which is a fine characteristic of typical pale ale, but then it kind of devolves in the final palate.  Again, I will emphasize good, but not great, and would probably be much more tastier -- and thus enjoyable -- when its time for jeans and lace-ups rather than chinos and flippy-floppies.

ABV: 5.6%
Acquired: Somewhere up north

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