India pale ales (IPAs) were originally hopped up to help them survive the long journey from England's breweries to Britain's jewel in the crown—they stand up as one of the most versatile beers made. High-alcohol, aggressively hopped examples make great winter brews, while more subtle versions work well in warmer weather. Two new IPAs in the latter style have hit Boise just in time to welcome in the summer.
First up is a mix of new and old from England. Many of that country's independent breweries are being gobbled up by multinational conglomerates, so it was no surprise when the centuries-old Brakspear brewery in Henley-on-Thames closed down in 2002. Fortunately, Brakspear's master brewer Peter Scholey decided to open up shop down the road a bit. His Ridgeway IPA debuted as the Bad Elf, a Christmas offering back in 2003. Since then, the malt has been amped up and the hops toned down, making for a better-balanced brew that is on the reserved side of the bitterness scale. In a nod to American craft breweries, Scholey employs whole-leaf, English-grown Cascades in the hop mix. The result is an ale with exceptionally smooth malt and soft caramel flavors that play against the spicy hops with a light but persistent bite. Best served well chilled.
One of the best IPAs tasted in recent months comes from California's Mendocino Brewing Co. Their White Hawk Original IPA offers exceptional purity of flavor with bold malt that's perfectly balanced by nicely bitter, fresh hop flavors. This one begs to be quaffed and goes down oh-so-easily, finishing with utterly refreshing creamy citrus. It would be right at home at any summer barbecue.
Technically not an IPA and at nearly 10 percent alcohol, a bit big for summer consumption, the Undercover Investigation Shut Down Ale from Lagunitas commemorates their forced 20-day closure a year ago January. The malt is a little too rich and sweet for an India pale, but the hops are spot on. The toffee and mocha flavors are backed by citrus and a spicy hop bite that builds nicely towards the finish. The alcohol is remarkably subdued on the palate, so you need to remind yourself that this one should be sipped, not gulped.