Hops haven't always been a part of the beer brewing process, but when they caught on they changed the way things were done. Hops added flavor and balance, their bitterness playing nicely against the sweet malt. They also gave the brew a longevity that had not existed before. Ales that were destined for the long voyage from England to India were "hopped up" for the trip, and that practice gave rise to a style that is still popular today. Leave it to the craft brewers in the Northwest to take things to the extreme. The ales featured this week have about as much hops as can be crammed into a bottle. They all weigh in at around 100 IBUs, the International Bitterness Unit scale used to measure that quality. Despite the high hop count, they all show surprising balance, with the massive bitterness playing nicer than you might expect. Here's the line-up, all in oversized bottles:
Fish Brewing 10 Squared Anniversary Reel Ale
The magic number here is 10: 10 kinds of hops, 10 times 10 IBUs, and 10 percent alcohol. This anniversary ale pours a lovely mahogany with golden glimmers. Light aromas of orange and lime come through with accents of caramel and pine. Hop heads might be a little disappointed—given the numbers, the bitterness is somewhat subdued. Still, it's not for the faint of heart. Smooth malt, dried fruit and sweet orange roll flavors best describe the palate. It tastes more like a well hopped barley wine than anything else and is a very tasty quaff just the same.
Laughing Dog, Alpha Dog Imperial IPA
The folks up in Sandpoint continue to create outstanding reserve offerings. The Devil Dog IPA is, well, devilishly good, but as the name implies, Alpha Dog rules. Weighing in at 127 IBUs and 8 percent alcohol, you'd expect this one to bite your head off. Not so. The Alpha dog is amazingly smooth and balanced—a benevolent ruler if you will. Pine laced bitterness dominates, with pineapple and peach lurking in the background. Caramel malt and citrus flavors blend nicely, with a big hop bite cleaning things up on the finish. It's serious stuff, but eminently approachable.
2008 Rogue Brewer's Ale
A slightly murky, dark toffee in color, the flavors are highlighted by resin-laced hops backed by a fresh-baked-biscuit quality, caramel and juniper. Sweet malt, dark fruit and more of that biscuit come through on the palate of this big-bodied, almost brooding ale. With its 106.9 IBUs, it's surprisingly reserved in the hop department. It has a nice bite throughout, but it in no way dominates. This ale comes in a cool crock container (750 milliliters) and like its two companions, it is fairly high in alcohol at 9 percent. When consuming this brew, it's best to share or designate a driver.