I'm a little late to the party, but I wanted to comment on Ninkasi's new (or rather two-month-old) 22-ounce release, Maiden the Shade. Let's start with the label, a curiously discordant pastiche of themes. The artwork comes from Jerry Garcia's daughter, Annabellle, a perfect tribute for a beer first brewed for the venerable Oregon Country Fair. The image shows a young woman under the shade of a summer tree, receiving a painted Ninkasi logo from a tree sprite. I take this to be Ninkasi herself, but perhaps this is projectiong. (In the first rendering, a fair amount of the Goddesses buttocks are visible and she is topless. Apparently the government found this too risque--she now sports a bikini top and arse-covering sarong.) It is consonant with the Fair's crunchy vibe and the Dead's canon of cartoon art. All in all, spot on.
But then there's the name and title font: a separate tribute to a different Maiden, the Iron one, a band very much un-crunchy nor Dead-like. I am getting the sense that the good folks at Ninkasi like their music hammering to the hammer of double bass drums--recall that the winter seasonal is Sleigh'r, with similar fonty homage to the homophonic band Slayer.
Eugene is, of course, a sacred site along the spiritual ley line of famous Dead/hippie haunts, so the crunchy part makes sense. But perhaps the thrash metal allusions point to the music Ninkasians actually prefer. (It would be interesting to see Jamie Floyd's iPod. Rarely do you find "Number of the Beast" and "Aiko Aiko" on the same machine, but stranger things have happened. Or maybe it's a Nikos Ridge/Jamie Floyd dichotomy. But I digress.)
There appears to be emerging a trend toward what you might call a "summer IPA"*--a pilsner-hued, light-bodied beer brewed at substantial strength and bitterness, but in a kind of stripped-down, pure-essence presentation. I would count Double Mountain's Vaporizer as a member of this small club. Both beers vent hop aroma like glue vents brain-destroying vapors. Both are surprisingly light-colored (though unlike pilsners, they have the shimmering haze of hop particles). Maiden the Shade was purported to have been brewed with ganja in mind--another homage to the OCF--and does have a sticky, resinous musk. It is not, to my nose, as stanky as Racer 5. Instead, I found it more layered that that--notes of lavender, pine, and sage make it an earthy, spicy bouquet. Ninkasi employs seven hops to get the effect: Summit, Centennial, Simcoe, Columbus, Crystal, Palisade and Amarillo. Sometimes the result of potpourri-hopping is a muddle, but here you get quite a bit of articulated flavors.
I give special credit to the beer for its surprising sweetness. Some of this comes from the malt bill, but I think more come from the hop esters--or more likely, the interaction between the two. Some sharply-hopped beers either exhaust or dull one's palate; because of its lightness and sweetness, Maiden the Shade remains fresh and sessionable despite the 72 IBUs and 6.8% alcohol.
When you see the Ninkasi label, you have certain expectations. Despite the fact that Maiden in Shade penned out to exactly meet them, I was surprised by the beer. It was both more delicate and yet oddly more bold than I expected. A great beer.
The review panel at the New School took a look at this beer last week, so you can compare and contrast my findings with those.
*I am not wedded to the term, but if it takes off, or if there's a movement to enshrine this style into the canon of the BJCP, I claim full rights to Summer IPA ™.