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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

IPAs and More IPAs: Racer 5 and Victory HopDevil

Today we pit an under-appreciated West Coast IPA versus a famous East Coast counterpart. This set-up no doubt tips my hand, but here we go.

Victory HopDevil
This is a pretty famous beer. This may be a result of the label, one I would put in the top ten for American beers. You can't look at that label and not feel your hand reaching, as if ... possessed. I have had periodic bottles and been unimpressed, but it was time to give this east coast bigwig another shot.

It's a surprisingly dark beer, well into the amber realm, nudging its way toward brown. All well and good. The aroma is resinous and foresty--some day I'll make a study of tree scents so I can speak accurately about the way beers smell. I'm calling this one Noble Fir. The East Coast seems to be characterized by cleaner hopping. On the west coast, we go for funk--tangy, fuzzy, green (see below) funk. HopDevil has more of a clean, British hop nose. The big problem I have is with the malt bill, which gives a harsh, tannic note. The hopping isn't especially strident, but when combined with this, the result is somewhat punishing tipple. But such a cool label! Call it a gentleman's B-.

Racer 5
Bear Republic's familiar IPA wasn't the first one I thought of. Sifting through various California offerings, I found myself nonplussed by AleSmith, which I've never had (and failed to take notes on). (Jeez, two sentence-ending prepositions--dicey business.) I also confirmed my lack of enthusiasm for Stone and Lagunitas. Green Flash turned out to be too much of a double IPA (though nicely done), and so here came Racer 5. I recalled it pretty fondly in my memory, and was surprised to find that it had one two gold and two silver medals at the GABF. It, too, is right on the edge for a standard-issue IPA: 7%, with "75+" IBUs. I've been making my judgment based on presentation, and tasting this, it actually behaves like a standard IPA.

It looks like we now think IPAs should: hazy golden, with a diffident head that vanished after little fight. The aroma is both familiar but also impressive: loads of piquant citrus, a decent alcohol plume, and something that smells a lot like what I would imagine ganja smells like--if, you know, I'd ever smelled it. That note rises with the temperature. The flavor is similarly familiar but unique. It's actually a pretty sweet beer, with apricot fruitiness that gets drawn out by the hops (four Cs: Chinook, Columbus, Cascade, Centennial). There's a darker, pine tar bitterness that seems to have some connection to the ganja nose, plus lots of grapefruit. It's quite a distinctive IPA, and my appreciation grew throughout. Houston, we have a winner. Call it a very solid A-, with the likelihood that it's an A being thwarted my my fear of grade inflation.


  1. Good article but you need to check out Michigan IPAs, actually Michigan Breweries in general. They are growing rapidly here in the Mitten.

  2. Aaron, I'd love to. Especially Two-Hearted Ale, which I've begged the brewery to send. I'm also willing to swap bottles with someone in a state that gets distribution. Surely I could find something around here a Michigander would find interesting...

  3. Don't be afraid of grade inflation on the racer 5, it's warranted. I too had the racer 5 this weekend and was blown away. it had been awhile since I tried it, but for my palate, the racer 5 is in the pantheon of the best IPA's

  4. Racer 5 can vary a lot in quality from keg to keg, bomber to bomber, and so on. They consistently have it on tap here at the Draught House in Austin, and when it's good it's damn good, but when it's not I wait a week to get it again. I love me some Stone IPA, but to each their own. As far as Lagunitas goes, try their New Dogtown Pale Ale if you haven't. I think of it as much more of an IPA than their aforenamed offering.

  5. When choosing California IPA, don't forget Anderson Valley Hop Ottin!

  6. Jeff,
    Don't forget Deschutes Inversion IPA. We did a blind taste test a while back and it beat out both Racer 5 and Pliny, oh I said it.

    But, I agree, Racer does vary in quality quite a bit.