“I Smell An Imaginary Smell.”


I sometimes let my five-year-old daughter take a smell of my beers. I generally do this with beers that have a strong aroma. I like to see her thinking about the different things that she can pick up just from taking a whiff.

Recently, she took a sniff of RAR’s Naniticoke Nectar, a hazy IPA with bold citrus and nectar flavors. When she took a deep inhale her response was “I smell an imaginary smell.”

Imaginary smells…

That sums up so much of what makes many beers great. We inhale deeply and savor IPAs with citrus and tropical notes, or piney dankness. We drink grassy farmhouse ales which harken to the earthiness of the barn and the smell of horse blankets. Russian imperial stouts can have vanilla, coffee, and toffee aromas.

These nuanced flavors are often achieved by carefully extracting them from raw ingredients that individually and before manipulation by the brewer do not appear. What we sense are molecular compounds that in their make-up smell and taste like other familiar foods and flavors (i.g. Beer brewed with Citra hops have flavors akin to grapefruit along with lemon and orange zest.) These analogous compounds are described when we talk about craft beer.

They are “imaginary smells.” We are sensing aromas and flavors of things that don’t actually exist within the beer. They often were not used in the brewing process and instead we use widely understood examples to describe what we sense. What a cool concept. It really does make the brewer’s work seem like alchemy.

This leads me to a terrible opinion:

I am already tired of these fruit infused IPAs.

I did not always feel this way. Just over year ago I was praising the return of Aprihop by Dogfish Head as one of my favorite beers and one of the few worthy of purchasing an entire case. I loved Aprihop and now… well… Dogfish replaced it with an even fruitier beer. It’s not bad. It’s not great either.

Full disclosure… I have a difficult relationship with most fruit beers. They are, in general, just not to my taste. Fruity beer leaves me conflicted at best and very unsatisfied at worst.

Mostly, fruit in an IPA is one of those “less is more” ideas. The less it is leveraged via the use of actual fruit the more likely I am to enjoy it. If there are fruit flavors to be had in a beer I believe the best way to achieve them via the proper use of grains, hops, yeast and other traditional ingredients. Bombing out a beer with fruits (or so help me an EXTRACT) is always fraught with danger. To do so with an IPA is even more suspect.

We are on the cusp of fruit IPAs taking over this summer. We are going to get orange and blood orange, grapefruit, apricot, peach, watermelonpineapple, pineapple, and pineapple IPAs out the ears this summer. They will be everywhere. Everyone is making them. It is going to be overwhelming.

I am already tired of it.

This is trend is hitting harder and faster than pumpkin beers during the third week of July.

When Grapefruit Sculpin first hit taps and later cans… I jumped in line to give it a try and I liked it. McGrath’s in downtown HBG got it on Nitro? I had to get down there. It was a great beer. Still is. It is just no longer novel and was simply existing as the crest of a giant wave.

The niche became a trend and soon, if not already, it is a fad run amuck.

I was interested and intrigued by the concept of a fruit infused IPAs when it was novel but now that they are downright ubiquitous they are uninteresting. Some taste like nothing but fruit juice mixed with a slightly hopped beer. Most seem to me more fruit than IPA. I think they are generally, overly sweet, lack subtly and are above all derivative.

The citrus, fruit or “tropical” and IPAs which use massive quantities of fruit to achieve their distinct flavor are going to burn hot and fast. I suspect it will pass through the industry in short order. Then on to the next trend.

Post Script:

/chugs Haterade

I regret nothing.

Is this a sign of an “organic homogenization” of craft brewing? I hope not but with the industry in an interesting state of flux, competition getting hot, and buyouts at every turn this might be part of the fall out. Everyone chasing trends and a bit less diversity in offerings.

The Craft Beer Industry has been chasing trends for a long time but these days they seem to come faster and faster. Additionally, there is little to differentiate each beer when these trends take hold.

I admit that initially the trend was intriguing, I quickly turned against that feeling. These beers are just not all that interesting. Doubly true for the pineapple and watermelon IPAs; they make no sense to me.

The only thing worse than pineapple beers is watermelon beers. The only thing worse than watermelon beers is pumpkin beers.

The only thing worse than that is pumpkin beers in July. Look at this. Southern Tier advertises that Pumking is availble in JULY.


Extra special thanks to lil’ Ms. Bearcat for being my muse on this one.


Doing a Beer Exchange the Right Way

Recently, I was invited by my friend Dave to attend his beer exchange/blind tasting.  I eagerly accepted the invite without necessarily understanding what I was getting myself into.  What I was participating in was the sixteenth iteration of what is easily the most impressive beer exchange I have ever joined.

Couple things about Dave: 1. He knows his beer and has an impressive nose for quality. 2. He is a huge Tom Brady fan and is hysterically obnoxious about it. 3. As obnoxious as he is about Tom Brady, he is even more committed to throwing a great beer exchange.

I have done a number of beer exchanges over the years.  All were pretty basic: a number of guys easily divisible into 24 each buy a case of beer and everyone swaps.  It’s a fun and easy way to get a bunch of different beers. Only a few years ago before the ubiquity of mix-a-six and high end bottle shops, it was the only way to get a bunch of different craft beers in what was then case only beer distribution in backwards Pennsylvania.

This specific beer exchange was different. Guys were bringing big beers, and there was incentive to impress.  Everyone starts with bringing a case of beer, expectation is that you are bringing a beer of acceptable pedigree and quality and it can’t be something that has been brought to the party before (there is a running list on Google docs). So no Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, great beers but… Been there. Drank that.

The way it works is each of the twelve participant brings one case and deposits ten bucks into the pool. Each case has two beers brought to the collective and each is part of a blind tasting. The beers are listed on a scoring sheet and as you taste each you make notes and after you all beers are done you attempt to match them up, giving you best guess as to which beers you tried from the provided list. You also do a ranking, listing your top three beers from the twelve.

The $120 gathered by the group provides two “awards” one is for the most beers correctly identified (harder than you might think even with some obvious ones) wins a $60 bottle of beer. The other $60 was for some general gambling purposes.

The lineup for this year’s Blind Tasting Beer Exchange was as follows:

Daisy Cutter by Half Acre

Fruitbasket by Champion Brewing Company (The Highest Rated Beer)

Hotbox Coffee Porter by Oskar Blues Brewery

Manor Hill IPA by Manor Hill Brewing

CLINK! by SØLE Artisan Ales

Allie’s Donuts Double Chocolate Porter by Narragansett Brewing Company (My contribution)

Watermelon Dorado by Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits

Pineapple Sculpin by Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits

Tropical Bitch by Flying Dog Brewery

Big Daddy IPA by Speakeasy Ales & Lagers

Oak Barrel Stout by Dominion Brewing Company

Duet by Alpine Beer Company

All the beers were well received but for the Big Daddy IPA. The Big Daddy was a year old and the time sitting on the beer distributor’s shelf imparted a wet cardboard, Saint Bernard breath finish that was widely mocked. Always check the dates on your beers people… especially those hoppy beers.

The quality of the beer selection was top notch. The beers were all very good (well except for Big Daddy) and everyone appeared equally impressed. The one part of the night that might be most critical to control, and this is totally to Dave’s credit, is the quality of the company. We had a dozen guys each with an impressive knowledge of craft beers and none of them were dicks about it. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find craft beer people that appreciate the craft and the beer. More than once that night I heard “It’s just beer.”  That is right… it is “just beer” and this was an incredibly fun way to enjoy and celebrate “just beer.”

The lasting privilege was each participant left the exchange with two of every beer sipped that night; even the year old Big Daddy.

Post Script: My favorite beer from the evening was Tropical Bitch by Flying Dog.  It’s an impressive brew.

Some guys brought a couple whales to share before starting the blind tasting.  I had Trickery by Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, and Xibalba by Wicked Weed; both great beers. 

Lacto Calrissian Sour Double IPA by Pizza Boy Brewing was the best thing I had all night and might be my favorite beer in a long, long time; yeah it was that good. The taste is even better than the name.

I brought a growler of OH Mad Hops, an unfiltered Imperial IPA by Mad Chef in East Petersburg; it was well received. I was very impressed with the quality of their beer after only six months of brewing.  Mad Chef is a brewery to watch.

Tom Brady and the Patriots are dirty rotten cheats and everyone knows it.  F those guys.

Special Thanks to Dave for inviting me to this Beer Exchange. He was a phenomenal host and did a great job.  Its just goes to show that you can root for Tom Brady and still be a decent person… Who knew?