Do you relish that bitter kick in the tonsils that you can only get from an India Pale Ale the size of a VW microbus? Have you replaced your car’s air freshener with an open package of whole leaf Cascades because it’s less artificially piney? Well, you’re in luck. There’s never been a better time to be a hop head in Canada.
To give you some idea of how quickly the preference for big west coast IPAs has grown over the last few years, I can point out a single statistic. Four years ago at the LCBO in Ontario the total number of IPAs available numbered approximately one, and it was a subdued, English affair. Currently they stock nineteen varieties and that number is climbing. They’re not all produced locally, either. Some of these babies are available across the country.
Hailing from British Columbia (and available at most points east) is Phillips Hop Circle IPA. If you’re new to hoppy beers, this is an excellent starting point as the aromas involved here are standard to the style. There’s the familiar pine forest and spritzy grapefruit, but those are joined by tropical flavours on the palate. It hides its alcohol well and it seems to me that the UFO on the label is cautionary. One too many of these and you might wake up in the middle of a field.
From Ontario (and available at many points west) there’s Nickel Brook’s Headstock IPA. It’s a more complex offering, utilizing a list of hop varieties so long that it boggles the mind. Somehow, these never get in each other’s way, resulting in a breadth of aroma that ranges from earthy tea to lemon peel, hitting douglas fir on the way through.
The malt manages to balance both the bitterness and the alcohol, making me glad I revisited this beer.
I asked the brewer, Mark Horsley, whether he had tweaked the recipe and he replied, “I consider it to be a work in progress until people mention it in the same breath as Heady Topper, Pliny and Alpine.” You can’t help but admire the ambition, given the regard in which those beers are held.
Speaking of world class beers, Ontario is lucky to be getting Founders Centennial IPA from Grand Rapids, Michigan at some point in the next week. It’s so great an example of a single hop IPA that it is used as a standard against which other beers are judged in competitions. The Centennial hops contribute big, floral aromas tinged with citrus highlights. It is impeccably balanced at 7.2% alcohol and at $13.50 for a six pack, the price is certainly right. As if this wasn’t enough, Founders hopes to expand the number of offerings available over the next year.
Jordan St.John writes about beer at saintjohnswort.ca. He’s hoping Founders brings the Canadian Breakfast Stout.