Once again, it’s time for another edition of Rambling Reviews. This time, the focus is on brews from California’s Central Coast.
Starting with Davey Brown for Figueroa Mountain Brewing, which is, as the name alludes to, a Brown Ale. When was the last time a Brown Ale made you go “Wow”? Now when was the last time a Brown Ale made you go “Wow” that wasn’t tricked up with all sorts of additions like cacao nibs or Kona coffee? It’s just a “regular” Brown, but with all sorts of layers of flavor. There’s noticeable coffee flavors, some nuttiness, caramel, and light smokey character. Maybe Figueroa slipped some sort of spices or additions into this without admitting it on the bottle or their website, but it just has a few extra dimensions beyond the usual Brown Ale. Really impressive effort.
Next up is Julicious IPA from Santa Maria Brewing. Santa Maria calls this a New England Style IPA, but it didn’t look that cloudy to me and it’s fortified with pineapple juice. I picked up a bomber bottle of this last week on vacation on the Central Coast, which means it spent an afternoon in the warm trunk of my car all the way, a great way to tamp down those hop flavors. Despite these less than ideal storage conditions, this brew still retained plenty of fresh fruit flavors of pineapple and grapefruit, with sticky resin held up with some solid malt heft.
Last week’s vacation included a stop at Firestone Walker’s Tap Room in Paso Robles where they were pouring Union Jane IPA, a riff on their popular Union Jack. Union Jane is a collaboration fundraiser with the Pink Boots Society, using a blend of Palisade, Simcoe, Mosaic and Citra Hops from YCH Hops specifically for Pink Boots Collaboration Brew Day. This one has plenty of bright mango and citrus flavors yielding to a lightly piney finish. Unfortunately, it’s only seems to be available at the Firestone Walker tap room. We can only hope Firestone Walker realizes what it has on its hands and releases it for wider distribution.
(Figueroa Mountain Brewing sent me a bottle of Davey Brown for review.)
A warm spring afternoon last Saturday was an ideal time for my wife and I to ride our bikes down to Camino Brewing, the latest brewery to open in San Jose. Camino Brewing is the fifth brewery to open in the industrial neighborhood just south of downtown San Jose. It sits in an old warehouse. I found it rather refreshing sampling a few beers in a space that was truly industrial, rather than made to look industrial.
As for the beer, it’s a great new addition to the four existing breweries in this growing San Jose beer destination. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Camino is that the brew a few hazy, New England style IPAs I actually liked. It probably helped that the beers were light on the haze. The name “Fruit Cup Imperial IPA” unfortunately evokes those artificial tasting canned fruit cups I ate as a kid, but the brew tasted for better than that with it’s burst of tropical and stone fruit. You just can’t go wrong with any of Camino’s IPAs, which is pretty impressive for a brewery taproom that opened up just a week ago.
Camino serves their beer in 4 ounce sample sizes, half pours, and full pints so you can try as little or as much as you want. Other highlights include a complex, nutty Brown Ale and a Belgian Quad aged for a few months in wine barrels. The red wine dominated the flavor profile of the Belgian Quad, but that really worked in this arresting combination of sweet malt, light sourness, and strong red wine flavors. Easily my favorite beer of the afternoon. For those looking for something on the lighter side, I recommend their Schwarzbier, a clean brew with plenty of deep roasted flavors.
It’s easy for people like me to get addicted to Google Trends. It’s a website devoted to the frequency of search terms people “Googling” to find information online and the geographical locations of these search. It turns out to be a pretty handy way to find out what things are popular and where, and test out some of the conventional beer wisdom.
For example, some people claim the cloudy, unfiltered “Hazy” or “New England style” IPA is just a fleeting beer fad like the Black IPA was back in the day. Could Google Trends provide some insight into the validity of those claims? I thought I’d give it a try. If I enter “Black IPA” into Google Trends, it will report the frequency over time and the geographical locations of a statistical significant sample of searches with “Black IPA” in it.
Anyone who’s asked Google “Where can a find a Black IPA?”, or “Black IPA home brew recipe” will be reflected in the Google Trends under “black ipa”. (Google Trends aren’t case sensitive.) Of course, searches like “Where can I find black market IPA” will also be included in the frequency count, so the data isn’t perfect. While there are certainly limitations to using this data, plenty of social scientists and market analysts have come up with all sorts of interesting, and at times counter-intuitive conclusions using Google Trends. (A great read for those interested in that is Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.)
I’m started using Google Trends to investigate the following question: Are Hazy/New England IPA’s just a flash in the pan style like Black IPAs? But in the process, I discovered something interesting about where in the United States names like “Black IPA”, “Hazy IPA” and “New England IPA” are actually used.
Let’s start by comparing search terms for “black ipa” wiith “hazy ipa”, “new england ipa”, “ne ipa”, and “neipa”. (Other plausibly related search terms like “cloudy IPA” or “juicy IPA” yield significantly less searches, but I’m just going to simplify things and leave those search terms out of the analysis.) Below is a plot of the frequency of each search term from April 8, 2006-April 8th, 2018. (You can view the plot in Google Trends yourself at this link.) I limited the search geography to the United States.
Searches for “Black IPA”, the yellow line, emerge from the noise starting in early 2010, and hit their first peak in February 2011. They continue to grow gradually, hitting their overall peak in April 2014, and then start a slow decline afterwards. Searches for “black ipa” actually show rather surprising durability for the style, contradicting claims that Black IPAs were a short lived fad. Even by early 2017, there were far more searches for “black ipa” than the Hazy/New England variants. By contrast, the Hazy/New England search terms don’t emerge from the noise until late 2016, but then really take off, especially searches for “hazy ipa” and “new england ipa”. OK, no big surprise here. Interest in Black IPAs has existed for almost ten years, while interest in Hazy/New England IPAs has skyrocketed in just the past few months.
But start looking at where across the country these searches have been conducted and things start to get interesting. For example, according to Google Trends, Black IPA’s are almost an exclusively California thing.
Note, the map above doesn’t mean there haven’t been any searches for “Black IPA” outside of California. It’s just that these searches are overwhelming made inside of California, indicating Black IPAs are of interest to Californians, but hardly anyone else. This is why I suspect some people living outside may have perceived Black IPAs as a fad. They may have heard about them, but rarely saw any of them, or Black IPAs released outside California had little staying power.
On the other hand, searches for “new england ipa” or its abbreviation “neipa” show a much more broader geographical interest.
What’s interesting is that search term “Hazy IPA”, is dominated from searches from the West Coast states of Oregon and California.
We can zoom into the metro areas and find that “hazy ipa” searches originate all over the West Coast, with San Diego, Sacramento, Portland as the major metropolitan areas having the highest proportions of searches for “hazy ipa”. The larger metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco have significantly less searches.
Note that the strength of search frequency chart at the rate measures a higher proportion of queries, not a larger overall number. As Google Trends explains, “A higher value means a higher proportion of all queries, not a higher absolute query count. So a tiny country where 80% of the queries are for “bananas” will get twice the score of a giant country where only 40% of the queries are for “bananas”.”
For grins, we can also look at the Metro areas for “new england ipa”.
By far, the metro area for with the highest proportion of searches for this term is (surprise!) Boston. But the Midwestern cities of Detroit and Chicago figure prominently, too. If we look at leading metro areas for the search “neipa”, we find pockets of interest all over the country.
Again, lots of usage for the term “neipa” in New England, but the term extends all the way to the West Coast. It’s not apparent from this graphic but the San Francisco Bay is way down this list, as the 12th leading metro area for this search term, third from last. That splotch you see in Southern California? That’s Los Angeles, not San Diego. There aren’t a lot of searches for “neipa” from San Diego, but plenty for “hazy ipa”. Just like Portland.
And by the way, I Googled the term “neipa” to double check that “neipa” doesn’t also stand for something like “New England Independent Pediatricians Association” or something like that which would skew the data. It doesn’t.
OK, I could keep playing around with the data, but it’s time to wrap this up. I’ll concede the data has some limitations, so I hesitate to jump to conclusions from any of its subtleties. However, three things strongly emerge from the analysis which are unmistakable.
Black IPAs aren’t so much fad, but a slowly declining beer style confined largely to California: Google searches for “black ipa” are largely confined to the state of California. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough searches for Google Trends to perform a metro area geographical analysis of the term.
Hazy / New England IPAs have enjoyed a fast growing popularity all over the country. In no way does the growth of this style mimic Black IPAs. They are popular all over the country, rather than confined to a single state. In addition, their growth is far sharper than Black IPAs were, at least from the search term data.
On the West Coast, it’s mostly “Hazy IPA”. Everywhere else, its “New England IPA”. It’s telling that California’s Sierra Nevada released Hazy Little Thing IPA about the same time Boston Beer released New England IPA. I’ll note that some places in California, they are called “NEIPA” by a few. Seattle seems to favor “NEIPA” over “Hazy IPA”. I think it’s significant both in Portland and in San Diego, the two cities where the IPA style are arguably most strongly tied to local identity, there is resistance adopting the “New England” name, and instead these beers as “Hazy”.
As you might have guessed, I’ve been playing around with all sorts of Google Trends searches the past couple weeks and found some other interesting beery things right there in the data. Hope you liked this post because you’ll be seeing a few more like it.
I never realized my back patio could be considered a beer garden until reading Tom’s Session announcement. I’ve savored many a beer on this small island of concrete, wedged in between my back door and garage, surrounded by a pair of hibiscus bushes, a lemon tree, potted herbs and succulents, and a small garden of chard, tomato and zucchini plants. On warm days, which is pretty much the norm in Northern California, I’ll take 20-30 minutes out of my day to stop and quietly sip a beer out there. Sometimes my wife will join me and we’ll chat a bit. Other times it’s just me.
I may be back on the patio just enjoying the weekend. Other times, it’s a place to recover from a hard day at work. Whatever the reason, the greenery poking up from the ground in my concrete urban world is the place to contemplate, or escape, life’s drama, with beer as the catalyst.
I want to hate it. As much as I love beer as a beverage and a culture, it has a long history of insipid gimmicks. Glitter beers seems like just the latest in the long line of them.
Then I read Jeff Alworth’s deep dive on the subject, and realized in many ways, there’s more to it than that. As Alworth points out, the recent popularity of Hazy IPAs is partially driven by how they look. Now I don’t particularly find floating crud in a glass aesthetically pleasing, but clearly a lot of other people do. In an age where virtually anyone can broadcast images all over world with their hand held phone, Hazy IPAs have enjoyed a rapidly growing popularity in a way that couldn’t be replicated at any other time in beer’s long history.
Brewers used visual tricks to engage drinkers long before Hazy IPAs. For example, Belgian brewers are notorious for their history insisting all sorts of contrived glassware is required to properly enjoy their beer. Of course, this really has little to do with how the glassware affects the taste and aroma of the beer, but how it looks in the funky goblet. Brewers have long taken considerable effort in the brewing process to ensure each batch has the same look. They’ve used all sorts of brewing gadgets and processes that date back centuries to clarify beer, or otherwise change the way it looks, which often have little or no effect of the final product’s taste or aroma.
Glitter beer is yet another example of brewers pushing that envelope. We normally think of brewing innovation in terms of ingredients or technique that creates a unique tasting beverage. And while brewers have been coming up with all sorts of wonderful new flavors and riffs on tried and true beer styles, these new beers still come in the same yellow, orange, amber, and black color. But all the senses, including sight, contribute to the beer drinking experience and brewers seem to be increasingly aware of this, with social media as the catalyst.
I think it’s also worth mentioning craft beer community seems somewhat receptive to glitter beer, largely because craft brewers are the ones brewing these beers. Glitter beers seem to be appealing more to women and female craft brewers have been instrumental in driving the craze. But if a huge corporate brewery like ABInBev released something like Bud Lite Glitter, I think it would almost certainly be denounced as some crass marketing gimmick cynically aimed at women.
I’ve never been much of a fan of Hazy IPAs. I don’t find murky brews attractive and they might taste juicy, but the hop flavors seemed muddled in the haze. Glitter beers? I’ve never had one, initially tho they were a pretty stupid gimmick, but now I’m intrigued by them. Of the many things you can say about glitter beers, they’re a study of fluid dynamics in a glass which appeals to the physics geek in me. (Check out this video or that video to see for yourself.) As someone who once claimed, with tongue partially in cheek, that glitter beers were a hideous diabolical plot to destroy Western Civilization, I think we’ll survive OK with glitter beers in our world.
(Glitter beer image from boldmissybrewery/Instagram.)
I don’t think I’ll ever get tired visiting breweries and talking to the folks there who make the beer. This time, my travels took me to San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing, where I spoke with Brewmaster Peter Licht and Head Brewer/Cellarmaster Greg Fillipi.
Hermitage is not your typical brewery. For starters, 75% of what they brew is made under contract and sold under a different label. If you ever see “Brewed in San Jose, CA” on the label of a small California brewery, chances are it was brewed at the Hermitage facility. Hermitage has their own line-up, but what they’re really known for is their single hop IPA-series, a fun and tasty way to explore hops in their many forms, and some highly underrated barrel-aged sour ales. I’ll have a lot more to say about Hermitage in an upcoming writing assignment, but for now, I’ll leave you with a few pictures from where the Hermitage magic happens.
You might say I’ve been in a sour mood. I’ve been savoring tart brews these days, whether soured by the yeast used to make them or by the fruit added. Let me tell you about three that have particularly caught my fancy.
We’ll start with Rubaeus Raspberry from Founders Brewing. The beer kind of sneaked up on me. At first sip, I’m thinking it’s not very tart, there’s a moderate sweetness and then pow! Lots of fresh raspberry flavors blew through my taste buds, ending with a soft earthy finish. Brewing this with a neutral, light underlying malt was a wise decision by Founders, as it let all those big raspberry flavors shine. One of those rare beers that work both as a thirst quenching lawn mower beer, or something to slowly sip and contemplate.
Moving along, there’s Flower Sour from San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing. Hermitage brewer Greg Filippi ages a blonde ale for up to 24 months in French oak barrels and flavors it with a bunch of flowers including rose, hibiscus, lavender and chamomile. Yep, there’s a real depth of floral character to this moderately sour ale, which reveals a little white winey-ness. Sorry, I can’t really tick off of a bunch of flavor characteristics, I was just enjoying this one too much to get into all that.
We’ll end with the 2017 version of Almanac Beer’s Farmer’s Reserve Blueberry which uses four, count ’em four pounds of blueberries in each and every gallon. So as you might expect, it has a lot of blueberry flavors, rounded out with a little sweetness, a slight tartness, a noticeable peppery spiciness and a barely detectable earthiness. It’s a fascinating composition that screams “blueberry” but it’s all those different, barely noticeable accents surrounding the blueberries that really makes this one work so well.