Rambling Reviews 6.27.2017 : Session IPA’s from Drakes, New Bohemia and Deschutes

When Session IPA’s first hit the scene a few years ago, I was a little indifferent to them. Some of them, like Lagunitas Day Time, were a breath of fresh air at a time when everyone was brewing Imperial This and That. Unfortunately, the trick of combining lower alcohol beer with less malt with high rates of hopping eluded more than a few brewers, creating beers that I found tasted either chalky or tasting like hop water. Given quite a few misses on this style came from breweries I hold in high regard, I generally avoided this style. But with summer’s heat coming on, I’ve discovered three of them that made for great summer sipping on my back patio.

Let’s start with Kick Back IPA, which the fine folks at Drake’s Brewing sent me a sample of.  It’s thin in the body with light carbonation, with the Mosaic, Simcoe, and El Dorado hops creating great mango and other tropical fruit flavors up front with some grassiness towards the ending finish. Despite the low malt heft and 4.3% abv, all the flavors seem in balance and it’s quite refreshing. The Kick Back name comes from the fact a portion of the proceeds of Kick Back goes to the East Bay Regional Park District. Last year, Kick Back earned $10,000 for the park district and Drakes is hoping to exceed that donation this year.

Nubo
I recently enjoyed this pint of Old Cabin Classic at Spread in downtown Campbell

Next up, Old Cabin Classic IPA from New Bohemia.  Named after a Santa Cruz Mountain Bike race, I find this nifty brew checking in a 4.8% abv to be full of fresh tropical flavors and with a slightly piney finish. End of story.  Sorry, no detailed tasting notes, this was just hoppy freshness in a glass from a brewery that’s been doing plenty of solid, no nonsense excellence for the past couple years.hop slice

Finally, we get to Hop Slice Summer Ale from Deschutes, which isn’t really a Session IPA, but it’s awfully close to being one at 5.0% abv and only 35 ibus, but it’s my blog, and I’ll make arbitrary beer style classifications if I want to. Deschutes uses Lemondrop hops in this one, creating plenty of lemony citrus and lemon peel flavors. Once it warms up after a few minutes sitting in the glass, the other hops open up and tropical and  floral flavors start joining the party. Don’t let the 35 ibu’s fool you, this is a highly hop driven brew but a great example of hops creating wonderfully accessible flavors that you don’t have to be a hop-head to appreciate.

The Session #33: Framed by 33

This month’s Session, by Andrew Couch, of I’ll Have a Beer is on framing beers, with the topic loosely summed up as “write about how the context the beer is presented affects the drinking experience”.

Psychologists have long known that our choices are biased by the way each choice is framed. To illustrate this, suppose you are the head of a disease control agency, and are presented with two options to combat a disease which is expected to kill six hundred people unless something is done to stop it. A team of doctors have determined the outcomes of two possible options.

Option A: 200 people will be saved.

Option B: There is a one-third probability that 600 people will be saved, and a two-thirds probability that no one will be saved.

What do you do?

In a psychological experiment where subjects were presented with these options, 72% choose Option A. In the same experiment, subjects were also presented with the same options, simply worded differently.

Option C: 400 people will die.

Option D: There is a one-third probability that nobody will die, and a two-thirds probability that 600 people will die.

When presented with the same options framed differently, the same participants who picked Option A 72% of the time, instead choose Option D 78% of the time. Of course, we would rather save people than let them die, and so the options framed positively are favored over those framed negatively, known as positive frame bias. (1)

Psychologists have found numerous other framing effects, which I won’t go into here. But clearly, the beer we chose and our experience drinking it is framed by things like the beer label, word of mouth, the advertising, the reputation of the brewer, and numerous other sensory inputs that are quite difficult to separate from the actual liquid in the glass. Beer judges have known this for years as most beer competitions are judged blind, where beer is presented to judges in unmarked glasses, and judges are not allowed to influence each other.

I find myself struggling with framing effects explaining craft beer to family and friends who are not craft beer drinkers. Often, they actually would like to drink something from their local brewer, but their perception of craft beer is that it is “too strong”, overly bitter, hops run amok, and simply not enjoyable to them to drink. Beer names like “Arrogant Bastard”, “Damnation” or “Hop Stoopid” tend to reinforce this notion. I’ve responded telling them that many craft brewers release lighter styles they might find more enjoyable. More than once, I been told, “Well, I really enjoy Blue Moon, from some small brewery in Colorado”. They are usually pretty disappointed to learn that Blue Moon is actually made by Coors, a massive industrial brewery. Coors sells Blue Moon by framing it as a product of some quaint Colorado brewery, and the fact that once people get past the deception, they often lose interest in the beer seems to validate this strategy.

One brewery it took a while to warm up to was Flying Dog Brewery. So many times in a bottle shop, gazing at a wide array of beers in from of me, I simply moved past the frenzied, graffiti-style art Flying Dog uses on their label, and picked up something from a different brewery. In this Session, we’ve been asked to try beers we wouldn’t normally drink, so I decided to try a couple Flying Dog brews, just to see what the beer is like.

As is often the case, stretching my beer horizons was rewarded, as I found the beer to be excellent. The Flying Dog Kerberos Triple had a light toasty yeast flavors with a little apricot, and a clean, clear character to it. Flying Dog’s Double Dog Imperial Pale hooked with a great creamy mouth feel, toffee-like malty flavors coupled with a little tangerine and an orange peel bitterness. I can’t help wondering why was the beer label art, designed to attract me to the beer, was actually pushing me away.

I think the answer to this question originates in the way beer was initially framed to me. I spent my childhood during the 70’s in the small Midwestern college town of Bowling Green, OH, located about 15 miles south of Toledo. My dad exclusively drank “33”, Rolling Rock, and would carefully allow me a sip of his Saturday afternoon beer. My father later told me he did this to prevent me from abusing alcohol, to demystify beer at an early age. These were also early lessons to respect beer, that it wasn’t a beverage to be carelessly guzzled, but to be savored and enjoyed at special times. I also remember Dad proudly informing me Rolling Rock was brewed “in the glass-lined tanks of Old Latrobe” in Western Pennsylvania. Latrobe is about 300 miles from Bowling Green, but in those days, drinking exclusively Rolling Rock was supporting your local brewer, and from this I learned the place the beer was brewed was just as important as the beer itself. These experiences, burned into the neurons of my young brain, still guide me today.

I find it sad and ironic that InBev bought Rolling Rock, shut down the Latrobe brewery, and moved production to Newark, NJ in a cost cutting move, priming the pump of their plans for world wide beer domination. Yet, InBev still has the audacity to market Rolling Rock with the grammatically deficient slogan “Born Small Town”, trying to sell the beer by framing it as from a tradition bound, small town brewery. I guess the corporate folks at InBev figured out a more accurate grammatically deficient slogan like “Born small town, multi-national corporation bought brewery, laid off workers, bean-counters rule day” would not be a good way to frame Rolling Rock if they wanted to sell lots of it.

But going back to my earliest framing of beer, I believe my earliest experiences of beer explains my initial aversion to Flying Dog beers, framed in chaotic, modern artwork. I’ve come to realize my favorite breweries like Anderson Valley, El Toro, and Deschutes are favorites of mine in part because these breweries evoke their unique local geography into their marketing, and are relatively close to where I live. This new understanding about how my beer preferences are shaped will allow me to make more informed decisions on the beer I choose to drink. There’s nothing wrong with psychological warm fuzziness guiding what we drink. But of course, craft beer drinking is a lot about exploration and expanding beyond your comfort zone. And if you’re going to expand beyond your comfort zone, it’s helpful to know where the discomfort is coming from.

(1) Positive framing example from The Mind of the Market, Micheal Shermer, Henry Holt and Company, copyright 2008, pages 84-85.

Carbo Loading with Mirror, Mirror from Deschutes Brewery

A lot of big, bold runners and beers have come from Oregon.

The state has a long, powerful distance running tradition. In the 50’s, University of Oregon coach Bill Bowerman trained Bill Dillenger to set American records in the 50’s, before Dillenger retired from racing and became Bowermen’s assistant, finally taking over as head coach in 1973. Both revolutionized distance running training, and produced numerous All Americans. Such as the brash, iconic Steve Prefontaine who held the American records from the 2,000 meters through 10,000 meters the day he died in a car accident in 1975, at the prime of his running career. And the obsessive Alberto Salazar, a strong 5 and 10 kilometer runner on the track, who moved up to the marathon and in the first marathon he ever ran, the 1980 New York Marathon, defeated a strong field that included Boston Marathon champ Bill Rodgers in his first marathon he ever entered. Salazar went on to a number of New York and Boston marathon victories in the early 80’s, before it is widely believed that his high, 180+ weekly training mileages finally took a toll on his body. Then there’s Phil Knight, who co-founded Nike with Bowerman by selling shoes at Oregon track meets in the early 70’s, and became one of the world’s most powerful businessmen before retiring in 2004.

Oregon has a great brewing tradition, too. One of my favorite breweries is the Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon, and I’ve long enjoyed their Mirror Pond Pale Ale. So when I discovered they’ve amped up the Mirror Pond Pale Ale into an oak-aged barleywine called Mirror Mirror, I knoew it was something I had to try. Deschutes Brewmaster Larry Sidor had this to say on the Deschutes Brewing website page descrbing this brew. “I’m really looking forward to this version of Mirror Mirror because it is not only an advancement for this beer, but it also shows the evolution of our knowledge related to barrel aging and how the whole Reserve Series has developed.”’

I’ve enjoyed Sidor’s creation a couple times now. Pouring it into my tulip glass creates a foamy light tan head floating on the dark tan brew, with an citrus aroma. It has a rich, creamy malty flavor with an orange-dominated citrus character, and a little pine-like bitterness which becomes more pronounced as it warms. I can taste a little oak from the barrel aging, and at 11% abv, the alcohol is a detectable. It’s complex, yet easy drinking barleywine.