Friday, November 4, 2011

Memphis Beer Beat: Dueling IPA's

Posted By on Fri, Nov 4, 2011 at 1:52 PM

So this beer blog thing has been going for over a month now, and I’ve yet to write about actual beer drinkin’. Just some good, ole-fashioned, simple beer drinkin’. Ghost River's release of their seasonal 1887 IPA this week as well as a recent acquisition of some Surly Furious conveniently coincided to have a pretty solid night of IPA’s.

Originally an English style brewed loaded with hops as a means of preservation from the long voyage from England to their colonies, IPA’s have become one of the most popular styles over the last decade or so of the American craft brewing scene.

1887.JPG

To kick things off, we’ll start with Ghost River’s 1887 IPA.

From Ghost River’s website:

“Ghost River 1887 IPA commemorates the first year that the famous Memphis Sands Aquifer was tapped. Now over 100 years later, Ghost River Brewing has turned Memphis’ water into an aggressively hopped beer IPA (India Pale Ale) using the bold assertive flavors of American varietal hops.”

I picked up a growler of 1887 from the Ghost River sales dock on 827 S. Main Wednesday (on the day after its release, I believe, and should be available through February or until it’s sold out), so this is about as fresh as it comes— which is the ideal for the style as the bitterness from hops tends to fade quickly. “Aggressively hopped” at 87 I.B.U.s (international bittering units) Ghost River used a variety of classic American hop varieties including Cascade and Centennial hops. This should be good.

There’s surprisingly little aroma, but I’ve had a slight cold for about a week, so my senses are somewhat dulled. It does however become a bit more prevalent as the beer warms, offering notes of citrusy pine and hints of toasted caramel.

Very impressive flavor and mouthfeel: there’s some initial bitterness from the hops—not really that overbearing considering this beer is presented as being “aggressively hopped”— and a sweet-ish caramel graininess follows up making this a delightfully balanced IPA. There’s a crisp, medium feel to the beer, with a dry finish.
Overall, I’m really pleased with 1887 IPA, and it’s up there with their Oatmeal Stout for my favorite Ghost River beer. I can’t imagine this will be my last growler of 1887 for the season. 1887 should be available in some local bars and can also be found at the Ghost River brewery itself.


Surly Brewing Company, a relatively new microbrewery from Minnesota, has really made a name for itself since opening in 2005. From what I understand, they don’t distribute outside of Minnesota and Wisconsin, but have received quite a bit of national beer nerd attention for their brews, and I managed to order a couple of four packs from a MN liquor store (france44.com), along with Surly’s wet hop ale (conveniently called “Wet”) as well as some stuff from Founder’s Brewing Company out of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Surlys cans read Beer for a glass from a can>
  • Surly's cans read "Beer for a glass, from a can."

One thing that’s interesting about Surly is that nearly all of their beer is canned rather than bottled—something that’s a bit unorthodox in the craft brewing industry.

During the craft beer renaissance of the 80’s and 90’s, microbreweries tended to shy away from cans as a means of packaging beer as it’s a container largely associated with American light adjunct lagers (i.e. Budweiser).

More recently, though, craft breweries (Oskar Blues, 21st Amendment, and starting early next year, Sierra Nevada among others) seem to be more willing to embrace cans as being better suited than bottles in terms of preserving beer (from oxidation and light contamination which can produce “skunky” off flavors).

Furious is Surly’s year-round produced American IPA that’s packaged in 16 oz. cans. According to the ratings on beeradvocate.com, Furious is ranked the third best American IPA in the world, so I’ve got high expectations. That being said, I’m guessing the can I’ve got is at least a month old, so it’s probably not a prime example of the beer. In terms of freshness, Ghost River’s got the upper hand here.

From Surly’s website on Furious:

“A tempest on the tongue, or a moment of pure hop bliss? Brewed with a dazzling blend of American hops and Scottish malt, this crimson-hued ale delivers waves of citrus, pine and caramel-toffee. For those who favor flavor, Furious has the hop-fire your taste buds have been screeching for.

STYLE: American India Pale Ale
Malt: Pale Ale, Golden Promise, Aromatic, Medium Crystal, Roasted Barley
HOPS: Warrior, Ahtanum, Simcoe, Amarillo
YEAST: English Ale

OG: 15 degrees Plato
ABV: 6.5% v/v
COLOR: 27 degrees SRM
IBU: 99
AVAILABILITY: Cans and Kegs Year Round”

Even with an aggressive pour, Furious offers little in the way of the expect billowy head that 1887 produced, though there’s a thick lacing that sticks around till the beer’s finished, leaving a solid wall of foam on the side of the glass. The aroma is a more intense version of what’s offered from Ghost River’s 1887.

There’s certainly more of a kick-in-the-mouth level of bitterness compared to 1887, which is saying something considering it’s presumably had some time to mellow. After the hoppiness fades, it’s not terribly unlike 1887 with its rich caramel malt notes (which should speak volumes for Ghost River). Definitely a fantastic beer that’s worth tracking down.

Comparing the two, I’d lean towards Surly Furious as the better beer, but 1887 isn’t far behind. If anything, Ghost River’s 1887 IPA is a more accessible version of Furious.

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