When possible, I try to avoid reading too much about a beer before I’ve tried it. There are so many great beer-related websites and social media outlets promoting breweries and their beers (considering the size of the craft beer industry, the volume of beer-related content online is truly a testament to the passion of a growing number of real beer drinkers), but all of this can sometimes be unintentionally detrimental to the enjoyment of a new beer. I’ve noticed that sometimes, I approach tasting a beer for the first time with so many expectations based on what I’ve read from ingredient lists and other drinkers’ tasting notes that I perceive what I should taste rather than what I’m actually drinking. Last night, I had the following two beers at Trappeze Pub without much prior knowledge (yes, I know I probably should have had them before, or at least heard about them, but I hadn’t). My “blind” tasting was further enhanced by ordering from the chalkboard (only listing the name and price of each beer, rather than reading descriptions in the printed draft list menu).
The first brew up was an Avery Brewing Maharaja. I knew this was an IPA, and I knew it was from Avery out of Boulder, CO-that’s about the extent of what I knew before I ordered this one. Served in a snifter, the Maharaja was a beautiful copper color with a gorgeous cream-colored head. The head retention was amazing; it reminded me a lot of the head on the Belgian-style ales I’ve had recently. A strong hop aroma is present, but along with a certain sweeteness-maybe toffee. The taste can best be described as BIG: a hefty malt backbone is followed by sharp, bitter hops. The hop flavor is quite bitter and astringent, and reminds me of the Tomahawk variety I recently sampled in a single hop IPA from Mikkeller. There are also some piney hop notes that must come from another variety. [Today, I discovered that I was on with the toffee hints but a bit off on hop identification as Maharaja is made with caramel and victory malts along with Simcoe, Centennial, Columbus, and Chinook hops.] The mouthfeel is pretty thick, but the beer still remains bright and fresh in a way. The intense hops really help to cut through the up-front barrage of malt sweetness. I might even guess that this is dry-hopped due to the very palatable hoppiness. Part of this beer does say IPA, but I don’t think it’d be crazy to say it’s close to an American Barleywine (again, super heavy malt, but never syrupy or dark). Almost halfway through the glass, I’m feeling the alcohol in this…I’d venture a guess of 9.5% [it’s actually 10.24% according to Avery]. Overall, this is an awesome beer I could see myself drinking year-round. The strong alcohol and malt have a warming effect and make it suitable for winter, but the hops refuse to take a backseat and would make it just as fitting in the hot summer months with a crisp, dry ending. I’ve had a few of Avery’s beers before, but it’s not exactly a brewery whose offerings jump out to me while perusing a beer list-I believe this beer has changed that. Maharaja is a great heavy-hitting beer that I know I can count on.
Next up was a Mikkeller Nelson Sauvin Single Hop IPA. [I lost the tasting notes I jotted down about this one on my phone-it’s more convenient, but apparently not at trusty as the pen and paper…anyway, the following is what I gathered from my memory] I tried one of these for the first time on draft last week, so this is my second time tasting it but still without having read up on it. This beer was poured into a tulip glass, and was only a bit lighter in color than the Maharaja-it appears unfiltered, perhaps from dry-hopping. This might not have been the smartest choice after the Maharaja, with its strength still savaging my tongue and perhaps leaving me a bit buzzed, but I tried my best to taste everything in the Mikkeller. The head stood a couple fingers tall, falling quicker than the previous beer but leaving nice lacing. The aroma contained light citrus, but most unexpectedly, mango-like hints. The taste was subtle compared to other varieties of the series I’ve sampled. I went in expecting a harsh hop bite, but got nothing of the sort. Instead, the Nelson Sauvin hops provide a light fruitiness, with white grape flavors and textures. With the exception of the malt, which is dialed way down to showcase the hops, the flavor reminds me a lot of a Pinot Grigio. In addition to the grape notes, I taste a little of the mango I got in the aroma. Also along the lines of a white wine, this IPA finishes with a light dryness instead of the harsher dry end associated with many hop varieties. This seems to be a much more delicate hop than some others highlighted by Mikkeller, which really shows the skill of Mikkel Borg Bjergsø. He has restrained the malt just enough to show off the hops, while still keeping them in check. I’m unsure of when the hops are added in the process exactly, but additions at several different stages must be necessary to achieve so many different notes from one variety. I would recommend this IPA to anyone who enjoys and wants to learn more about different hops, but also to anyone who doesn’t think he/she likes IPAs-you may be surprised by this one. Tasting a beer like this reminds me what a wonderful and adept brewer Mikkel truly is. There are so many well-crafted IPAs available, but tasting such a delicate IPA shows Mikkel as an artist amongst many art students.
[Note: I’m aware that Trappeze Pub seems to be the setting of most of the beers I end up reviewing. While I want to highlight many of the other great places around town I love to grab some beers, I’ve been to Trappeze almost exclusively lately for the following reasons: a) the draft list has been amazing, I mean dyn-O-mite! and b) with the completed renovation of their kitchen, Trappeze has been turning out some wonderful plates of beer-inspired food. Some different beer joints around Athens will be featured very soon…as in I’ll be going out for “reporting” purposes tonight.]