Thursday, March 04, 2010

99 Bottles of Beer on the Blog - Iniquity, by Southern Tier

Foam, color and flavor are what make Iniquity stand out in the over-crowded field of Imperial IPAs. It's a wildly impressive beer, cleverly brewed to assert true individuality by focusing on aspects that other brewers have overlooked.

Imperial IPAs (or double IPAs) are an American innovation created by the extreme school of brewing. If hops are good, let's add more! If higher strength is good, let's make it stronger! More, more, more. I don't want to imply that the many great imperial IPAs on our shelves aren't well-crafted, nor do I want to deny that the best ones demonstrate a sneaky balance, but I will say that Imperial India Pale Ale is not a variety typified by nuance or subtlety. Make a strong pale ale, toss in hops until your arms are sore, and you have a pretty typical Imperial IPA.

When you open a bottle of Iniquity, you get the whiff of hop aroma that comes with most well-brewed Imperial IPAs. American hops tend to have a citrusy and piney arome, and that's what you get here, with a bit of chocolate in the background.

When you pour the beer, though, Iniquity asserts its individuality in two ways. First, it's very dark brown, instead of the more typical amber of an IPA. It looks like a porter, but smells like an IPA.

And the head is like tan whipped cream. Most IPAs have the malt and hops to sustain a great head of foam, but this one would not fade away as most of them do. Iniquity will give you a beer mustache, and it's one you'll want to lick off instead of wipe off.

Let's take a second to think about beer foam. For most of us, it seems almost irrelevant to the beer-drinking experience. Some foam assures us our beer is not flat, but too much foam robs our glass of the beer itself. As long as it's there but not too thick, nobody really cares about the foam.

But there's a lot more to learn about foam. Foam controls the release of aromatics that get caught up in those tiny bubbles, so a good, long lasting head actually increases the flavor you'll be getting from each sip. Foam also is an indication of the richness of the beer - a thin beer without much protein or hops will tend to have a foam that bounds up and quickly dissipates, like the foam on a soft drink. A good stand of foam is a promise and a benefit for most beers. Would Guinness be Guinness without that rich, creamy head?

One way of telling that you've got well-made beer foam is watching what happens on the side of the glass. A great glass of beer will show rings on the side from the levels of each drink. Between the rings, a "Belgian lace" will look like spiderwebs between the levels.

Iniquity's foam was fantastic. Because the dark beer contrasts so well with the light-tan head, the foam puts on a show that might not be as noticeable in a lighter-colored beer.

And the color is another trick that the brewers play on you. It is simply impossible to drink this beer and not taste some of the characteristics of a stout. Coffee, chocolate, caramel, roastiness, maybe even some dark fruits might come to mind. Except, the more I drank the beer and concentrated, the less I tasted those things. A touch of those flavors remained, but it was subtle.

I believe that the brewers at Southern Tier made me taste their beer with my eyes. When I looked at this dark brown beer, I tasted dark brown beer, even though my palate wasn't really getting very much of it. The next time I buy a bottle of this, I'm going to do a blind taste test, and further explore the disconnect. Again, the dark notes are there, but there's much less to that picture than meets the eye.

Finally, the flavor. You really taste the hops, but you aren't assaulted by their bitterness. Iniquity has the hop flavor and aroma of a beer that would curl your hair with bitterness, but the bite just doesn't show up. Instead, you have a pleasant, citrusy flavor balanced with a malt profile that is solid but not filling. The label tells us that they use chinook and cascade hops in the boil, willamette in a hopback (kind of a hop chamber that the beer runs through between the boiling kettle and the fermentation vessel) and cascade and centennial for dry hops (hops added to the fermentation vessel after most of the fermenting is complete). The hopback and dry hops are where all that hop flavor comes from - because those hops are not boiled, their finer aromatics aren't driven off, and the bitter oils don't get a chance to get isomerized (dissolved) into the beer.

Iniquity is an easy-drinking 9% beer, which may explain the name. I bought a 22 ounce bottle of it at Lucas Liquors months ago - I'll be keeping my eyes out for more.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home