Long before Tucker Max hoped beer would be sold in hell, a slightly more learned Benjamin Franklin declared beer was “proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Whether or you find the existence of beer to be proof of divine providence or the existence of Tucker Max to be proof of a lack thereof, the fact remains that beer has been on human minds for millennia — from the ancient Sumerians to our own Founding Fathers to contemporary pop culture icons.
And, with the current state of the economy and the proliferation of microbreweries and do-it-yourself kits, beer has taken on a new significance in drinking culture — namely, providing a means to pursue one’s alcoholic urges under the convenient guise of studying an aesthetic.
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Taking advantage of Prime 16 Taphouse’s Wednesday tastings is one of the most convenient ways to do this in New Haven. Coupling a rotating draft menu and solid comfort food with free samples from one featured brewery a week, Prime 16 make its tastings an ideal setting in which to expand one’s beer palate and find some new favorites.
Accordingly, I set out with a friend this week to check out the BrewDog Brewery’s India Pale Ale selection on the tasting menu and compare them to some of Prime’s regular IPA offerings. (India Pale Ales is a family of beers that takes its name from the pale malts used in the brewing process — hence, the pale — and their popularization by George Hodgson’s Bow Brewery among East India Traders during the 18th century — hence, the India.)
We began our tasting with BrewDog’s Punk IPA, served a bit warm to bring out its flavors and billed as a “post-modern classic.” The ale was honey-brown color, gave off a hoppy aroma with a hint of sweetness, and went down flat and soft. Like many IPAs, the Punk came infused with a hoppy bitterness, but this was relatively balanced with a sweeter citrus taste. For a long term drinking session, this balance provides the Punk IPA with some staying power, as it will neither overpower nor bore the palate. And, weighing in at 6.0 percent alcohol by volume, the Punk is not too soft of a hitter.
Our next sampling was BrewDog’s Hardcore IPA, dubbed “explicit” by its brewers and packing a strong 9.0 percent alcohol. The explicit moniker held true, as this beer held little back. It’s strong hoppy aroma provided us with just an inkling of the taste in store, which was powerfully bitter, especially as we pushed through the second half. It was enough to make us wish that the beer had not been served warm, as this only brought the Hardcore’s drinkability down in the long run, and we advise anyone bringing BrewDog home with them to stick Hardcore in the fridge unless they are extremely whetted to bitter beer.
BrewDog’s final IPA offering was it’s Bashah Black Belgian Double, carrying 8.5 percent alcohol. The ale had a coffee coloring and an aroma not unlike dark chocolate, resembling a stout more than an IPA. It’s billing as “Bashah: Black as Sin Hoppy as Hell” gave us pause as we prepared for even more bitterness than the Hardcore. We were pleasantly surprised, however, to find that the Bashah had much more balance, going down thick and syrupy with a bitter chocolate taste. The ale’s appearance as a stout continued through its flavoring and consistency, but it was nonetheless a delicious beer that generated a good amount of interest throughout the glass.
We decided to wrap up our tasting with some selections from the regular draft menu, choosing the Lagunitas IPA, an old favorite, and the Flower Power IPA from Ithaca Brewing Company. The Lagunitas didn’t disappoint with its copper coloring, semi-sweet aroma, and soft consistency. It brought a good hoppiness to the table balanced by the 43 hops and 65 malts that Lagunitas puts into the recipe. At $4 and 5.7 percent alcohol per glass, it’s a succulent and affordable brew that’s hard to grow bored with.
The dark horse Flower Power IPA, however, was the come-from-behind winner of the tasting. Its name, of course, belies its citrus-sweet aroma. What was surprising was that this flower power scent segued into something far more interesting in the mouth, coming out with a heavy citrus pop that was quickly answered with just the right amount of hops bitterness. We waited for some resolution to this interplay to no avail and accordingly continued to drink. By the end, we were at a loss as to whether the beer was bitter, sweet, or something in between, and it was this rich ambiguity that made Flower Power by far the most intriguing and tasty IPA of the night.
Prime 16 (172 Temple St.) has free beer tastings every Wednesday night, starting at 7 p.m. Beards recommended.