I must’ve been 13 years old, or maybe I was 12, when I bought L.A. Gear Regulators, the company’s comically oversize answer to Reebok Pumps. It was the early ’90s, and inflatable high-tops were wildly, if mystifyingly popular. Press the tongue’s basketball-shape inflator and the sneaker snugly cinched your ankle, a gimmick masquerading as technological advancement.
Naturally, impressionable me needed a pair, hopefully to inflate my social standing in junior high school. The scarcity of Reebok Pumps, and the budget-breaking price tag, led me to L.A. Gear knockoffs, the ones with the teal shoelaces. Instead of following the herds, the Regulators helped me pound my own idiosyncratic path—even if I was occasionally mocked, causing me the kind of blushing shame that, as an adult, I realize is best remedied by an IPA.
... the beer is a swirl of pineapples, peaches, berries and pine resin, like a fruit smoothie blended in the forest.
The beer style’s bitter charge to the top of the drinking charts has been powered by the new-breed hops of the Pacific Northwest, where the lion’s share of the American crop is cultivated. From orange-like Amarillo to resinous Simcoe and mango-scented Citra, the region’s agricultural bounty is flaunted in every sip. Be it clean and lemony or pungent and pot-like, these modern flavors have struck a live wire with global drinkers. To meet consumer demand brewers are clamoring for ever-larger allotments of hops, but the bitter reality is there’s simply not enough supply.
To source a steady stock of aromatically intriguing hops, brewers have begun tapping into Germany’s agricultural pipeline, utilizing brand-new cultivars such as the honeydew-like Huell Melon and tangerine-tinged Mandarina Bavaria. Moreover, brewers are increasingly making use of hops from the Southern Hemisphere, where the growing season is a mirror image. In the Northern Hemisphere, hops are harvested in August and September; beneath the Equator, February typically marks the first plucking.
Lately, New Zealand has been lauded for hops like Nelson Sauvin, a spot-on mimic of Sauvignon Blanc; gloriously grapefruit-focused Riwaka; and lemon-limey Motueka. Australia, increasingly, offers a bounty of vibrantly novel hops, with Galaxy’s profile of peaches and passion fruit proving quite appealing. These Aussie varieties caught the attention of Colorado’s Oskar Blues (the company operates a second brewery in North Carolina), which was finding American hops tough to come by—a pointed challenge, especially when you’re looking to roll out a new IPA.
Oskar Blues has always done things differently. The brewery was the first to embrace canned craft beer, cladding its sticky, "voluminously hopped" Dale’s Pale Ale in aluminum back in 2002. Since then, the brewery’s product line has become a shrine to hops, including Deviant Dale’s double IPA, imperial-strength and this year’s Pinner, a dank little session IPA. (To be fair, Oskar Blues’ stylistic aptitude also extends to pilsners, Scotch ales and imperial stouts.) But an everyday, regular-strength IPA was nowhere to be found, much like the requisite mountains of American hops.
Oskar Blues IPA is an exotic twist on what has become an expected flavor template.
Enter Australia. Last year, Oskar Blues took a deep research dive into Down Under hops, discovering flowers with lively, beguiling and altogether original flavors and aromas. Noted standouts included earthy, tropical Vic Secret; grassy, piney Topaz; spicy, anise-scented Ella; and Enigma, a chameleonic Tasmanian variety that might remind folks of raspberry, melon or maybe white wine. Better still, securing the proper poundage proved no problem. Armed with that Australian hop quartet, it was time to brew a new kind of IPA.
Packaged in attractive blue cans (those mountains are Colorado’s Longs Peak and Mount Meeker) and released nationwide this month, the plainly named IPA hits you at 6.43 percent ABV, or a splash lighter than the 6.5 percent Dale’s Pale Ale. I’ve always felt that Dale’s (named after founded Dale Katechis) was more aligned with IPAs than pale ales, but hey, I already told you that I wore L.A. Gear Regulators. I am so not the style police.
Cascaded into a glass, the IPA is a golden belle with a creamy head that never quite gets the hint to leave. On the aromatic front, the beer is a swirl of pineapples, peaches, berries and pine resin, like a fruit smoothie blended in the forest. The IPA is medium-bodied and lightly sweet, a mix of biscuits and tropical fruit, melons and grapefruit. The low-bore bitterness keeps the IPA crush-worthy, with few speed bumps to prevent repeat consumption.
Oskar Blues IPA is an exotic twist on what has become an expected flavor template. It’s foreign yet familiar, not a knockoff, but a new direction in which more and more IPAs will certainly stroll. And for that, I think you should get pumped up.