“The culture of the hop … so analogous to the culture and uses of the grape, may afford a theme for future poets.”
Henry David Thoreau
Beer has come of age in the past few years. We really are gaining momentum in becoming wine’s equal. We have dropped the social stigma that beer drinkers are unsophisticated – even our president enjoys a cold Goose Island 312 Urban Ale now and again. We’ve gained notoriety amongst world-class chefs who cook with beer and enjoy it in their personal lives (just get Michael Symon talking about Jolly Pumpkin and other sour ales). And the beer bloggers of today may very well be the poets Thoreau predicted years ago.
So, if beer can become wine’s equal in all these ways, why not have a celebration of beer reminiscent of those the ancient Greeks held to honor Dionysus, the god of wine, thousands of years ago. The Anthesteria festival in early spring celebrated the vine and the Lenaea (in winter) celebrated the first wine from the harvest. Like wine, beer’s ingredients are freshest in the fall when harvest occurs. Hops in particular are normally picked in late August or September, and only at that time can “harvest” ales be brewed. October is clearly the best time of the year to be a hophead, so why not throw a party? That’s exactly what Fat Heads has done since opening two years ago. The first year had some great hoppy beers, but the 2010 Fat Heads Celebration of the Hop Festival was simply one of the best hop harvest festivals ever, worthy of Silenus, the god of beer, himself!
Here’s how my 10 favorite beers of the festival stacked up…
Port Brewing’s ‘Whambo’ American IPA
Described as “an American Styled IPA with bright notes of citrus hop aroma”. Whambo was easily the best beer from the 10 or so Port offerings at this festival. It was the first and last beer I had, and with the lineup that’s saying a lot! The beer is a golden color with some hints of copper and orange. The head is adequate, not insane, but good for the style and has excellent cling. Some lace and active carbonation are also noted. The hops in Whambo are kicking ass and taking names. They jump out of the glass with orange, grapefruit, pineapple, mango and every other citrus note under the sun. Just a kiss of sweet malt is noted, but the hops dominate.
The taste flexes even more. This isn’t Stallone in Rambo 12 (or whatever the last one was). This is the guy from Rocky with a machine gun. I taste some pineapple and orange; both are well integrated and amazingly expressive. A touch of pine tries to peak out but the citrus comes back for another round. The malt is sweet and just north of water. Holy cow, this is a beer I could fall in love with! The mouthfeel is not too carbonated but is perfect for the style with an immaculate medium body that grooves with the bubbles. This beer is drinkable all day long. This was a best-in-show beer when put up against the best hoppy IPA’s in the world.
Does Bobby Like Port Brewing ‘Whambo’?
The Brew Kettle ‘White Raja’ American IPA
This beer has a great story behind the name. Fat Heads makes an excellent American IPA called Headhunter that won the silver at GABF this year in the most-entered category ever. Well, White Raja is a historical figure who went to Brunei and was determined to end headhunting. So, you can say in a way, this beer’s name translates to “headhunter killer”. Zing! Especially when you consider that this beer won the best in show at the 2010 festival for the Brew Kettle!
The beer looks great – golden with some copper highlights on the edges. There’s a film of head with a white ring. Don’t get me wrong, White Raja looks good but appears just a touch sticky based on the lack of noticeable carbonation and head. Color and clarity are both fantastic, though, so this still scores well. The aroma is amazing. Layers of hops give huge citrus and a touch of Simcoe “catty” smells. Lots of Simcoe hops in this one, and the addition of the Citra hop gives some great lemon notes and a bit of peppy zing as well. Huge grapefruit, orange and lemon aromatics seal the deal – this is just a killer smelling beer.
Wow, this is amazing tasting to me. White Raja is a touch sweeter than expected. The beer shows it’s direction with one of the best hop bills outside of California. It is really well balanced, with Simcoe giving some huge kick-ass citrus and grass and perfume. It is joined with a kiss of sweetness from the malt and a touch of lemon from the Citra hops. Oh boy, this is a game changer here. Ohio’s IPA crown may be heading to Strongsville. The body is just north of water in a good way. Not substantive or sticky with great touch of carbonation. Medium pleasant bitterness lingers. This beer is amazing and so drinkable. It stood out in a competition with all the big boys.
Does Bobby Like The Brew Kettle ‘White Raja’?
Founders ‘Harvest Ale’ American Pale Ale
Harvest ale looks great in the glass. It is gold and clear (not cloudy) with orange and tangerine tones. Also some soapy head is visible and a touch of spotty lace is left behind. I notice some active carbonation as well. We’re off to a good start, but I’ve seen slightly better head retention and lace. The smell makes me say ‘Holy citrus hops’. This smells great! Orange, pineapple, mango and a touch of pine make the smell so inviting. Just a kiss of sweetness from the malt and ever-so-slight-toasty biscuit notes anchor things down. Very green, very expressive, and very appealing.
The taste continues the journey in a positive direction. There’s a touch of sweetness in the malt but the fresh hops are the stars of the show. I get huge tastes of citrus and a touch of pine along with fresh oranges, grapefruits and lemons. Nice medium bitterness and huge taste. The beer is just a touch on the simple side; otherwise, it is perfect in terms of taste. The mouthfeel is light-bodied with nice carbonation that straddles the lines between crisp and creamy but ends up just a touch too prickly. Also, the flavor drops off at the very end with some mild bitterness and slight watery absence of malt wallowing on. I love this beer every year, but it is a touch on the simple side. That’s OK, and it’s actually perfect for harvest ales to be so straightforward. After all, the whole point is to feature the hops.
Does Bobby Like Founders ‘Harvest Ale’?
Fat Heads ‘Hop-a-Long Cascady’ American IPA
This is one of the beers that will be released in the Cleveland Beer Week 12 pack if it ever comes out. The appearance consists of a bright orange color and pretty clear body; it looks just a bit less “punchy” than Fat Heads legendry IPA called Head Hunter. A decent head and some lace round things out. A good start! The smell is full of hops, green, sticky-icky hops. There’s a ton of Cascade hops, lending citrus and some pine notes to the minimal sweet malt base. In particular, some orange, grapefruit, and pineapple appear with an herbal leaf note too. Just a touch of pine resin makes me start drooling. This is a great smelling beer!
The taste continues the experience with a nice sweet kiss of malt, providing some caramel and a touch of toast, setting the stage for the fresh hops to tap dance all over my taste buds. The A medium-bitter taste becomes an afterthought as more hops blast my tongue and mouth. Lemon, grapefruit, pine, and peach are all there. Fat Heads has created a great tasting harvest beer! The beer is light to medium in its body. The carbonation is crisp and clean, and the only poor part of the experience as a whole is the slightly watery taste once the hops stop doing their business. Some medium bitterness lingers, but the malt dissipates and leaves me just wanting a touch more substance. This reminded me a lot of the excellent Founders Harvest Ale with just a slightly different hop bill. While the biggest flaw of this beer is the drop-off of flavor in the finish, the huge hop taste more than makes up for it.
Is this the first Fat Heads beer that will ever be bottled? I think so, and I guess I need to mark the occasion by saying it’s a winner. Congratulations and good luck!
Does Bobby Like Fat Heads ‘Hop-a-Long Cascady’?
Port Brewing’s ‘Poor Man’s’ American Double/Imperial IPA
Poor Man’s Double IPA pours a hazy orange and copper color, with some mango, pineapple, and tangerine hints swirling about. The beer has decent head retention and good lace. It’s just not outstanding to me, but looks very good. The smell is very expressive, with a ton of pine and grapefruit notes jumping out of the glass. Some mango and orange are present as well, plus a nice caramel and slightly toasted hearty malt base.
The taste is really the highlight of this beer. It’s got a ton of expressive pine bitterness, and well as a ton of citrus. Grapefruit and orange peel, plus some tropical fruit as well. The hoppiness really jumps out at you! There’s a good balance with the adequate malt base as well. The mouthfeel is medium bodied with some heaviness, but the carbonation is lively enough to make it avoid syrupy territory. The finish is bitter and lingering, with just a touch of sweet caramel. A very nice beer, if I weren’t bombarded by all the Port offerings at this one-day-only event, I would certainly drink this again and again. As it was, this stood out as one of the top 5 in the group. A wonderful DIPA for the hop-head.
Does Bobby Like Port Brewing ‘Poor Man’s'?
Port Brewing’s ‘Plant to Pint’ American Pale Ale
‘Plant to Pint’ is another Harvest ale, using fresh hops within hours of them being picked! It is a caramel color with a touch of amber and orange. Nice head and amazing lace improve the appearance score. The beer looks great; it is perhaps a bit darker than expected, but great nonetheless! The bouquet is very green and floral with tons of citrus, orange in particular. There’s also some melon and plant smells – this is certainly a harvest ale, no mistaking that. The malt is slightly toasted and puts out some sweet caramel notes.
The beer tastes really good and I wish I could sample it more often. It may be a little on the “green” side (meaning a bit too much of the plant smells come through), but the plant character is the trade-off for the huge hops. Tons of grapefruit, orange, and pineapple leap from the glass. The hop explosion is also backed with a decent malt base for an APA, with tons of sweet caramel and a nice toasted character. This beer is very, very flavorful and well rounded, but the hop tastes are a bit disparate. The carbonation is high and that’s the only downside of the mouthfeel. The beer feels medium-light and is just a touch sticky in its finish. The lingering bitterness is intense, but pleasant and bearable. This is a great Harvest ale I could drink a ton of; too bad it will never be in Ohio again unless it appears next year at the Fat Heads festival. Looks like I need to head to California!
Does Bobby Like Port Brewing ‘Plant to Pint’?
Coronado ‘Idiot’ American Double/Imperial IPA
This beer surprised me, as I thought it would be OK but it ended up being much more complex than I anticipated. The beer is orange with just a hint of copper. It has a film of a head, and the beer is pretty clear. Some great lace is left behind but the head retention isn’t the best ever. Still, a good-looking start to this new drinking adventure! The smell is full of amazing levels of hoppiness that are straight out of a dream. It’s fresh, citric, and has some perfume as well. Some green hops give impressions of oranges and grapefruit. There’s also some mandarin oranges and tangerines. The malt is barely present and there’s little to no noticeable alcohol.
I like the way this beer tastes. ‘Idiot’ features some significant malt compared to the nose, as some caramel sweetness takes over and makes me wonder how this was so well hidden in the bouquet. A touch of toastiness is present as well – the malt works well with the big hops. Speaking of which, there is a huge citrus component to this beer, making me think of grapefruit rind and freshly squeezed oranges. The bitterness isn’t overwhelming. The carbonation is a bit low on this one, and it comes off as creamy. The body is medium and there’s a nice dryness to the finish. Just a touch of alcohol but it’s really well masked. I would have this again in a heartbeat!
Does Bobby Like Coronado ‘Idiot’?
Port Brewing’s ‘Get Wet’ American IPA
The beer looks nice in the glass, but it’s a touch light for an AIPA. It almost has a golden honey color. Some white head is noted, but doesn’t have the retention of the other Port beers I got to try at the festival. No real lace was noted, very noticeable carbonation. The beer is very expressive and has mostly citrus and perfume notes. Some mango is evident in the nose, and some orange. Very tropical and the beer has very little malt in the nose, if any.
The taste isn’t overly bitter, with a nice balance between the citrus and the malt – it’s also no slacker in bringing some IBU’s to the party, especially in the aftertaste. Some fresh hops are noted, but not enough to really make this identifiable as a harvest. Great citrus notes do jump out, with orange and grapefruit in the lead. Just a touch of pine and funky onions are noted, most likely from a hop like Summit. The malt is sweet and only makes its presence known for a moment. The carbonation is good on this beer, the mouthfeel is medium to light bodied. Lingering bitterness. Drinkability is excellent, as the huge hoppiness makes taste bigger than it is.
Does Bobby Like Port Brewing ‘Get Wet’?
Port Brewing’s ‘Welcome Back Wipeout’ American Double/Imperial IPA
The beer is more of a copper and amber color than some of it’s orange brothers in the lineup today. A great eggshell head sticks around until the bottom of the glass and leaves a white wall of lace on the side of the glass. What a nice looking DIPA! The smell is interesting. There’s a pretty decent malt base going on here, giving bready impressions and some dark toffee. There’s also the requisite boatload of hops here. Pine and grapefruit and orange make up the hop kick that sets this beer apart from the other DIPA’s from Port that are in today’s sampling. I also sense a bit of booze but it is pretty well concealed.
From the first sip I’m not sure if the alcohol is going to be so deeply submerged in the taste. It starts to surface when the sweet and complex malt bill gets going with some caramel notes. The hops are like bitter grapefruit and resinous pine. There’s a huge boozy and bitter finish. Mouthfeel is just a bit syrupy with ample carbonation and a sticky medium body. This wasn’t the most drinkable beer from Port as it was really a bit big for it’s shoes. Or mine, depending on how you look at it. Point being, there was some serious boozy kick that I was hoping the sweetness and hint of toffee in the complex malt bill would work with the hops to mask. The two just don’t quite accomplish that.
Does Bobby Like Port Brewing ‘Welcome Back Wipeout’?
Bear Republic ‘Mach 10′ American Double/Imperial IPA
Orange color with some amber and copper highlights. The beer looks a touch still in the glass with very little active carbonation, and the head straight up sucks. Disappointing start. The bouquet is also far from impressive. It’s just not expressive enough, with some perfume and apricot. But this could smell WAY better and jump out of the glass more. At touch of citrus is very understated. Some booze is noticeable as well.
The taste is interesting. It’s got some dank resin and pine, and some perfume, mango, and papaya. The malt is very sweet. I really wish I knew why they chose this much sweet malt. It totally cuts the beer in half with prominent caramel and, if that wasn’t bad enough, doesn’t even carry us into the aftertaste. Instead, it drops straight off into a wasteland of booze (and a stadium-full of ‘boos’). The beer is sticky as all hell. The carbonation is low, with a medium body. Some lingering bitterness and sweetness, and a bit of booze in the aftertaste make this leave the wrong impression. This was the miss of the entire festival for me, what a disappointing beer. It just has absolutely nothing in common with my ideal DIPA, as I love citrus and expression. I love much less perfume and malt that doesn’t distract. This brings none of those characteristics to the table. I’d try it again at Bear Republic on draft, but never again away from the home base.
Does Bobby Like Bear Republic ‘Mach 10′?
Thanks to the Fat Heads owners, staff, and brewers for such a wonderful event. I’m already looking forward to the next celebration! The gods are pleased! And the men are happy and full of hoppy beers!
Photos and Photo Gallery
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