Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Mid-Major IPA Showdown!

The NCAA men's basketball tourney is around the corner and in honor of this event I have decided to coin the big craft brewers in Oregon the Mid-Majors: Bridgeport, Full Sail, Deschutes, Portland, Widmer and Ninkasi. 

These are craft brewers that are packaging breweries of considerable scale, not nearly the scale of the big boys like Miller, Coors and Bud but quite distinct from a Gigantic or Ecliptic, say. 

They are kinda underdogs, but kinda not: they can play with the big boys, they box out the shelf space and defend the tap handles....oh, I give up on this silly basketball theme.

Anyway, both Bridgeport and Widmer have revamped their IPAs and are out with new recipes and new marketing.  Bridgeport is talking a page from the Widmer playbook and starting a rotating IPA series using the (admittedly wonderful) Hop Czar monkier and Widmer is going the opposite direciton in creating a permanent IPA in its Upheaval IPA. 

It appears that the Hop Czar rotating IPA now replaces the regular Hop Czar so there could be some confusion about this for a while because their ├╝ber-classic, the eponymous IPA, is still going (and a huzzah for that!). 

What the rotating IPA strategy does, is appears, is allow breweries to make and market new beers from the latest hops which seem to be multiplying like rabbits.  It means minor changes to labels which probably speeds approval and registers better with consumers. 

Bridgeport's first entry is dry-hopped with Citra, one of the new 'it' hops that breweries are using in vast quantities.  It is a fine beer and the citrus aroma and flavor of the Citra hop is well captured.  My only quibble is it feels slightly thin.  They have not achieved the total saturation that is characteristic of my favorite IPAs these days like Gigantic's or Breakside's.  This is probably down to the reliance on dry-hopping instead of using a massive infusion in the hopback.  On the other hand, that makes the Hop Czar a bit more sessionable - it is a wee 6.5% ABV (que the guffaws from across the pond...)

Widmer's Upheaval is a bit bigger, 7% ABV and a little less aromatic but with a bit more heft (as the ABV suggests).  But the use of wheat gives it a softer touch and the myriad of hops, highlighted by the Widmer's own Alchemy hop makes it both more nuanced and less distinct.  

I can quite honesty say that I like them both and I don't have a clear favorite.  I have both in my fridge in six-pack form and they are both disappearing at the same rate which, by revealed preference, shows that I am relatively indifferent.  I suppose I'd say the Bridgeport is a more summer/session IPA while Upheaval is probably the one in the Oregon gloom.  Both are definitely worth a try.

One note however: as breweries of considerable scale, I expect a prime selling point for both to be their price-point.  However, I remember paying almost $9 for a sixer of both.  That's simply too much.   

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