Sunday, October 30, 2011

Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' IPA

There's a precedence with this one, and I regarded it fondly before I took a sip.

Bias? Maybe, but I have a special bond with this brewery, silly as that may sound. Earlier in the year, my family hosted a backyard "Beer Fest," our first annual beer tournament where participants brought a favorite brew to compete in a single elimination round robin. The "battlers," as we were called, clambered around a small table adorned with two trays - succinctly labeled "A" and "B." And we, amateur beer enthusiasts that we were, would sip thoughtfully, discuss, and, if we thought that maybe our beer was up to bat, campaign. A scribble on a small piece of paper and our vote would go into the little metal bucket on the table. We'd then cleanse out pallets with the crackers and pretzel sticks and eagerly await the next round. As the rounds progressed, this became a more boisterous and wobbly system. They might have been just a single chug's worth of beer, but even that had a tendency to add up...

Our interest and expertise in beer varied wildly from largely disinterested (there was a small collection of my sister's friends, for example, that would not so subtly gag down some of the porter and stout contenders and giggle as they voted for "The Crackers!") , but I was the resident beer snob, the guy who turned his nose up at beer pong-grade beer, the dude who, you know, would eventually think enough of his beer taste to start a damn beer blog, I wanted this victory.

My entry was Anderson Valley's Summer Solstice. Think of one of the better sumer ales you've had and then melt a caramel-dipped creamsicle in it and you're in the right ballpark. It's a brilliant beer, and I had a lot of confidence in it. Though I had more or less forgotten the taste of my beer when the tournament came, there was one little cup of joy that I was enamored with every time it came out on a little tray. "I don't know which one this is, but man, it's good," I said after I unknowingly gulped down my own beer.

At the end of it, I stood victorious, Anderson Valley Summer Solstice my winning race horse, and I felt that my infatuation with beer as an artform was maybe a bit more validated. Maybe I did know beer. And I had the tacky awesome plastic necklace trophy thing to prove it.

Me and my tournament-winning beer. Pardon the broski-overload. 

Anyway, this brewery is quite great, and I was excited to try another from its respectably concise collection:

Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' IPA
Anderson Valley Brewing Company. Boonville, CA
Pint bottle, though it comes in regular bottles, too. 7% ABV

I'm noticing that the beer of choice around here seems to be the love it or hate it IPA. While beerhouses don't appear to be immensely common around here, those that exist seem to have a healthy collection of IPAs on draft. For the uninitiated, IPAs, India Pale Ales, tend to ramp up the hops in their brew, the portion that gives the beer its "floral quality," or, if you're my mother, the part that makes it "taste like glue." Regardless of what you taste, the amount of actual hop flavor in an IPA can vary wildly - from the relatively restrained (like this one, which we'll get into in a minute) to the ones that taste like they dumped a bag of potpourri in it and called it a beer (The Exit series from Flying Fish comes to mind).

Hop Ottin comes in at the more reserved end of the spectrum, and while it out-hops your average Pale, there's still a lot more going on here than just the flowery notes. It may starts as an IPA but by sip's end there's a great sweetness, almost as though they went a "half-and-half" route with something a bit more sugared, like a brown ale. While this might not necessarily be the case, there's a great combination going on here. "Hop flavors prevail," claims the label, and they do, but they're complimented by a lot more than the relative brashness of the typical hop flavor.

This is another one of those beers that is best a bit "warm" - 44 and 50 degrees, the company recommends - so it lends itself great to sipping during dinner. Chugging for drunkenness, probably not. But hey, don't let me stop you.

So, IPA enthusiasts rejoice. This one's great. But for the hop weary, try this, it just might be the gateway you need into the more "advanced" beer tiers.

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