While visiting western Michigan last week, I got to taste examples of two very different brewing trends that are making their way slowly across the U.S. and parts of Canada these days, with mixed results.
First up was barrel aging, in this case as practiced by New Holland Brewing. Specifically, I was able to taste a tank sample of their Mad Hatter India Pale Ale, a fine beer in its own right, but in this instance studiously aged in a Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrel. Although an IPA, Hatter is a balanced and rather reserved one, measuring 5.25% alcohol by volume and showing ample light caramel malt to balance the judiciously added hops. Given a little time in the barrel, the result was wonderful, with the previous two primary and quite balanced elements – malt and hops – joined by a third assertive but no less balanced taste – the barrel effect, ‘natch. It was a not-quite-mature, uncarbonated tank sample, so I won’t review it here, but this is definitely something to look forward to when it finally does emerge as a draft-only special release.
Earlier in the trip, at Saugatuck Brewing, I was offered a taste of Singapore IPA, a prodigiously hopped ale fermented as per the latest craze with a Belgian yeast. (Think Victory’s Wild Devil and Stone’s Cali-Belgique.) Unfortunately, this was a disaster of flavours with hops climbing all over a gentle front fruitiness and the evident spice in the nose entirely overwhelmed by resiny, juicy hop. Even Saugatuck owner Barry Johnson seemed undecided about this one, which make me wonder why he even offered it up to a room full of writers.
(On a more positive note, Saugatuck’s Johnson also offered a pretty damn tasty Bamberg Rauchbier, made with 90% smoked malt and every bit a smoky, dry, lager-fermented delight.)