Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Grand Teton Trout Hop Black IPA

Last week I was speaking with a good friend who just finished a two week trek from Indiana to Oregon and one of the first things he tells me is what an amazing beer scene there is in… Idaho.  For those of you trapped in the smoggy SoCal beer scene, the hip Bay Area beer scene, or the burgeoning Philadelphia and Maryland beer scenes, this may come as a bit of a shock.  But if you've spent any time in  Oregon, Washington, or had the fortunate opportunity to travel through the Gem State, you're probably well aware that there are some skilled artisan brewers starting to make a name for themselves in Idaho.  And why not?  Situated in the blue mountains, between Yellowstone and the Tetons in the East and the Blue Mountains in the West, Idaho has all the peaks, rivers, and valleys that really can't be called  complete unless there's brewery not too far around the corner. 

One of the leaders in Idaho brewing is Grand Teton Brewing.  Grand Teton was originally started just over the border in Wilson, Wyoming by Charlie and Ernie Otto, two brothers who, like so many micro-brewers of the 80s, were inspired to explore their German and Austrian heritage.  Twenty-three years later, they have a brewpub based out of Victor Idaho that houses a 30 barrel production line and 660 barrel fermenting tanks.  Their signature brews include a pale, amber, ESB, pale golden, and a bavarian hefeweissen and are all made with glacier run off water, which is a nice touch.
In the past six years, however, Teton has embarked on a Cellar Reserve series using specialized ingredients, bottle aging, and a longer production process, lasting anywhere from 3 to 8 months.  The styles on these reserves run the gamit from imperial stouts and scotch ales to maibocks and farmhouse saisons.  Megan bought me this bottle of their Black IPA last hannukah, and I've had it cellared... until now...  The reserve bottles do look really nice and you can't help but feel like you're opening something special.  It's a 1 pint 9.4 fl oz with the wider bottom and thick glass.  The label is full glossy four color print with a custom local artists painting on it, but the material really picks up the light.  Best of all, the bottle comes with a card hung around the neck that talks about the making of the beer and has a bottled on date.  In my case it was July 30 2010.  Since we're almost upon a year, it seems like the perfect time to open this bad boy.
I was a little disappointed to see that they called the style listed as "Black IPA," rather than Cascadian Dark Ale, which I guess just isn't catching on.  Oh well, at least it's better than BJCP's atrocious moniker, "American-style India Black Ale."  Blasphemy!  Can you imagine walking into a bar and asking, "yes, I'm wondering what good American-style India Black Ales you have on tap?"  They'd ask you to leave or perhaps offer you a straw with your beer.  Anyway, enough venting, let's drink this.
The color is brown with a fairly sturdy head.  Aromas are lightly sweet with a hint of chocolate and a backbone of sweet fruit.  Minus the chocolate, it actually smells a lot like Titan IPA by Great Divide with that sort of saccharine powered sugar aroma.  As I really get my nose in there I'm getting a little more cocoa than before.  This is far and away the most unique Black IPA I've tasted to date. The body is definitely heavier than most Black IPAs I've had, which is a good thing, especially when you consider they've been able to preserve the strong chocolate and coffee flavors without getting that chalky mouthfeel that often comes with poorly made Black IPAs.  What's missing though is that overbearing Northwest hop kick.  The hops are tightly woven into the chocolate malts and never really separate themselves in a final bitter blast that you'd expect from the style.  But the bitterness is undeniably present and it's piney essence creeps up ever so slowly until you're left with a very rich and dark bitterness in the aftertaste when you purse your lips.  Otherwise the beer is just an amazing mixture of cocoa and coffee with a hint of smoke that is just a joy to drink.  Even though this departs from the style as I know it, I'm still going to give it 4 stars.  The style is relatively new and I think a fair amount of interpretation should be allowed.  What's more, the drinkability on this beer is just off the charts.

If you're interested in trying one of Grand Teton's brews, you can check out their distribution here.

Trout Hop Black IPA: ****

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