For many, Ballast Point’s Sculpin isn’t a West Coast IPA, it’s the West Coast IPA. Sculpin’s signature combination of massive tropical and citrus hops proved so popular that it helped usher in the concept of a $15 six-pack. Since the original debuted in 2005, there have been many variants, including one classic (grapefruit) and several pleasant (pineapple) riffs, along with some less successful attempts—we’re looking at you, Habanero Sculpin. So where does Spruce Tip land on the Sculpin success scale? Higher than you’d think, thanks to savvy, seasonal brewing and a smart play on several winter-themed flavors.
Spruce Tip Sculpin’s bottle has the signature Ballast Point swimming fish, with the spruce variant highlighted in pine green lettering. The beer pours a light amber color, with just a bit of haze, reasonably high carbonation, and a moderate head and foam collar which lingers a bit.
Spruce Tip’s aroma is a lesson in why brewers get so worked up about serving temperature: Poured straight from the fridge, it might be confused for the original, apart from a bit of pine. As the beer warms, notes of spruce, wood, and pine ramp up exponentially, though not enough to overpower the grapefruit and lemon. There’s a bit of orange peel in here, too, along with some toast and biscuit from the malt. It’s a complex and impressive combination.
Are you about to drink something pleasant or will it taste like a Christmas tree, or mouthwash, or Pine-Sol?”
The first sip of Spruce Tip Sculpin is a leap of faith: Are you about to drink something pleasant or will it taste like a Christmas tree, or mouthwash, or Pine-Sol? Thankfully, the spruce proves to be an inspired idea. There’s a leading flavor of crisp pine and wood, but the biscuit-like malt, bitter cranberry and citrus still anchor the Sculpin recipe. There’s moderate bitterness—but it’s light and lithe given the 70 IBUs—and a clean, dry finish with some lingering hop flavor.
Since holiday beer aisles are often filled with barleywines, bourbon barrel-aged stouts, and cinnamon-clove winter warmers, Ballast Point’s thought process here is smart. They’ve built a masterful IPA and taken it for a walk to a bustling Christmas market in the woods.