Leo v. Ursus: Inferos
Most of my favorite beers from the big craft brewers are seasonals, one-offs, or parts of a series. Not to say the flagships don’t get the job done now and again, but there is something about those special releases that has a little more flair. They often drink with more nuance. They seem to be the beers the brewers are most excited about – and that means drinkers probably should be too.
One series I’ve really enjoyed this year is craft powerhouse Firestone Walker’s Leo v. Ursus Chronology. Started in 2017, the series is a nod to the friendly conflict between founders and brothers-in-law Adam Firestone (the bear/Ursus) and David Walker (the lion/Leo). So far, it has featured three unfiltered IPAs that are “bold... and built for freshness.”
The first release, Fortem (The Strong), debuted in February and drank more like a hazy NEIPA than any Firestone Walker offering I’d had before. It was smooth and almost creamy from the addition of wheat and flaked oat in the malt bill (flaked oat is often used in oatmeal stouts for a creamy mouthfeel). It boasted notes of pineapple and other tropical fruits. By the time it reached my distribution, the four pack I grabbed was towards the end of its ideal shelf life, but the flavors coaxed out of the unusual hop bill – which included German Hallertau – were still present.
Adversus (Against) was the second beer to come out under the Leo v. Ursus banner. Firestone successfully married pilsner malts with hefty additions of Pacific Northwest hops to create a double IPA that was still drinkable in the warm summer months. Much more traditional IPA flavors of citrus and resiny pine shined in Adversus with a punch of tropical mango and stone fruit flavors as well. This one drank a little sweet and wasn’t as bright as Fortem, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
That brings us to Inferos – The Underworld. The third release in the Chronology is again unfiltered and stronger than your average IPA, but Inferos brings spicy rye malt into the mix to create an imperial rye IPA, distinguishing itself from Fortem and Adversus.
Underneath the rye there are some high notes of citrus and a slight bit of pine.”
The malt bill leads to a beer that is a dark amber in the glass. The head is significant and lingers on top of a very hazy body. Inferos has a slightly red hue that goes perfectly with its name.
Despite the amber appearance, the aroma is almost totally dominated by waves of fruit that emanate straight off the pour. Notes of passionfruit and bright citrus play over the spicy rye that is only revealed when getting up close. Inferos is hopped with Galaxy and other Southern Hemisphere hops to provide a unique fruity aroma and flavor that is not typically paired with rye grain, though Alpine's popular Nelson IPA may have been the first to try.
Galaxy is one of my favorite hops, and its distinct passionfruit flavor is present in the taste. While I find hop bitterness often hits me on the back end of the taste, the bitterness in Inferos is up front and lingers along with a strong rye spice. Underneath the rye there are some high notes of citrus and a slight bit of pine.
I enjoy rye beers, but the flavor can be distracting from those imparted from the hops. Inferos doesn’t suffer as much from this as other rye IPAs I’ve had in the past, though I do find myself wishing the rye would get out of the way and let those Southern Hemisphere hops shine.
As the beer warms the rye spice becomes a little bit of a chore and the fruit slowly disappears. Without so much rye, Inferos would be eminently drinkable for a DIPA. The mouthfeel is solid and I don’t mind the slight sweetness of the rest of the malt bill.
In the end, I’m left thinking this is a great rye beer but just a solid double IPA.