Thinking back, I would guess that my first IPA was poured from a yellow-labeled bottle of Harpoon back in the late 1990s.
I spent my college beer career swilling $2 Heinekens during Senior Happy Hour at the on-campus bar, amber bottles of Labatt Blue, and, before that, the $9.99 30-pack of Stroh’s or whatever cheap beer we could sneak into the dorms. There were six packs of Pete’s Wicked Ale or Samuel Adams, too, but that was usually really early in the semester when we had some cash, or really late when we were dead ass broke and bought beer on credit cards.
Besides, IPAs were difficult to locate in the last millennium. Grocery stores in 1999 were not exactly flush with hoppy beers and closest to India we got was Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale. IPAs were exotic, and the ones found in Upstate New York were largely of the east coast variety; a strong malt backbone to balance off the citrus and pine hop bitterness. Harpoon’s was no different.
Today, IPA styles have evolved beyond East Coast vs. West Coast. For every well-balanced Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA brewed in Delaware, there is a Brooklyn-born hop bomb like Sixpoint Resin. Even IPAs from Founders and Surly differ enough that the Midwestern IPA definition is meaningless. And let’s not even touch on the Vermont IPA and the variants that have appeared throughout the Northeast.
When its comes to defining an IPA, geography be damned.
It’s an easy drinker, no doubt, but it does little to inspire.”
Spokane’s No-Li Brewhouse does its part to break the mold as well. Their Big Juicy IPA strays from the Pacific Northwest IPA playbook. Sure, there’s bitterness, but there is no sign of the palate-smashing resinous hops you might expect. In fact, what you get is a light, balanced, perfectly average IPA.
The golden-hued beer pours with a head that is barely the width of a finger. Pineapple is dominant in the aroma, but you also pick up some citrus along the way. The flavor profile varies quite a bit from the nose. Lemon and orange are present at the beginning of the sip, but not in an overpowering way, possibly due to the use of Puterbaugh Farms’ Belma hops that impart subtle, clean-drinking citrus flavors.
No-Li uses three hops in the Big Juicy in addition to the Belma. But none of the intense flavors promised by the Azacca, Citra, and El Dorado varieties ever arrive. Surprisingly, the flavors bridge to caramel and bready malts at the middle before settling into a dry, floral finish. It’s an easy drinker, no doubt, but it does little to inspire.
Judging this beer quickly becomes a consideration of truth in advertising. At no point does the juiciness of this beer punch at the weight of its name. Sure, your nose is drawn in by tropical and citrus fruits, but with the exception of a the aforementioned citrus, this beer does not pack much juice. In fact, it’s more of a malty beer than anything.
Supermarket and bottle shop shelves have changed since my college days. IPAs hold about one-third of the market share, according to the Brewer’s Association, and remains on an upward trajectory. Being different is a good thing. Being boring is not.