For the first, and likely only time, this week’s edition of Raycommendations features a beer I helped brew! Our collaboration with Baron turned up this week and is tasting absolutely excellent. Besides that, two double digit ABV brews of vastly different colours and flavour profiles dazzle. Lots to celebrate this week, from our exciting collab, to my favourite brewery’s birthday, and an appearance in our fridges from Ohio’s finest.
BARON – NARWHAL ENIGMA
As discussed in a late-October edition of Raycommendations, which featured a Sabro-forward Pale Ale from Baron, I had the pleasure of visiting Jack Baron’s barnyard brewhouse in the Buntingford countryside, to lend a hand in brewing a Ghost Whale collaborative Red IPA. My colleague Jenny and I were so lucky to have been assigned to this brew day, getting a behind-the-scenes peek at what a one-man brewing operation looks like, and picking Jack’s brain on collaborations, the brewing process, taproom experiences, and even getting to have a say in what hops to use. It felt like such a privilege arriving, and being told, “Alright, admittedly I don’t have a recipe formulated yet, so what do you guys want this to taste like?” Jack knew it would be primarily hopped with Australian hop Enigma, which is known to have loads of jammy, red fruit character, but turned to us to choose what to pair that with. After lots of back and forth about malt profile and desired hop assertiveness, Jenny and I landed on partnering Enigma with Simcoe, an American ‘dual-use’ hop, with loads of bittering potential, as well as flavours and aromas of pine and grapefruit.
My dad has a phrase that he often uses at the dinner table, most commonly to visiting friends, which goes something along the lines of: “I made this meal, so even if you hate it, you have to tell me it’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten.” These words have been ringing around both of our shops since ‘Narwhal Enigma’ was released, as I’ve been selling this as the ‘best beer I’ve ever had, because I made it of course’. Big words aside, I couldn’t be happier with how this has turned out. It pours bright red, and boasts a deliciously complex flavour profile. Residual malty sweetness is present, headlined by notes of toffee and chocolate, which is balanced by bold hop bitterness, and a huge fruit punch-esque fruitiness, courtesy of the incredible Enigma hops. All in all, one of the best days of my young craft beer career resulted in a brew I can’t stop reaching for and recommending, and am splendidly proud of. Special thanks to Jack for hosting us and for producing some of the country’s best hop-forward beers.
ARPUS – 6 YEAR ANNIVERSARY QDH TIPA
I’ve been outspoken with friends and coworkers about my love for Arpus for months now, and am happy to put it in writing that these guys are my favourite European brewery. Consistency across multiple styles is key for me to see before making a goliath statement like that, but after sampling nearly two dozen unique beers from them, I just can’t get enough. Constantly churning out delightful hoppy brews, producing some world class Imperial Stouts, and the architects behind one of my favourite series of beers in the craft world: their line of smoothie sours. Top, top stuff.
Catching wind of their 6th anniversary approaching had me eagerly anticipating what birthday bombshells would be en route to our fridges, and in their typical outrageous fashion, they’ve delectably delivered on six different styles, which of course I’ve tried just about all of. To someone unfamiliar with craft beer jargon, seeing ‘QDH TIPA’ written on a can must feel like trying to read a restaurant menu in a non-English-speaking country. What could that combination of letters mean? Well that, my friends, is a Quadruple Dry-Hopped Triple IPA! Also referred to by a beer geek like myself, as a ‘must-have’. This, as promised in the title, is an all out hop assault. Single dry-hopping, let alone doing it four times in one brew, can sometimes leave behind a green, vegetal hop character that I personally don’t find too pleasing, so I had a hint of apprehension going into this. I must have momentarily forgotten that Arpus are brewing wizards, though, because this is a masterpiece. It is about as smooth as they come. It’s as sweet as Triple IPAs tend to be, without being cloying. The 10% ABV is completely hidden, behind a creamy body and overwhelming tropical fruit character. So juicy, and oh, so drinkable. Hats off to Arpus, and a very happy birthday to them!
JACKIE O’S – UNGLACIATED
Winter is here, meaning stout season is well and truly upon us! Perfect timing to get some glorious American Impies in the fridges. Hailing from Southeastern Ohio are the dark beer magicians Jackie O’s. I can’t say I’ve been lucky enough to taste many of their beers, but the few I’ve sampled have floored me, and left me with a glowing appreciation for what they do. The arrival of two behemoth barrel-aged Imperial Stouts from them was just the opportunity I craved to trial more of their range. The beauty of working in a craft beer shop, is that you’re just about always surrounded by like minded, beer curious people. Looking around the shop and seeing 5 friendly regular customers in at once, meant splitting a bottle of this 13.2% stunner was both sensible and affordable. Who wouldn’t?
‘Unglaciated’ was aged for 17 months in Old Fitzgerald bourbon barrels, allowing it to develop an incredibly intense flavour over time. Distinct bourbon flavour is imparted from the freshly emptied barrels used, alongside notes of vanilla, dried fruit, and a rich, chocolate malt character. Sweet, complex, and further proof that Jackie O’s doesn’t mess around. A brewery to take note of, and actively seek out.