Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Micreview: Mendocino Imperial IPA (Winter Seasonal)

Since I've got quite a long backlog of stuff (especially beer from my visit to Asheville) to get through, I thought I'd see how it felt to do a shorter, more "traditional" review every once in awhile. This beer seems ideal to try out something like this, since it's not all that special tastewise (there's something else that's interesting about it, though...).

So - it's the Mendocino folks again. I pointed out why I loved these guys in my review of their stout: if you buy Mendocino, you get value and you get bottle conditioning. The first is the main thing, and you can think of the extra yeastiness as a bonus they throw in. The Binnys folks have unfortunately bumped the price on Mendocino sixers up to, um, $6.99, which just means you're getting a really good deal for the money rather than an astonishing one. Today I'll be dealing with Mendocino's Imperial India Pale Ale, which I found looking very solitary in in a dark lonely corner of Binnys behind a bunch of Christmas ales. It's a good beer. But that's not the really interesting thing. The interesting thing is that right now you can buy it for $5.99.

I repeat, it costs $5.99. For a six pack. Even Binnys themselves admit that this is the best friggin' deal in their store. It's astonishingly cheap - stupidly cheap. I repeat: A SIX PACK COSTS SIX BUCKS. Fuck, a sixer of Miller Lites will cost you fifty cents more, and this is a 7.5% alcohol slobberknocker of an IPA (rather than a shitty lager). Why hasn't everyone in Chicago migrated to this stuff yet? Who the fuck is still buying Budweiser? Do they even know what their seven dollars will buy them nowadays? (Mind you, I'm not being an elitist here, I'm just saying: why would you spend even more money on something worse?)

Ah, well, I suppose I'd better get to the review.

The brew pours a very pretty carrot orange, with a half-finger of fizzy, bubbly white head. The nose is - well, hell, I don't even need to stick my head in to check it, I can smell the citrus assault from halfway across my desk. Coming in for a closer whiff, the strongest elements are (surprise!) the hops, like a grapefruit that's gone mad and dressed itself in pine needles. Way, way in the back there's Mendocino's trademark yeast aroma, but it's more or less an afterthought here. It's not the most complex aroma in the world, but it's surely got me salivating

Hrm, well, it's a good IPA. It's not great, and I'm not sure I would call it an "imperial" - at any rate it's nowhere near the kick in the dick that Dogfish Head's 90-minuter is - but it's quite solid, just a nice, hoppy, somewhat-bolder-than-average India Pale. Up front I immediately get a sharp piney bitterness. The sweetness of the malt and a bit of yeast come in from there to take over for a moment, but it's all for naught once the spicy citrus bite clamps down on the party at the end. This all closes out into a very dry aftertaste, which is - typical of the style - nice and puckery. Mainly I get hops, although you can still sense the sweet malt - or what remains of it at least, after having been run down by a pine tree in a pickup. The beer's even relatively smooth, with the body kept fairly light and the alcohol as well-masked as it can be for this style (but don't kid yourself, you're not going to be drinking this one quickly).

Like seemingly everything Mendocino makes, this beer ain't one of the greats, but it can hold its own against the standards of the style and come out looking pretty good. As an IPA, I'd rate it as slightly above the Sierra Nevada and Goose Island IPAs, slightly below the Stone IPA and DFH 60-minuter (and well below the 90-minuter), and about on a par with Great Lakes' Commodore Perry. And that's pretty damn good company for a beer you can buy for a buck a bottle. So, for those of you who live anywhere near Chicago, what the fuck are you waiting for? When even the friggin' store is wondering why they've priced something so low, there's absolutely no excuse for not trying some.

Grade: B+
Summary: When the next-cheapest IPA is more expensive by two bucks - i.e., more expensive by a third - you don't really need to make it good. Mendocino did anyways.

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