I took some time last night to give Alley Kat’s latest release (just discussed in the latest news digest), Bearded Dragon Imperial Red IPA. Of course, the first thing I and many people note is that they have the gumption to call it a Red IPA. Well, we all know that isn’t officially a style, but in a world of White IPAs, Black IPAs and ISAs, calling a beer a red IPA doesn’t seem so sinister.
I will go officially on the record that I am not particularly fond of how brewers are naming their style-shifting IPA hybrids and experiments. I think a little more creativity is in order. I prefer Cascadian IPA over Black IPA, for example because it at least shows some acknowledgement of (debated) regional origins. White IPA is okay with me, just because it is a Witbier hybrid. Red IPA? Well, it is descriptive but not particularly inspiring.
My naming qualms aside, I actually like the morphing of IPAs by tring different approaches. In particular I like the versions that help create balance. Too often these days I find IPAs to be all about the hops and the poor old malt base sits lonely, unwanted in the corner. It wasn’t ever thus, but even craft brewers brew what the people demand. And there are a lot more hopheads these days than 15 years ago. It is possible I am simply experience lupulin fatigue in my quest for something a bit more balanced.
But I have wandered significantly astray from this post’s original intent – a review of Bearded Dragon.
It, indeed, is red. A deep ruby red. Allow me to clarify: this beer is a gorgeous soft red. Not amber. Not brown with red tinges. It is EXACTLY what I hope to see in a red beer. Add to that a large, rocky medium tan head with large bubble highlightes and a fair bit of lacing and you get one beautiful looking beer. The thing is truly a sight in my opinion.
The aroma is quieter than I expected. I get a moderate citrusy hop and a pleasant toffee, nutty malt. It has all the elements I want, just not quite as strongly as I might hope.
Initial tasting notes are soft, creamy toffee with a nutty edge. The malt bill is solid base for this beer – substantial without being cloying. The middle sharpens notably as some pine and citrus change the direction of the beer. The hops has a resin character to it. The finish is a blend of moderate creamy malt and a citrusy, resiny hop. The hop linger builds through the glass, turning more distinctly C-hop as the volume drops.
I should note this is quite quaffable for 8%; the alcohol is well hidden. The malt is king in this beer for me. It is multidimensional but not overdone. I contemplate that the risk in trying to get that amazing colour would be to overdo the malt bill. But it remains nicely restrained.The hop flavour is quite appealing and I like how it builds through the glass.
I suspect that this beer will not diminish the debates about whether Alley Kat’s Dragon Series are bitter enough. Many would argue this beer needs to present with more bitter. I am not sure I agree. If you are going to create a Red IPA (to go with that moniker for the moment), you are telling the world you are trying to create a beer that has a bit more balance than a regular IPA. The malt should play a co-starring role, meaning the hops has to reduce its screen time a bit to give room.
I think Alley Kat’s approach to bitterness perception is well suited for this kind of beer. Pressent but not hogging the spotlight. Just as it should be in a so-called red IPA.
Now we just need a better style name for it.