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Full Moon vs. Full Moon

spyvsspyJust like the old Mad Magazine feature, Spy vs. Spy, the best way to work out the recent change to Alley Kat Full Moon from a Pale Ale to an India Pale Ale (see here), would be to have them face off against each other. The spies were identical except for their colour and were bitter enemies; the beer come from the same lineage and clearly are not enemies but the question is how much is different between them? The best way to find out is through a side-by-side taste test.

Actually the decision behind doing a side-by-side was born at the Next Act pub on the first day the new Full Moon IPA was available anywhere (Saturday, December 6). I had made a point of swinging by to try a pint and, as it worked out, Alley Kat owner Neil Herbst was there with a staffer giving it a try as well. We discussed the new beer and he suggested that trying the beer beside each other might be a useful exercise. I ran with the idea.

I got a pack of each beer from the brewery (so I was confident they were well handled despite being created a few weeks apart), handled them identically upon arriving home and poured them into identical (Alley Kat) glasses. So, I did my best to control extraneous factors beyond age, which was unavoidable.

The first clear impression is that they look identical (see photo below), just like Mad’s spies (actually less different than them). Not a wisp of colour difference, they have a similar head profile, same carbonation, and both offer nice clarity. Virtual clones of one another. This is interesting because I might have thought the extra malt would have added a bit more colour.

full moon 007The aroma is also very similar. It has that recognizable, wonderful Full Moon aroma of light toffee, biscuit and a noted fruitiness accented by a citrus, orange, floral hop character. The two aromas told me immediately I was dealing with the same beer, only that the IPA version was ever so slightly bigger – its aroma character was just a touch more assertive all the way around.

The Pale Ale version offered flavours of toffee, touches of sharp grain, biscuit and a fruitiness to add depth and complexity.The IPA has the same beginning but just like the aroma a little bigger. In both beer the hop takes its time building but winds up in a place of dominance. In the pale ale, it has a pleasant, moderate hop linger that grows ever so slowly but eventually makes itself known by the time the beer works its way to the back. In the IPA the hops still slide in casually but they keep going further, creating a more assertive effect.

It is in the linger where the two beer are most different. There is a noted citrusy, grassy hop linger to the IPA, while the Pale Ale is a bit cleaner. There is no question Alley Kat upped the beer to stretch it into the IPA category – where it legitimately resides. The finish alone tells me that.

I suspect most casual Full Moon drinkers won’t even notice a difference (some initial conversations with friends confirm this), but that does not mean there have been no changes. As I expect from Alley Kat, they are true to their word. They promised an IPA and they delivered. It is not the most aggressive or hopped-up IPA, but it deserves to be called as such.

So what to make of it all? That depends on your perspective. For devoted Full Moon fans, they can rest easy knowing many of the qualities that made the beer so appealing – its distinct malt profile, its full flavour and imminent drinkability – remain. It is still Full Moon.

And while it clearly deserves to be called an IPA, it is a fairly conservative interpretation. They have kept the IBUs relatively in check, although they do allow for a bigger hop flavour. If I were to offer a personal critique, I would say it needs more bitterness to really bring out its potential.

However, I will leave it to the reader to make the final decision. This transformation is a calculated gamble on the part of Alley Kat. Can they maintain the current Full Moon loyalty but grow it by slightly shifting its profile into IPA? On the surface I think the first part is safe – this is still Full Moon, and that is a good thing. However, will IPA drinkers embrace what is a fairly modest version? I don’t know. Only time will tell.

Both beer are wonderful drinking beer. I would be happy to order either in a pub (although soon only one will be an option). But a huge question hangs over the new Full Moon IPA. Will it satisfy as an IPA? I don’t pretend to have the answer. It will be consumers that tell us.

Stay tuned.


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