Continuing on this journey of tasting other beers and figuring out how to make my own better, I recently stopped by my local beer store. This place is pretty small, but it has a decent selection and a friendly staff. I walked in with the intent of purchasing a red IPA and had already decided that if they didn’t have one, I’d go home empty handed and just drink some of my (quickly waning supply of) homebrewed stout. I’ve never walked out of a liquor store with only a single beer before (with the exception of bombers), but the only red IPA in the place was Bell’s Roundhouse—and it was only available in singles. It was strange, and to be honest it felt wrong. The cashier commented on it, asking if that was really all I wanted. Strange as it felt, that’s all I left with. Mission accomplished.
What interested me about this beer (besides being from Bell’s) was the fact that the can boasted it was “brewed with honey.” This was the second red IPA in a row I’d had with honey used as a fermentable. (The other was Dreamchasers’ Red Rider, which I knew only because I’d managed to acquire the recipe for it from the owner.) I’d somewhat dismissed the honey in the other beer, but here was another beer of the same style doing the same thing. My interest was piqued.
I’m not entirely sure how to give a general description upfront, so I’ll start where everybody else does: the aroma. There was definitely some tropical fruit in the nose. There were mango and citrus aromas, maybe with a hint of jackfruit. If you don’t know what a jackfruit is, it’s a strange beast of a fruit that can grow to the size of a small child. In my mind, it’s certainly the inspiration for Juicy Fruit gum. It tastes exactly like Juicy Fruit, and before I had one, I thought that gum was like any other artificial flavor—not really tasting like what the flavor it claimed, but everybody just went with it. Not so. Juicy Fruit tastes like jackfruit. This beer smelled a bit like jackfruit. I say all of that for the benefit of anyone who’s never had jackfruit—this beer smelled slightly reminiscent of how juicy fruit tastes, and not in a bad way.
This is certainly a hop forward beer, to the point where the malt is somewhat lost amongst the hops, which I felt to be a shame based on the style. There was a lingering bitterness I got from the first few drinks that made me wonder how many IBUs were in this hop beast. The hop notes were very tropical and had a slight orange flavor mingled in.
The malt flavor had a darkness to it—there was a slightly roasted flavor that wasn’t terribly complementary of these particular hops. If you’ve ever had a biscuit that was done on the top but the bottom was black because the baking sheet got too hot, imagine that burnt-bottom-of-the-biscuit flavor. I imagine this was from the advertised toasted malt mingling with a dark caramel malt. “Imagine” is the key word in that last sentence.
Truthfully, I was looking for the honey in this beer since it was right there on the can. I wouldn’t have picked up on this if I hadn’t been looking for it so hard—and even then, maybe my perception was tainted because I knew to look for it. Any honey flavor I got was slight and reminded me of unaged mead—which was my first foray into fermentation, and since I didn’t know to be patient with mead, I definitely (and unfortunately) know that young mead flavor.
All in all, the malt profile of this beer drops flat. It seems like there’s too much going on in the malt, and as such, it feels dull underneath the hops. I don’t believe I would drink this beer as a standard red if it had this same malt profile without the intense hoppy flavor/bitterness that pushes it to be a red IPA (or IRA as this one is billed). The hops certainly make this beer what it is, but I don’t personally care for the tropical flavor mixed with the slightly roasted/toasty character of the malt.
As the Beer Warmed
I did get more malt character coming through as the beer warmed, but it wasn’t necessarily a red ale flavor. The caramel and honey were more present and noticeable, and the hops mixed a little bit better so as to not overpower the rest of the beer, but the sweetness that came through was almost too much. It was simultaneously intensely bitter and very sweet. The tropical flavor of the hops did work in complimentary way with this sweetness, but these flavors did not work with the bitterness. Truthfully, I think this would be a killer IPA, but I don’t find it noteworthy as a red IPA.
These flavors don’t work together to create a cohesive beer. If anything, my takeaway from this beer is that what I want in a red IPA is a distinct character from both the hops and the malt, but one that is complimentary. I guess I also learned that I don’t care for tropical flavored hops over caramel or roasted flavors.
After seeing this can, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I toyed with the idea of adding honey to my beer; however, after drinking this beer, I feel confident that this ingredient isn’t the magic bullet to make a delicious red IPA.
I also want to avoid any roasted character in my beer, which did not seem like it would mix well with my other goals of dark fruit notes and a big citrus/floral hop presence. This means that I will not likely be taking advice I’ve received about adding chocolate malt to my grain bill for color adjustment. Even in small quantities, I don’t want to chance a roast flavor in this beer.
The goal I’ll set for my own brew based on this beer will be the distinctive yet complementary malt and hop profile that this beer lacks. The question I’m left with is how to achieve that. After tasting Iteration 1 of my brew, I know that I’ll need some more malt depth to achieve that. I think that I’m at least close to the level of bitterness and hop flavor that I need to achieve this, but I am missing some level of aroma that I think would dial in that balance. My next brew will seek to improve the depth of malt character, and will hopefully land me one step closer to this (as of yet unachieved) harmony.