The featured beer painting of the day is of Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s Union Jack India Pale Ale. India Pale Ale was originally brewed in England, and sent on ships to India. It was made with higher alcohol and more hop content than regular English ales so it would travel well. The beer we call IPA today is not even close to what these beers must have tasted like in India. Today’s IPA is not made in England, the pale malt used for the base is probably not English, and the variety of barley may be similar, but has adapted to the North American continent. The most important difference is the hops, which are completely different from what the English were using way back in 1829 (the first published advertisement for English IPA). English hops have a relatively low alpha (acid) content, but the hybrids we are growing in the Pacific Northwest are very high in alpha content. A Kent Golding, or Fuggle hop may have 2-7% alpha, but PNW hops are reaching almost 20%! Everybody is trying to drink these PNW IPAs as soon as they are finished fermenting, and is claiming that fresher is better, which it is, but the original English IPA was engineered for the long haul. Maybe spoiling and stale are different problems. Sure is nice living in a day and age when our beer is kept in refrigerators, not the hold of a sailing ship!
Firestone Walker may think it is brewing an English style of beer (hence the Union Jack in the name, which is the Brittish flag), and in a way it is, but the style has evolved into this amazing American product that frankly isn’t possible to create anywhere else in the world to the same caliber. Maybe it is because I am from the Pacific Northwest (that’s right Alaska is sometimes included in the PNW, we are only three hours by plane from Seattle), but I really love American IPA. I have had Belgian attempts, which have flavors of sugar in the end product. The English IPA is weak, with very little hop content and low malt body. That all being said, this beer is a great example of a PNW IPA! Double dry-hopping and toasty malt make this beer taste phenomenal. Grapefruit and tangerine, pine and biscuit sweetness, this beer is hardly bitter, but perfectly balanced with an aroma that would make a rose jealous. Great job Firestone Walker! I will buy a six-pack of this and take it to my next BBQ!
Cheers to the Union Jack IPA, a classic PNW IPA, a great beer that tastes great even far from where it was brewed!