The idea behind Craft Your Packs is not a difficult concept: grab a six pack container, fill it with six of your favorite single brews, and be on your way. When this idea finally came to Wegmans' throughout the Rochester area, I was immediately in love with the simple idea. So there I was at the Penfield Wegmans with a desire for beer, but which ones? Should I get six similar brews? Should my brew journey take me all of the map. I decided to create a challenge. I love IPAs and Pale Ales, so I decided to take six I had never tried before and rank them to find another standard to add to my fridge. So with an open head and a desire for beer, I began this journey.
1) Bear Republic Brewery - Racer 5 IPA
Hailing from California this wild card is shrouded in myth and legend. Mostly because I had not heard of it before seeing it on tap at Dickie's in Rochester. The beer is described as a "hoppy American IPA is a full bodied beer brewed American pale and crystal malts, and heavily hopped with Chinook, Cascade, Columbus and Centennial." It also says something about having a trophy in every case, I did not get a case so I cannot say if this is true or not.
2) Kona Brewing Company - Fire Rock Pale Ale
All the way from Hawaii I was much more familiar with this company's work coming in having liked some of their other offerings. This is another triple hopped brew (Galena, Cascade, and Mt. Hood), but feature a "Hawaiian Style" which I think means it has a copper color. Company motto: Living Aloha, not sure, what this entails, but I can dig it.
3) Great Divide Brewing Company - Titan IPA
Weighing it at a staggering 65 IBUS (the website says that 65 is a lot), this Denver product claims it is brewed for one type of people: "hop disciples – independent beer drinkers seeking out robust, flavorful beers characterized by their abundance of hops flavor, aroma and bitterness." Sounds like me, many of our contributors, and our readers. I think we may have a favorite.
Samuel Adams Latitude 48 IPA A Sam Adams in this challenge? Isn't this hip disciple blasphemy? Not a chance. Say what you want about this company; but they care about their beer. Sure, they are not your typical micro brew anymore, but they are not one of the big wigs either. This IPA features of blend of hops from the "Hops Belt" in the Northern Hemisphere which, as you may have guessed, runs at 48 degrees latitude.
5) Southern Tier Brewing Company - Pale Ale
The hometown favorite (sort of) comes in featuring a blend of 2 different types of malts and two different types of hops. While at least that's what the sticker says, the website says it is three. This confusion may be just to toy with the other competitors, but this not really an IPA not really a Pale may prove to be feisty in the challenge.
6) Smuttynose Brewing Company - Smuttynose FinestKind IPA
This IPA from New Hampshire is bare bones. It is unfiltered and dry hopped. So what if there is some stuff at the bottom, Smuttynose cares about it as much as the two old dudes on the bottle do. This former Gold Medal winner also has the wins to back up its attitude, but will it prevail, only time will tell.
Before tasting I gave each a ranking based on how I think I would like them. I based my decision purely on my own beer tastes, what I have heard about the beer and/company, and the bottle's look.
1) Smuttynose Finestkind IPA - The two dudes on the battle talk me into this one.
2)Titan IPA - Heard great things about this beers and I liked the simple design approach.
3) Racer 5 IPA - Do not know much about it, but the bartender at Dickie's liked it enough to have it on tap.
4) Southern Tier Pale Ale - Nice look from a quality brewery
5) Latitude 48 IPA - I do like their seasonal brews, so this has upset potential
6) Fire Rock Pale Ale - While I like this company's fruit beers, I am unsure about this one.
Match 1: 1) Smuttynose Finestkind IPA vs #6) Fire Rock Pale Ale
Smuttynose has it all: its hoppy, its bitter, its smooth, and has a great aroma. It comes out of the gates strong. Fire Rock has a nice color and a solid bitter taste. Fire Rock is solid, but not in Smuttynose's league. Winner: Smutty Nose.
Match 2: 2) Titan IPA vs 5) Latitude 48 IPA
The Titan IPA comes on strong. It has a nice hoppy smell and fits very well into the IPA motif. There is nothing overly special about it, but it works well. Latitude 48 is surprisingly smooth yet still have the strong bitter overtones of a quality IPA. Both of these are IPAs, but one is just much more drinkable. Winner: Latitude 48.
Match 3: 3) Racer 5 vs 4) Southern Tier Pale Ale
Racer 5 starts out big. It has a fruity aroma and seems more like an "imperial" IPA. Its big taste earns it huge points. STPA comes in a great package. Not a big beer, but very crisp and light. While STPA's bottle looks great its contents just do not stack up to Racer 5. Winner: Racer 5.
3) Racer 5 vs 5) Latitude 48
Can L48's Cinderella run continue? Racer 5 gets better with every taste and I am really noticing its great color and a very nice lacing. L48 is still going strong, but is a bit weak on the bitterness scale compared to Racer. L48 belongs here, but it is just a bit overwhelmed. Winner: Racer 5
1) Smuttynose Finestkind IPA vs 3) Racer 5
Smuttynose got the bye into the finals because of its pre-challenge ranking. However, Smuttynose show no sign of letting up and Racer 5 is up for the challenge. This beers are very good in all the major categories of taste, look, smell, and feel. Racer 5 holds nothing back, but Smuttynose is more refined. Both are quality beers, but only one can be victorious....
Winner: Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA
Smuttynose won out because I feel it is a more quality beer. It has the total package: strong bitterness against grapefruit undertones, it is very crisp, smells great, and has great lacing. While Racer 5 I felt was about one thing: Hops. Still a great beer, but it is lacking the power packing wow factor Smuttynose has.
While there you have it. My first installment of my (annual, weekly, bi-monthly?) Craft Your Pack Challenge. All of these beers are worth a try, but I think Smuttynose is a keep and Racer 5 is a valued addition to any "hop disciple's" fridge.