Saturday night March 6th my hop world seemed to stand still for a moment when 'beer cellar boy for a day' Rick Sellers (no relation) announced the final Best of Show results for the first annual S.O.B.E.R.* Group Epic IPA tasting. Alpine Brewing's Duet stood alone above all the rest of the field. A field that included the Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig of beer legend... Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger of Russian River fame .
To be honest and fair I must admit that any one of a half dozen of the beers collected could have been the winner, the offerings gathered for this event were that awe inspiring......and in reality the true winners were the folks that answered the call to attend.
Due to the number of beers involved Mark 'The Beer Geek' Zahn and I decided to split them up into single IPA and Double/Triple IPA categories. We utilized Marks modified 50 point judging system that only included four factors....Aroma, flavor, mouth feel and overall impression.
The Beers are listed in their finishing order: (The finishing order was revised a bit after a review of the data in a less blurry environment a couple days after the evening in question. But like I said....we're splinting hairs on a lot of these beers......the scoring was close and the top five or six in each category could have been a medal winner)
1. Duet - Alpine Brewing Company (Alpine CA)
2. Blind Pig - Russian River Brewing (Santa Rosa, CA)
3. Gold Digger IPA - Auburn Ale House (Auburn CA)
4. Sculpin - Ballast Point (San Diego CA)
5. Derek's IPA - Darek Smith (Home Brew)
6. Ichthyosaur IPA - Great Basin (Sparks NV)
7. RR IPA - Russian River
8. O'brien's IPA - Alpine Brewing
9. Nelson - Alpine Brewing
10. Rockslide IPA - Fifty/Fifty Brewing (Truckee, CA)
1. Pliny The Younger - Russian River
2. Hop Sauce - Rubicon Brewing (Sacramento CA)
3. Bad Boy - Alpine
4. Uber Hoppy - Valley Brewing (Stockton CA)
5. Pliny The Elder - Russian River
6. Exponential Hoppiness - Alpine
7. PU240 - Auburn Ale House
8. Imperial - Green Flash (Vista CA). (An older growler sample, should have been excluded)
BEST of SHOW
2. Bad Boy
3. Pliny the Younger
The beers we choose were all personal favorites but still had everything to do with their seasonal availability. I was lucky enough to have a friend gather me 2 growlers of Pliny the Younger on that mad day in Santa Rosa (See previous blog entry). A few days later I learned from the Alpine Brewing Newsletter that their double IPA Bad Boy was coming out and going to be available just a week prior to the release their triple IPA Exponential Hoppiness.
An email to Alpine Brewer Pat McIlhenney confirmed my suspicions that both those beers would be available for a couple of overlapping days in mid February. In addition their Duet, O'Brien's IPA and Nelson were all also in stock at the brewery for growler fills.
Spurred on by a drunken evening at our local Owl Club with good buddy Bob Silva a plan was loosely hatched. We just HAD to have these beers for scientific testing purposes.
The wheels and deals were set in motion.
The Alpine growlers were going to be the key to the entire operation so naturally I immediately called up my old buddy Ralph...who fortunately lives a mere 2.5 hour drive from the Alpine Brewery and has 12 empty Alpine growers just sitting patiently on his garage shelves. Not enough for a proper growler expedition but a good start none the less.
After some quick math I figured we needed 20 full Alpine growlers in Roseville for the event.
Ralph set out two days later and secured 23 growlers of Alpine goodness (as well as some Sculpin from a quick Ballast Point stop)and now we were truly committed to the event both mentally and financially.
While Ralph kept the growlers on ice in So-Cal we went to work gathering the remaining items.
We begged a gallon of the Hop Sauce from brewer Scott Cramlet at Rubicon Brewing. Sponsored a ten growler weekday run to Russian River for their IPA's and used a going away party excuse to fill four growlers of Auburn Ale House Gold Digger IPA on a Tuesday evening.
The Uber Hoppy amazingly became available from our favorite local Beach Hut Deli in the 11th hour (thanks Nick). And kudos to the Frosts for making the trip across the mountains for the Great Basin and Fifty/Fifty growlers. New friend Derek Smith secretly supplied his home brew twenty minutes before the blind tasting began and also made the weekday RR run for us.
Of course there is a great many other big hoppy beers from San Diego and Northern California that we could have, should have and would have added to the mix but we gladly saved those for the next Epic event. There are always more comparisons and evaluations that must be done....In the name of science of course.
Seasonal availability and travel scenarios will likely dictate the next round as well. I would love to include another out of town brewery into the mix.....a little place called Walking Man from Stevenson Washington....another long time hoppy favorite of mine that I never get nearly enough of.
Special thanks must go out to my Mom for her great company and automobile that brought the Alpine and Ballast Point products North. To Ralph for making it all all a possible and remembering to add the Nelson to the list. To Rick and Bob for manning the cellar. And to Pat McIlhenney at Alpine who always responded to my emails so that we could finally include the Alpine beers in a head to head event with Russian River. And to Vinnie at RR for his state of the art hop legends. And of course Scott at Rubicon for allowing some Hop Sauce to leave Sacramento, and to Brian Ford for all that he always does for us and our local beer scene.
A big tip of the hop cap has to go out to foodies Tracy, Lisa, Jose and Todd for keeping our hunger at bay. Those jalapeno creations were particularly outstanding. And especially to all my friends (or people that somehow manage to put up with me) for attending and making it all great times.
So ya... I'm extremely fortunate that I have 30+ interested and beer knowledgeable friends to gather up and put on such a fun event. Friends that include commercial and home brewers, BJCP beer judges/writers and dedicated beer enthusiasts. I recommend that you make the effort to pick a beer style..... or a particular regions or breweries or whatever criteria that appeals to you and create your own Saturday night showdown. Because in the end with or without all the fancy names and titles all you really need are beer enthusiasts, a rough plan and of course good craft beers to evaluate and enjoy. The road trips for beer collecting should never be underestimated either and can easily be as much fun as the event itself.
Personally I can't wait to do it all again.
(*Sierra Organization of Beer Enthusiast Recruiters)