Stick out your tongue. Go ahead. Stick out your tongue, close your eyes, and think of that first sip of beer that you want to pass over your lips the second you get home from work tonight. I don’t want you to think of any specific beer, any specific style, just the flavor that takes to you to that special place that only beer can take you. While tastes and scents in beer are highly subjective, I do think that each individual will have a sort of “Flavor Wheelhouse” that predominates their palette and leaves them yearning for more. For me, that flavor that I’m looking for among all others is that beautiful bulbous fruit known as the Grapefruit – Citrus X Paradisi.
The thing is, I don’t even like grapefruit per se. Sure, I won’t push it aside if it’s already in a mix of other fruit, but you’ll sooner see me eating a piece of broccoli than see me lifting up a glass of grapefruit juice (Oh how I loathe broccoli). As a purely food-like item, I think grapefruit’s bitter, pithy* qualities are simply too rough for my delicate taste buds to handle. When you mix that flavor with malty goodness, yeasty bliss, and ample carbonation though – My how my world changes on the spot.
*Yeah, I realize I’m using grapefruit pith in a sentence, just like Nate Heck warned about, so please forgive me for my sins.
That grapefruit flavor I’m looking for comes from a few very specific sources. I guess it really just comes from one source, hops, but there a few distinct varieties that dish out the qualities I’m looking for. The big one of course is Cascade, one of the 3 C’s that predominates the IPA world. After that you’ve got another of the 3 C’s in Centennial, which many describe as the “Super Cascade”. Speaking personally, I’d call Cascade the grapefruit rind and Centennial the grapefruit juice, but I suppose it all depends how you use the hop and at what point in the process they’re added. Simcoe and Amarillo are also two usual suspects that pop up on many grapefruit bombs, as is Summit to some extent. Of course, it’s not just grapefruit that you get from these hop varietals. Citrus predominates, mainly in the form of tangerine, lemon, and orange, but you’ll find other floral attributes as well as a balanced earthy aroma. Again, it’s up to the brewer to work with the hops in order to achieve the flavor that they’re looking for. Lucky for me, that flavor tends to lean heavily on the grapefruit side when used for strong Pale Ales and most of the biggest Double IPA’s that I enjoy on a regular basis.
So, why grapefruit for this here Alehead? Quite simply, it’s because I don’t like pine. I recognize that I sound ridiculous, but hear me out just for a second. Take a bottle of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale for example. Huge hop presence, almost over-the-top to the point that it’s astringent. In the end I’m left with a mouthfeel of pine needles and sticky resin. Many, many hopheads go bonkers for that flavor profile and I can’t blame them one bit. If you look at the opposite end of that spectrum though, you’re usually gravitating toward the more citrusy IPA’s and the extreme end of that spectrum tends to be grapefruit. Make sense? Don’t answer that, I really don’t care if it makes sense. The point is, everyone says they love hops and love IPA’s, but no one ever tells me just what they love. “Dude, this beer is extreme!” Extreme what? Yeah, a brewer can over-hop any beer but you shouldn’t force yourself to like it if it’s not what you’re into. Drink a wide spectrum of beers from a wide variety of flavor profiles, but don’t be afraid to admit you like a particular taste more than something else.
With all that rambling and completely unresearched crap about citrusy hops out of the way, let me give you a little list of my favorite Pale Ales, IPA’s, and Double IPA’s that fit my perfect flavor profile.
- Ballast Point Sculpin IPA – Sure, there’s a ton of pine in their too, but no beer can present as much rich tropical fruit as this one. I finally, finally got to try this beer a couple weeks ago and it blew my mind. No wonder why it’s the top rated American IPA on Beer Advocate
- Lagunitas (Insert any name) IPA – Hop Stoopid, Maximus, Little Sumpin’ Extra! – The boys from Petaluma love their grapefruit. I love Lagunitas in an almost creepy way that’s not so “almost” creepy and probably goes a bit further than it should. Oh well
- Founders Double Trouble – Yes, I love their Centennial IPA more than anyone should love a beer, but the Double Trouble is simply insane. 86 IBU’s, 9.4% ABV, yet absurdly drinkable and balanced. The complete opposite of extreme for the sake of being EXTREME!
- Russian River Pliny The Elder – It’s kinda good, ya dig?
- Bell’s Two Hearted – More on the earthy side, but citrus does smack you around a bit. If you’re not a huge fan of grapefruit but want to step over to the other side, this is your beer
- Green Flash West Coast IPA – They should use this beer on NFL sidelines to bring crippled receivers out of their concussed states. One whiff and your eyes will pop
- Great Divide Titan IPA – You won’t find a dud in their entire lineup, plain and simple. Get some
Like anything, this list is subjective and many of you won’t find a hint of grapefruit, orange, or anything else in these beers. Does that mean you’re stupid? Well, probably, but don’t let that stop you from drinking up and experiencing all the best that beer has to offer. I of course drink every style of beer imaginable and I sure as hell don’t want to find hints of grapefruit in my Imperial Stout, but when I reach for my next Double IPA, that grapefruit taste is what will make me smile. Oh, and it will get me drunk. So it’s a win-win.