Is there such a thing as a beer that’s “too” well-balanced? The brewer’s goal is to get the proper proportion of hoppy bitterness and malty sweetness (not to mention flavors imparted by the yeast and alcohol) that is most appropriate for the style being created. But occasionally that balance is too careful…too precise…in a word, too boring.
Terrapin‘s Rye Squared is a fairly “extreme” beer. The brewers took the recipe for their award-winning Rye Pale Ale and doubled the malt and hops. The high-gravity brew clocks in at 80 IBUs and 9.5% ABV. There’s no question that this must have been a challenging beer to produce. The talent and dedication that went into the Rye Squared is obvious. So what’s the problem? It’s just too damn smooth.
The Rye Squared pours with a cloudy, amber color topped with an off-white, creamy, buttery head that lasts very long for a high-ABV beer. Nice thick lacing gives a hint of the full-bodied brew waiting underneath. It certainly looks like a special beer.
The nose gives off a blast of hops at first. Grapefruit from the Cascade hops, plus spruce, and pungent herbs hit you immediately. But they VERY quickly fade away and leave a sweet, mild, biscuity aroma. Not a lot of noseburn from the alcohol and both the hops and malt aromas are much more subdued than anticipated.
That subtlety continues during the tasting. Wifey McHops proclaimed that it “almost tastes like nothing”. I wouldn’t go that far, but I can definitely see her point. The malt and hops are like a high-amplitude sine wave and cosine wave respectively. Taken separately, they would provide big, bold flavors…but they hit each other so perfectly that they essentially cancel each other out. Sure, there’s more than a trace of bitterness from the hops and booze in the finish. And that honey-drenched sweetness that the nose hinted at is certainly present in the middle. But it’s very strange to think that the Rye Squared has double the malt and hops of the Rye Pale Ale, but significantly less flavor. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance here. My brain is telling me that this beer should be overwhelming…but my tastebuds don’t lie. There’s just not a lot here.
Mouthfeel is thick, creamy, and very full. I really enjoyed rolling this brew around on my tongue. The surprisingly subtle alcohol burn minimized the drying aspect of the beer. This, in conjunction with the too-mild flavor and wonderful mouthfeel greatly increased the drinkability of the beer for me. It’s considered an Imperial IPA, but I would categorize it as something else entirely…like some weird hybrid-cross between an American Mild and a Barleywine. It’s certainly a good beer…and truly indicative of the talent of the Terp brewers. But the Terrapin website declares that the beer has a “mammoth hop aroma”, “is not for the faint of heart”, and that they “went a little crazy with this one!” When you read declarations like that, and then taste a delicate, mild, and highly drinkable beer, it’s a bit strange. 3 Hops for a good beer that should have been great.
Brewing beer is not a game for the reckless…but sometimes, you can be too careful.