This is Lord Mashtun Copperpot and Commander Pint O. Chug’s first tag-team tasting note. Like many of our joint ventures, we hope this is a complete and utter train wreck. And if so, we will be sure to consistently duplicate the effort.
Now, we harbor as much nostalgia for Harpoon as the next guy, having grown up in New England and spent our formative years in a fraternity basement frequented by an alum who worked for Harpoon (even if he did occasionally arrive with UFO in hand). As such, we have heard a lot — too much — about the Harpoon Leviathan series.
The years have not been kind to Harpoon. With innovative breweries like Oskar Blues, Founders, Avery and Victory distributing their aggressive, complex, smooth ales throughout New England, Harpoon has been forced to keep pace. The brewery is probably best known for its classic IPA, which was fine a decade ago, but it now tastes like Bud Light with half-melted ice cubes compared to the offerings from these new breweries. I am certain we’ve never been accused of being anything but haters and reactionaries, so we’d pretty much written off Harpoon for dead (for those who balk at this sentiment, have you ever tasted their Celtic Ale? Then be quiet.). Which is why our friends Doctor Ripped van Drinkale, Baron Sudsy von Brue and Barley McHops piqued our interest when they gave glowing reports of the Harpoon Leviathan series: Harpoon’s attempt to innovate and compete with the expanding beerscape before them. Could Harpoon be making a legitimate comeback?
Obviously, the style of this beer is an imperial IPA, and it has an ABV around 10%. We’ve featured some of the best of that style this site in the past, 8 of the 10 best of which the undersigned aleheads have tried between us. Unfortunately, as they have before, Doc and Baron and Barley sold us down the proverbial river. The two of us independently sampled Harpoon Leviathan Imperial IPA, compared notes, and found it equally disappointing.
Both Commander and Copperpot got 4-packs of bottles from their local package stores.
The Imperial IPA appears orange, nearly red. Its fluffy white head reduced to a film almost instantly, and left spotty lacing on the side of the glass. The moderate-to-high carbonation (for the style, anyway) is apparent from looking at the glass.
Perhaps the best attribute of this brew is the aroma. It smells divine: super hoppy, with fruity esters and a little bit of alcohol gassing off the top. And based on smell, we’d put this beer up against all the others on our top 10 list.
Thankfully, you don’t just smell beer. Not so thankfully, Harpoon’s Leviathan Imperial IPA goes sharply downhill after you smell it. Actually, the first sip is pretty good, so maybe it’s more accurate to say that the beer goes downhill after you take the first sip. There’s a peculiar bite to that first sip, however. Call it an ominous foreshadowing. Either way, we were not impressed by what follows.
Problem #1: the hoppy flavor is one-dimensional. Now, the brewery will tell you that they used four varieties of hops to make the beer. Fine–you win. It still tastes funny.
Problem #3: to the extent not covered by #1 and #2, this beer is way out of balance. Hops and malts don’t play nicely together. There’s a huge wash of cloying malt, followed by a gum-twisting hop cannon, followed by a heavy alcohol burn.
Problem #4: the combination of 10% ABV and super maltiness makes the Imperial IPA drink like sesame oil. It’s also a little too carbonated for the style–and in a way that doesn’t distract enough from the syrupy quality of the beer.
So what is the all-important (or utterly unimportant, depending on your perspective) rating that we give to this concoction? On the one hand, it’s still better than about 80% of all beers on the market. On the other hand, we try to rate beers relative to their style, and this is almost a disgrace to other imperial IPAs. The bar is just too high, and Harpoon is out of their comfort zone. So after much deliberation, and several attempts to actually enjoy the beer… we give it a 2.0.
And you could persuade us it doesn’t even deserve that.