A couple of years ago, as the craft-beer market exploded on the Canadian map, these budding breweries tended to focus on hops, producing some of the bitterest brews I had ever tasted. Two years ago, it seemed that everyone was putting out a massive IPA: tons of hops, a higher alcohol level, and big-bodied.
I loved it. I'm a big IPA fan, and these breweries delivered in spades. But the thing with an IPA is that if you want to drink other styles of beer at the same time, you had to drink an IPA last because you would blow out your taste buds and wouldn't taste anything else afterward.
But even when drinking IPAs together, you had to be careful. One time, I enjoyed a Class V IPA, by Whitewater Brewing, and then followed up with a Nickel Brook Naughty Neighbour. After one sip, I had to send the Nickel Brook back: not because there was anything wrong with the Naughty Neighbour, but because the hops of the Class V overpowered the flavours of the less-bitter follow-up pint.
Thankfully, the pub replaced the Naughty Neighbour with another Class V, at no cost. That's the mark of a good pub.
Last year, the IPAs seemed to be overshadowed by light-bodied session ales: Muskoka's Detour and Rhyme and Reason, by Collective Arts, come to mind. They were great summer ales: light in alcohol, full on flavour, but milder hops than the big IPAs of the previous year. It was like the breweries went in the opposite direction, and it was a good direction.
This year, the pattern has gone back towards IPAs but brought the session ale style with them. This year, they're calling them session IPAs or India Session Ales.
Whatever they're calling them, they are the best of both worlds.
Earlier this week, I reviewed a session IPA from Collective Arts. Today, I'm looking to the west coast of Canada and examine an ISA.
Red Racer India Session Ale (4% ABV)Appearance: a crystal-clear amber with an ample, foamy head that stays thick.
Central City Brewers
Nose: floral hops and light citrus.
Palate: orange citrus with a definite presence of hops, but not bitter. Almost like an unsweetened iced tea, with a mild finish.
Overall impression: if you want to try an IPA but are not keen on bitter hops, this ISA is your answer.
I really like this summer addition to the Red Racer line. And I find I like session IPAs. They have a low alcohol level but good hops: not as light as a session ale, and not as boldly bitter as some IPAs. This is the kind of beer that you want to enjoy on a warm summer evening, on a pub patio or on your front porch.
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
We'll see what trend comes next. Because no matter what direction the craft brewers are going in, I'm enjoying the journey.