Story last updated at 4/16/2014 - 4:15 pm
Being hop heads up here, we love our big hop beers, but sometimes they can go a bit overboard.
I like hops just like anyone else, but I don't care for the wrenching bitterness that comes from over-hopping a beer just for the sake of putting a bigger International Bitterness Unit (IBU) number on the label. A key characteristic of a world-class beer is balance. Sure, one or another aspect of a beer can be featured or highlighted by making it stand out, but last thing I want to have to do is wash down an over-hopped beer with a glass of water.
One thing I do like is hop flavor. Note that hops do a number of things for beer depending upon when they are added in the brewing process.
Hops have to be boiled for a certain amount of time to add bitterness, but if they're boiled for more than a few minutes, all of the flavor is cooked off. The first thing to go when the hops hit the brew kettle is aroma.
This is why a number of hop additions are used at various times in the boil, depending on what aspect of the green stuff the brewer wants to accent. Finally, dry hopping takes place after the beer is boiled and fermented; sometimes hops are put into the conditioning tanks to make the freshest aromatic presentation possible. Conditioning is usually the last step before packaging.
There are alternatives to big IPAs when it comes to bold hopping, and red ale is one of them. As the name implies, red ales can range from amber to crimson in color. The color comes from medium malts used in the beer's manufacture.
The style isn't well defined, and really anything goes, but a red ale typically features the beer's underlying malt just a bit more than the average IPA. The hops in the beer can be all over the chart as well. The hop presence can be subdued or bold.
The beer can be subtle or quite bitter, but I think the better examples are evenly balanced and with the bitterness somewhat in the background. A couple of better known examples would include Redhook Brewery's Copperhook, Green Flash Hop Head Red Ale, and Lagunitas Lucky 13 Mondo Large Red Ale. I've had them all, so I'm always interested in any new iteration of red ale when it comes to town.
Here's a new one that really makes my socks go up and down. Ninkasi Brewing Company's Dawn of the Red India Red Ale is a true hybrid that sachets between a red and an IPA.
I fell in love with beers from Ninkasi as soon as they came ashore here in Alaska a couple of years ago. Ninkasi beers add a unique fresh dimension to mostly hop-forward beers in an IPA-loving world. Ninkasi hails from Eugene, Ore. Relatively new, the brewery's been around since 2006.
Per usual, a couple of beer-loving friends that homebrewed got together and dreamed of bigger aspirations. Some make it; some don't. Ninkasi was a hit right out of the first fermenter.
The brewery's named after the Sumerian God of fermentation, Ninkasi. The brewery remains true to its roots and sports an unofficial motto of "Believe the Goddess - symbolizing the Ninkasi belief in an elevated human experience through the social enjoyment and sharing of beer."
I like it. I like it a lot.
The brewery's plant is comprised of a 55-barrel system that cranks out about 95,000 barrels of craft beer a year. Note that a barrel is 31 gallons; the standard half-barrel is more familiar as the ubiquitous "keg ."
The beer's distributed here and in California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. I'm sure more and more states will scramble to get Ninkasi's primarily hop-forward beers as the brewery expands (it's done so three times already), but I'm glad we're in the mix.
Ninkasi's got some big ones; that's for sure. The big hop-boners in the bunch include the flagship Total Domination IPA, Tricerahops Double IPA, Believer Double Red (another favorite of mine) and a bunch of others I've had since we were lucky enough to get them up here.
I stumbled across Ninkasi Dawn of the Red by accident. Sometimes I don't pay attention, even to the brands I love. Me bad, but happenstance aside, I'm glad I did.
It was the label that initially caught my eye; Ninkasi always has something creative going on when it comes to packaging its beer, but I'm glad it stood out and caught my attention. I wouldn't have wanted to miss this bottled delight.
Dawn of the Red is an ale that delivers a full compendium of malt/hop balance that's not over the top, despite the beer's 7 percent alcohol by volume punch. A decidedly fruity hop aroma greets the nose, to the point that I thought this one would deliver a bitter punch. Surprisingly, this doesn't ring through in the flavor.
Remember how I feel that balance is key? Dawn of the Red does this. Instead of the big bitter blast hinted at in the nose, the flavor gives up juicy hop elements without the wrench. Yum!
The solid two-row, Cara-red, Crystal and Flaked Barley malts come through finely, but step back just a tad to let a bunch o' hop flavor punch the palate.
Look for the tasty (non-bitter) elements of Galena, Millennium, Ahatnum, El Dorado and Mosaic hops punch your mouth.
With hop names like that, you might think I'm describing pot.
Yeah, both the hop and dope plants have the same lineage (they're both weeds), but I sure get a dreamy sensation of the combination of these green leafy plants in aroma and flavor in Dawn of the Red. In the end, just a touch of bitterness hangs on into the finish of the beer.
The result? Tropical fruit essence greets the palate. Look for pineapple, mango and papaya in both aroma and flavor. Think Juicyfruit. Oh, there's a hint of bitterness, but in this one it's in the background and just balancing, although some of it shows up in a long swallow, deep in the finish of each sip.
Are you seeing red yet? You can find this stuff in 22-ounce bomber bottles and on tap around town, but if you're on the fence, you'd better hurry; the beer's only available between January and April every year.
In the interim, watch for our own Alaskan Brewing Company's Imperial Red Ale.
This one's as good and features both two row and premium malts, along with a nice compendium of Centennial, Citra Meridian and Summit hops to impart citrus, mango, mint and hibiscus elements to the overall impression, making this one a juicy beer indeed.
Being a beer within the pilot series, it's not currently in production but could pop right back. Red ales are good; taste for yourself.