A guest blog post by Bill Fishburn. You can follow Bill on Twitter @rwfishbu1.
The Brewery: Hale’s Ales, Seattle
Hey there! I’m back with October’s Northwest beer review. As you might recall, my intent with these posts is to be educational(if you’re a first timer, or you don’t recall, read more here). In short, I want readers to learn about craft beer and the Pacific Northwest craft breweries the brew them, while promoting an appreciation for those same beers.
This month I’m reviewing Hale’s Brewery’s Mongoose IPA. Hale’s Brewery is possibly one of the oldest microbreweries in Washington State (though I’m still researching this), having started in Colville in Northeastern Washington in 1983. After trying out a couple of other cities and brewing locations, they have chosen the Ballard district in Seattle as the location for all of today’s brewing operations. You can read their full history, and how Dave Hale’s love of English beer styles inspired and guided the development of this brewery at this page in their website. In true English brewing tradition, Hale’s uses open fermentation—where int he fermentation tanks are kept in a sterile environment, but open to the ambient air—and you can swing by their brewpub on Leary Way to see the entire process any time.
Thanks to a long-time friend who now works at Hale’s, I was put in touch with Chris Sheehan, Lead Brewer. Chris’s graciousness in answering my questions was remarkable as he had to coordinate with other Hale’semployees for some of the answers, and without his help, I may not have made myself-imposed deadline.
Q: What first got you interested in brewing beer?
I worked with a friend when I was18 who brewed his own beer. At the time my knowledge of beer was Coors, Bud,etc… large macros. We talked about it often, and although it took a few years before I tried it myself, it was definitely the seed that got me going. By the time I started brewing I was drinking more micros, and I made a game of never buying the same beer twice; just to continue to taste what was out there.
Q: What is your favorite brewing memory?
My favorite moment… there are a couple that are right up there, but the one that sticks out is when I brewed my first batch of beer at Hales – my first professional batch. I enjoy the thought of people drinking the fruits of my labor, and at that moment I thought how cool it was that so many other people would be drinking my beer, so many more than all the friends I had sipping my home brew. It was an epiphany tome—that I finally achieved what I had been working for years to accomplish.
Q: What is your favorite style to brew and why? To drink?
My favorite style to brew really is anything new; a seasonal, a one-off, or a new recipe. Although the process mostly remains the same for brewing all styles, a new beer feels exciting as it exercises the creativity in me. It took many beers to finally warm up to my palate, but I can salivate over the thought of a sour beer. I love the tart,complex flavor. Nothing compares to a beer with a little “horse-blanket”, and as off-putting as the description implies, there is no substitute.
Q: What is the single-most important variable to you in your brewery/process?
As a home brewer, getting a beer to ferment was always the initial hurdle, but after the brewing process was down,making sure clean bottling methods were used was the most important to me. In ever worried about being uptight on cleanliness until after the wort had cooled after the boil; nothing is more disappointing than putting in all the work and time in order to have gushing or spoiled bottles of home brew because you were lazy in the last step. Professionally, we have 4 brewers at Hales. In addition, our brewery is not automated, instead controlled by hand operated valves and monitored throughout by a single brewer. So at Hales, the most important thing is consistency.
Q: Do you have any tips (process, OG,FG, special ingredients) for home brewers wanting to clone Mongoose IPA?
As for a Mongoose clone, we use Columbus hops for bittering, and Amarillo® and Chinook for flavor/aroma. Malt bill is c[rystal]-40,c[rystal]-75, Munich, wheat, Carapils®. A word on dry-hopping: We never let our beer go longer than 3-4 days after dry-hopping – it seems to bring out a”dank”/vegetal flavor that isn’t very pleasant.
Q: Brewer question of the month: What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you on brew day?
Happily my brews at Hales have gone uneventfully, however, as a home brewer I once tried decoction mashing a dopplebock. An afterthought, the only other pot I owned wasn’t large enough to boil the required volume of mash to perform an adequate decoction. I had to use an addition of smaller pots collectively, which was a pain. Later, my mash gotstuck and took twice as long. My kettle boiled over, and I was sure all the effort was in vain, as two days later my yeast still hadn’t started fermenting.But in the end, fermentation kicked off, and 3 weeks later we were drinking a very palatable dopplebock that still was one of the better homebrews I made.
Q: What was the brewery’s vision for Mongoose IPA when you began developing the recipe?
IPA is a traditional style created and brewed by the English; being that we are modeled after English brewing tradition, we’ve had an IPA for a long time. As the popularity of that style began to grow in the US, we created a recipe which enhanced the hop profile to the likes of the American IPA drinkers.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to change about Mongoose, or has the original vision been achieved?
We were among the first breweries to use that style as a flagship beer. Today, Mongoose IPA is our best selling bottled beer. It has had changes to the recipe over the years, which are unavoidable as the ingredients will change slightly or become obsolete or better quality hops/barley are introduced. Our intentions are always to respect the audience of drinkers that have made that brand popular as well as producing beer that we enjoy drinking ourselves. The success of Mongoose is a great feeling, and as of a few years ago we added another IPA (Supergoose) to our lineup, which is one of our best-selling beers.
Q: Where can readers find your beers in WA, OR, ID?
Our beer can be found on draft and in bottles all over Seattle. Various grocery stores as well as Costco stores sell our bottles. We have smaller distribution in central and eastern WA, Portland, OR, and in Coeur d’Alene, ID.
The BJCP Style: English IPA
Hale’s Mongoose is an India Pale Ale (IPA), a style with a long history as varied as those who recount it. For some reason, it has gained a huge following in the US, and I can’t think of a single brewery or brewpub I’ve been to that doesn’t have their version of this esteemed and historic style. It is one of my favorite styles, and it is infrequent that you won’t find multiple breweries’ offerings of it in my beer fridge. In fact, if you were to stop by, and I didn’t have at least one representative of this style in my fridge, many of my friends would tell you it was probably because I had died. I love it that much.
The Beer Judge Certification Program provides style guidelines for the purpose of having a set of evaluation standards. They’re a collection of descriptions provided with some discipline, and for each style, they cover, inorder aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, and overall impression. Within each of these, the guidelines address each contribution in descending order of detectability.
For IPA, the BJCP provides us with three styles to choose from: English IPA, American IPA, and Imperial IPA. Since Hale’s beers were originally inspired by the small village breweries of England, and Mike Hale himself learned their techniques to bring English Ales to the Northwest, I’ll evaluate it as an English IPA. However, with the use of typically American hops, I could just as easily have chosen to evaluate it as an American IPA.
For aroma, you should expect “moderate to moderately high” aromas presenting as floral,earthy, or fruity—aromas you typically find in hops traditionally used England breweries. A slightly grassy dry-hop aroma is acceptable, but is not a requirement of the style. You may also be able to detect moderate caramel-like or toasty malt notes. Fruitiness should be low to moderate, and can be provided by either esters or hops.
In terms of what you should see in the glass, “the color ranges from golden amber to light copper, but most are pale to medium amber with an orange-ish tint”. Color is measured in Standard Reference Method or “SRM” units, and you can find numerical equivalents of color descriptions on the BJCP’s site here. “Golden amber to light copper” is equivalent to 8-14 SRM. In an English IPA,hop flavor is medium to high, and the hop bitterness should be moderate to assertive. In other words, flavor should present first and bitterness second. The hop flavor should be similar tithe aromas (floral, earthy, etc.). Malt flavor should be medium-low to medium high, noticeable but please, and it should support the hops, not detract or upstage them. English malts are typically bready, biscuit-like, toasty, toffee-like and/or caramelly, and these same flavors should be present in an English IPA. There needs to be enough malt flavor, body and complexity(typically derived from using a variety of malts). Finish—the sensation remaining after you swallow—can be medium to dry, and bitterness may linger into the aftertaste. Some clean alcohol flavor can be present in stronger versions, but contrary to the history of the beer, flavors imparted by oak are inappropriate.
The beer should be smooth in the mouth, and give a medium-light to medium-bodied feel. Any sensation of hop-derived astringency (sharpness, harshness, biting) is not acceptable. Moderate to medium-high carbonation may contribute to a dry sensation. Some smooth alcohol warming should be noticeable in stronger versions.
Overall, English IPA is a moderately strong pale ale that represents its traditional ingredients of English hops, malt and yeast, but in general, it will be less hoppy than its American counterparts and more malt characteristics will be present.
I pulled Hale’s Mongoose IPA from my fridge at 43F—maybe a little cold to be able to pick up some of the finer hop aromas I was anticipating. It poured a nice white head that persisted momentarily before settling to nice presence of lacing over the top of the beer. The color is an amber-orange hue, right on the money for style, and this particular example presents with some haziness, which I would surmise comes from some dry hopping.
In terms of aroma,toasty and caramel malt notes present before hop aroma, but the hops make a showing in the form of a pleasant fruitiness with some mild floral notes—likelyfrom the Amarillo. Before venturing further, I helped the beer to warm some. If you’ve ever seen a person in a bar holding their pint in both hands and turning the glass from time to time after the pour, but before drinking, they’re likely trying to warm the beer. I used this little trick, hoping to coax some more aroma and flavors from the beer,and I was rewarded with more of the fruity hop aromas. Mmm!
Taking a swig and allowing it to fully embrace my palate, I ran it over my gums and tongue before swallowing. My first impression was one of balance—the hop flavor and toasted malt provide a near-perfect performance in this beer, and neither seems to want the spotlight, each advancing and retreating throughout the swallow, the crystal malts providing a caramel flavor that partners extremely well with thehops’ fruity and floral flavor contributions. Then the magic happens; that thing all hopheads seem to live for: the bitterness comes through. Initially, I would describe the bitterness as fruity, but it devolves into a distinct grapefruit flavor that remains well after the beer has left the scene.
The style guidelines tell us this should be a smooth beer, and Mongoose is definitelythat. It seems to be more of a medium-bodied beer, with a sensation of malty sweetness present throughout the entire glass. I could detect no warming from alcohol, despite a moderately high starting gravity of 1.060, and what I wouldexpect to be a not-so-low alcohol by volume. I would describe the carbonation as medium low to medium, but the lacing it leaves behind is quite nice to look at.
Overall, I really enjoy this IPA. It is not a big hop-bomb waiting to blow your taste buds off. It is a subtly great beer with all the characteristics you’d expect in an English IPA. However, this particular IPA has the added bonus of a wonderful, assertively lingering, grapefruity hop bitterness to remind you that it is, above all, an IPA. Do yourself a favor and grab one if you see it on the shelf.