Founders Azacca IPA: A Spoonful of Sugar (But not sweet. Well, a bit. Malt sweet. Shut up.)

Suggested listening: A bit on-the-nose, but absolutely my favorite version of the song. Dirtnasty. 

 

Coming out of my wife and I’s traditional observance of Stoutmas in December, I’ve been craving more hop-driven beers than usual. To boot, I’ve been seeking beers that are either single-hop or focus on one hop in particular; I’m working out some IPA recipes for homebrewing and trying to pin down varieties I want to use. This is how I came to snag a sixer of Founders Brewing Company’s Azacca IPA.

From revamped and repackaged flagship Pale Ales and IPAs to triple dry-hopped egg drop soup-looking NEIPAs, we’ve seen a changing of the guard in terms of favored hops among beer geeks. Resinous, grassy, but still citrusy varieties have given way to hops that produce super-punchy aromas and flavors that show juicy, candied, and tropical characteristics. I’m not here to judge; while I prefer my IPAs with some bite, I would bathe in Galaxy hop flowers if I thought the results would leave me socially acceptable. In my homebrewing “research,” I’ve been looking for the right modern-era hops to work into my recipes; mostly I’ve come away thinking “Gee, there really isn’t anything wrong with Centennial…” but since I’m in a phase of open-mindedness I’m trying some more.

This is where Azacca comes in. More than a couple brewers who I respect have been touting the qualities of Azacca as a substitute for some citrusy dual-purpose varieties whose pricing has gone a little loopy over the past couple of years (coughCitracough). I like a good fruity dual-purpose hop as much as the next guy and was a fan of Founders’ Mosaic Promise Pale Ale (review-within-the-review: I thought the Mosaic overshadowed the Golden Promise a bit, but admittedly I love Golden Promise enough to use it as my base malt and have a very fine palate line where Mosaic goes from pleasant to obnoxious, so YMMV. None of it stopped me from killing a sixer with the quickness. Carry on.) so this seemed like a no-brainer.

I’m not sure what I expected. I’d seen Founders Azacca around, and rolled my eyes a bit at the 15-packs of cans as they started hitting shelves. I mean, of course they did 15-packs–gotta take advantage of those gluttonous hop nerds, right? Shame on me; this is Founders I’m talking about. They almost always know what they’re doing, and Azacca IPA could low-key become a new standard for hopheads.

The first tell was when I poured the beer. Founders Azacca isn’t some two-row blank canvas for flavors rarely seen outside of smoothie stands; the burnt orange and gold colors let you know there’s some by-god Crystal malt being used here. Not only that, but the malt comes through on the palate! Yes, the mango and floral aromatics pop, but Founders takes advantage of Azacca’s dual-purpose abilities brilliantly. There’s a good amount of bite up front, with the advertised fruit notes blooming through the finish, which carries with a touch of malt sweetness that ties the room together better than Jeff Lebowski’s rug.

The beer made me think of “a spoonful of sugar.” Not the Mary Poppins song–well, not only the Mary Poppins song–but where that phrase came from: the sugar cubes dosed with polio vaccine to make it easier to administer to needle-averse children. A little sweetness in the name of giving the people what they need. Note: I’m not calling all beer geeks children. Not today, anyway.

What I’m saying is that in today’s beer environment, the clarity, malt character, and consideration of hop usage in Founders Azacca is all in the name of bringing something to “craft beer” drinkers that they don’t know they’ve been missing, something they don’t even know they need: an honest-to-gods IPA. I may have LOL’d in my kitchen trying that first sip. It almost seems brash.

I don’t know what the future holds for Founders Azacca IPA, but this is a supremely well-thought beer. This recipe is smart. Two-Hearted smart. Come to think of it, there’s another single (dual-purpose) hopped IPA that showcases the breadth of said hop while retaining the malt characteristics of the classic IPA. There are few levels of praise I can think of higher than a Two-Hearted comparison.

In a sane, just world, Azacca IPA takes its place among the “go-to” IPAs that traders and tickers scoff at but still occasionally drink lustily at bars or when they snag a 15-pack for the cookout at their buddies’ house and others discover and swear by. But this is 2017 and if we know anything we know that this is not a sane, just world, so who knows?

Oh, and will I be using any Azacca in my IPAs this spring/summer? Undecided. I know, I don’t like me either.

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