Category Archives: Founder's Brewing Co

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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The Beermonger Review: Founder’s Devil Dancer

The Beermonger Review: Founder’s Devil Dancer Triple IPA

Also; the Great Hop Debate, and the pitfalls of Fashion

I don’t often write reviews on Beer Advocate anymore. It’s a fantastic resource and community for novice and old-hand beer drinkers alike, but between writing the Arrowine newsletter every week and getting around to the blog now and then, I just don’t feel the need like I did 6-7 years ago.

I say this because back in July I got my first taste of Founder’s Devil Dancer Triple IPA. There seems to have been a great amount of discussion amongst Beer Geeks this summer over hoppy beers; how hoppy was too hoppy? Was there a point to extreme IBU beers? Stuff like that. When Devil Dancer arrived I snagged one for myself to see what the fuss was about. Later I found myself on BA and decided I’d post a review; after typing for a couple minutes though, I stopped and saved part of what I’d written for future use. Here’s what I kept from that abandoned review:

“…this is an exceptional, uniquely flavored beer. The thing is on some level I feel brews like Devil Dancer may be part of the problem rather than a legitimate effort at producing a truly wonderful super-hoppy beer. The aromas are pungent and tropical, promising a world of BIG. The palate is where Devil Dancer both amazed and slightly annoyed me: in some ways it’s an ultimate expression of the hop in modern American beer. The explicitness of the resiny, earthy hop character is a marvel, while the super rich pineapple and melon notes provide a contrast (note I didn’t say balance)…”

I imagine that sentence ended (if it ever did) with something like: “…that astounds but doesn’t save Devil Dancer from being a one-note-wonder.” I think I was going to write a review using terms like “pissing contest” and “style over substance”, possibly while invoking comparisons to a Kardashian or two (flamboyant, pretty but empty and meaningless in all ways that matter). But I didn’t. I wasn’t sure at the time why, but I’d soon find out.

I’ve been watching the most recent series of the BBC’s Top Gear. At the start of the second episode, James May reviewed the new Aston Martin Virage and took the opportunity to air a grievance he had with car builders today (relevant bit begins at :52). For those who can’t or don’t have time to access the video, here’s a brief synopsis of what May had to say (from a blog post no longer to be found on the Top Gear site):

“I may be alone in this, but I reckon that a lot of performance cars I drive lack proper feel. I blame the Nürburgring. Being able to claim that your daily driver holds a production car lap record somewhere in Germany is a good boast down the pub for the feeble minded, and the map of the place that Aston Martin embroidered on the center console of the N400 might make its owners feel superior, but it’s all nonsense.”

James essentially saw a culture of track-ready hypercars made to lap the ‘Ring trickling down, making even road-going ‘everyday’ sports cars into harsh-riding, unlivable (to him) absurdities. I realized I thought the same of Devil Dancer when I’d tried it–that I was fed up with the ‘flop it on the table’ contest that IPAs and DIPAs and now TIPAs  had wrought among the everyday Pale Ales and hoppy beers that so many are either just not used to or don’t prefer.

I also thought May should blow it out his ass: the Nurburgring is a temple to all of the things that make driving fast cars dangerously great, and to damn the ‘Ring is to damn us all to a Camry-riddled hell where no one exceeds 55 (intentionally, anyway).

I then realized was wrong as well.

Not long after trying that first Devil Dancer we featured it on the tasting table at Arrowine. The second time around I thought it was a triumph; I wanted to grab a handful and drink them over the next couple of years (it has the potential to go longer, but the hop character may be too well-missed by then) but didn’t–I have customers to sell them too, after all. Or should I say had–our stock sold out well before the tasting ended that evening. That the madmen at Founder’s could craft a brew this hoppy–that they could use the heroic amount of malt necessary to give it any kind of balance and not lose the earthy, rich, juicy mind-meld that makes you One With The Hop is beyond me. Devil Dancer is a beast; a legitimate and welcome addition to the Hop Pantheon.

You may ask: “So what changed, Nick? Was the second bottle just better? Are you a flip-flopping idiot with no clue of what you’re doing?” And I’d say: No, no, and don’t be a dick.

Seriously, don't be one.

Over the years, I’ve become more enamored of styles of beer that aren’t by nature very hoppy. As a consequence I don’t seek out the latest Hop Bomb when it comes out the way I might have 10 years ago. But, like most currently walking the Craft Beer Path, I began a HopHead and will at heart always be one.

Conversations about styles and trends are worth having, of course. But as I’ve discovered over the years (mostly working with wine, actually), there are some days where your palate may just be ‘off’. There may be days where something just strikes you the wrong way. Remaining objective in the face of something you dislike is probably the most important skill you can have in my line of work. While I am the beer buyer at the shop I work at, I don’t see it as my job to be a Tastemaker; folks ask my advice and I provide it. To be a Tastemaker is to enter the realm of Fashion, and if there’s anything I’ve learned about Fashion from years of forced Project Runway viewing it’s that when you follow the path of Fashion, one day you’re in and the next you’re out. Anyone who’s ever met me knows I’m not one for Fashion; why would I succumb to it in the world of beer?

Also learned: Heidi Klum is almost always pregnant. I never said I learned much.

Look at that partial review of mine again–doesn’t it sound awful? Jaded? Devoid of joy or context? If I never thought twice about it, I’d have been doing my customers a great disservice by striking a giant red X through a category of beer that has produced some of the best known and loved brews of the past 20-30 years. Beyond that, I was plain wrong. Skepticism can be a great thing; cynicism kills.

That is to say, Devil Dancer is fantastic and Founder’s keeps churning out some of the best made and well-thought ‘Extreme’ beers in the world. So the next time you try a beer or wine and it doesn’t send you over the moon, think twice before writing that scathing review, or tweet, or Facebook post. Be sure of where your palate’s at, and examine why you didn’t like it. Most of all, never be unwilling to try something again. You never know until you know–you know?

Until next time…

Harvest Time

So, it’s Fall already. Hell, it’s not far off from winter. I just wanted to give a quick rundown of some of my favorite seasonal beers from this Autumn:

Sierra Nevada Fall Harvest & Chico Estate Harvest: My first taste of the Estate Harvest, which I had only heard about until this year. The Fall Harvest was pleasant as always, finding a great balance between the intensity of the wet hop and that classic Sierra Nevada smoothness. The Estate was more robust with fruit notes and earthiness, but still managed to restrain itself from being ‘one-note’.


Bell’s Oktoberfest: This has been my favorite Octoberfest beer for the past 3 years now, and no one is stepping up this year to change my mind. Awesome fall beer; maybe not entirely traditional, but it works for me. A bit more malty and structured than you may expect from the style, which makes it perfect for a session. Now, if we’re at an Octoberfest celebration and I’m about to put down brats by the pair and beers by the stein, give me something lighter…


Founder’s Harvest Ale: A strong showing. We just started seeing the Founder’s beers in VA earlier this year, but they are making their presence felt quickly. From the very cool Red’s Rye IPA to Breakfast Stout to this wonderful wet-hop ale, I haven’t been let down yet. Sharp, resiny hop flavors are supported by an appropriate amount of bitterness. Like stumbling into a pine tree in a morning-after stupor: Alerting yet comforting.


Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale: We have a special place for the pumpkin beers here in our home, this one in particular. It’s my wife and I’s favorite and we look forward to seeing those 4-packs every fall like little kids at Christmas. What that says about us I’m not willing to think about right now, but I’ll tell you that no beer combines the spirit of strong American craft brewing with the rich flavors and spices of pumpkin ales in better harmony than the Weyerbacher.


Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale: My #1-A pumpkin beer. Always a treat, especially when my wife talks about how ‘meh’ it was last year before asking me to bring home 4-packs of it (happens every year, BTW). To clear the air, the recipe is pretty much consistent year-to-year now, so no year should be better than another. Back in 2004 or so, I don’t know for sure. I think it wasn’t until about 2006 or ’07 that the Punkin’ was carved in stone, so to speak. Either way, grab one if you see one—they seemed to have finally brewed enough to make everyone happy but it still won’t last all that long.


Southern Tier Pumking: The Monster. The Prince of Pumpkin flavor, the Sultan of Spices, the Chairman of the Gourd. People, I try a lot off stuff and I’m not bragging when I say something has to really work to make an impression on me. Like I used to say to vendors and brewers alike, “I only have so much room on my shelves—you have to earn your spot”. So for me to immediately recall every nuance of aroma and flavor in a beer on command tells you something about the experience. My not being able to handle a bottle of it myself (even if it’s a bomber) says something too. Their Creme Brulee I can put down alone; give me a snifter or a tulip glass and I’m in. Pumking is too much goodness for one human being. I split the bomber I got with the Mrs., and the smaller portion allowed both of us to enjoy the dead-on pumpkin pie impression Southern Tier pulls off here. It’s not a drinker, it’s an experience. One worth having.


Boulder Brewing Cold Hop: Not necessarily a Fall seasonal, but this is when it gets released so I’m including it. My favorite Boulder beer by far, Cold Hop is a clever blend of American IPA hoppiness with a traditional English-style Pale Ale (recipe courtesy Charlie Papazian). The result is literally the best of both worlds. It’s like Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale and St. Peter’s English Ale made sweet love and had a baby. A delicious, wonderfully drinkable baby.


Ok, that’s the quick rundown of beers off the top of my head. Honestly this was going to be a longform review of the Sierra Nevadas, but this was also supposed to be written about 3 weeks ago, so there.

Next time (and this will be soon, as I am tasting and taking notes tonight): A surprise from Bell’s? Stay tuned, hop fans—same Beermonger time (whenever), same Beermonger channel.

Don’t forget to follow your friendly neighborhood Beermonger on Twitter for my thoughts on what I’m drinking, news as it breaks and pretty random observations usually relating to the NFL, comic books and TV.


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