No Fiction Today, But…

April 14, 2012

I’d like to start something new here, something irregular, and discuss something a few of you may know that I’m rather passionate about. In short, I adore beer. Beer’s historical importance cannot be overstated, its social value cannot be properly quantified, and its variety cannot be defined. To that end, I explore as many forms of beer as I can with an interest in the unique, the obscure, the delicious, and the intriguing.

Yesterday, with my girlfriend, I sought out such an experience and I was bitterly disappointed.

There’s a brewery a fair bit of a drive from my stomping grounds in Orange County called I&I Brewing. They’re a small brewery in an industrial park with a tiny taproom. When we went in, they had perhaps ten styles on offer, including 3 different India Pale Ales (A standard IPA, an Imperial IPA, and a Double IPA). We decided to sample five of the beers (The Imperial IPA, a Strong Ale, a Tea Pale Ale, a Peach Wheat Ale, and a Cherry Stout) and got one of their (rather attractive) glasses. Mostly because plastic makes beer taste funny and that’s the alternative if you don’t purchase one of their glasses in their taproom.

Before I go any further, there’s one thing I do want to say about the brewery is that they’re not bad. They succeed in making the base beer styles they set out for, but I’ll get into the general problems with the beers as we go further. They do show potential, though, to be at least a solid addition to the microbrew cosmos. I don’t, however, forsee anything amazing coming from them.

The first beer we tried was the Peach Wheat Ale. I feel like it’s bad for me to really get into the flavors in this beer, the peach elements, or the wheat elements since the beer was thoroughly skunked. From the brewery. In their taproom. It was more than disappointing. But in the interests of fairness, I tried not to let this color my impressions of the other beers.

Next we tried the Pekoe Tea Pale Ale. I’m sure a few of my readers will note that Pekoe is not a type of tea, but a size of tea-leaf in the strange East India Company’s tea measuring system. All I could tell from the name was that it was a black tea of some kind, and the flavor of the beer didn’t help at all. There could have been some herbal elements, or flowery elements, that come from jasmine teas or darjeeling teas but it was drowned out by the saminess of the ale. There was a distinct Miller-esque edge to the beer, as if it were brewed with rice or too much adjunct, and it wasn’t nearly hoppy enough. A good Pale Ale is hoppy, even just a bit, and in California it’s surprising to not find any hops in a local Pale Ale (we are the home of Stone Brewery and Sierra Nevada, neither of which shy away from hopping anything). All in all I was disappointed. It wasn’t even a good pale ale, regardless of the lack of tea flavor.

Next we sampled the Cherry Stout. The nose was rather nice, thick and chocolaty with a heavy current of maltiness. A solid stout, in other words. When we tasted it, it was a stout. A decent stout. A successful stout. However, it wasn’t a Cherry stout. There were no cherry elements, either red or black, and there was no lingering flavor to the beer at all. Again, there was a bit of a Miller quality to the beer with an almost obscenely clean finish. It wasn’t that interesting, and it wasn’t that inspiring.

Next we sampled the Imperial IPA, which like the stout was a success at the basic style. It was, in fact, an Imperial IPA with hints of hops and an overarching malt flavor. It didn’t do anything interesting, though, and the hops weren’t strong enough to really meld with the maltiness. The malts were the entire flavor, for the most part, and there wasn’t a floral finish or a bitter finish to it at all. Again, like the stout, it had an extremely clean finish. While many may enjoy the sudden ending of the flavor, part of the enjoyment for richly flavored beers for me is the lingering taste, the after taste, and the way that flavors can shift across the palate after swallowing. None of these beers had that.

The last beer we tried was the Strong Ale. Again, they succeeded at the Beer 101 elements here. It was a strong ale, that’s indisputable. However, it wasn’t a good strong ale, it wasn’t an interesting strong ale, and it suffered from the lack of palate fascination. There were no lingering flavors for the most part and it was like drinking almost a pure malt, no texture or interest in the flavor. It also had a bit of the flavor of adjunct to it, a bit too much of the flat, bland flavor that comes with a lack of spicing. Overall, disappointing.

At the very least, they can brew beer and they succeed at the base elements. They have potential to get better if they get a little more adventurous and hone their styles a little more. If they were asking me, I’d say cut down the beers to just five or six and really perfect them before branching out. Explore methods to do more with palate tastes, especially upper and lower palate differences and lingering flavors after swallowing.

I&I feels like a homebrewer that’s just turned into a business. This isn’t bad, and it’s an important part of microbrewing, but they’re really not ready for the big show yet. I wish them the best of luck and hope that, in a few years, I can try them again and be impressed with at least one beer.

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