A couple of weekends ago, I traveled upstate to be with family for my birthday, and as usual, stopped by Ithaca Brewing. Ithaca has been brewing beer since 1998, and distributing in New York City on and off for a couple of years now, but only recently made a big push with their seasonal releases as well as more year-round offerings. Flower Power IPA is one such year-round beer, and has developed over the years into the, in my opinion, excellent example of the style it is today.
India Pale Ale seems to be a problem beer to make well, or at least to my (irritating) standards. There are two main IPA styles, English and American, and both are defined by the use of hops, which of course give beer aroma, flavor and bitterness. Overgeneralizing, IPAs brewed in the East tend to follow the English IPA model, which uses English hops that give a grassy, flowery, herbal character to the beer, and the hops are used more to balance the malt sweetness than to highlight the bitterness they impart. The problem I find is that too often, these beers are too balanced, or worse, malty with only a little bitterness, ruining the whole point of IPA. American IPAs, on the other hand, use… wait for it… American hops, like the standard-bearing Cascade, Centennial, and Columbus hops grown in the Pacific Northwest, known for their citrusy, even piney aroma and flavor. American IPAs tend to go wrong by brewing with buckets of hops dumped into the beer without worrying about a malt base, and the beer winds up astringent and mouth-puckeringly unpleasant.
Ithaca Flower Power IPA is definitely modeled in the American IPA style. When I first drank this beer, about six or seven years ago, it was far tamer than today, and frankly boring and forgettable. Brewmaster changes, and evolving recipes and palates apparently contributed to the emergence of this beer as one for the short list in a bar or beer store today. And at 7.5% alcohol by volume, it’s the right strength for the style but not so big that you can’t enjoy two or three in an evening.
Flower Power IPA pours a clear, light amber, and at first kicks up a tall, big-bubbled head, but that settles to a thin layer shortly, and sticks around till the end. The aroma is just beautiful — all hops, the hallmark of a good IPA, and in this case it’s a boatload of citrus and tropical fruits: grapefruit dominates, with sweeter orange and pineapple notes throughout.
Ithaca dry-hops Flower Power, which greatly increases these hop aromas for the better. Dry-hopping a beer just means that the brewer adds a pile of hops to the fermenter, after the beer has been brewed. The aromatic compounds in the hops are therefore not boiled off as they would be during brewing, while at the same time the bittering compounds don’t get broken down to the point where they can add bitterness. The beer just smells hoppier, which in the case of most IPAs, helps the finished product.
Naturally, these aromas carry through into the flavor of the beer, with oranges dominating the grapefruit rind, and a slight sweetness from the malt to counter the bracing hop bitterness is more pronounced. This beer is rather highly carbonated, and that prickliness only seems to accentuate the hop bitterness here. The rough bitterness that explodes all over the palate continues through the finish, drying out my throat in a most pleasant manner. Just a tasty, tasty beverage.
As with all things in life, Flower Power does have a flaw. I’ve noticed that this beer breaks down pretty quickly. After maybe 6-8 weeks after bottling, it kind of falls apart, with the hop aroma rather significantly faded and the body turning waaaay too balanced for my IPA tastes. So check your date code — the Best By date tends to be three months after bottling.
I purchased this at the brewery, as it’s a scenic twenty minute drive from Mom’s house; by the case it’s around $40.00 there, but six-packs, there and here (Whole Foods Bowery should pay me for these constant mentions, but they do not) are around $12. Two dollars a bottle isn’t much for the IPA I’d vote as the best the East Coast has to offer, and if you’ve been looking for a bracingly hoppy beer brewed in the state, you won’t do better than Flower Power IPA.