IPA, Trends and Epic Hop Zombie

There are two things beer geeks love speculating on.

Craft beer bubbles (the topic of the current “session“, so I’ll leave my voice out of this) and “what the next big trend will be”.

Over the last 12 months, every time future beer trends in Australia comes up my reply is “IPA”.

The reaction I get when I say this is akin to the reaction you would expect if you told a group of lefties you thought George W Bush was too liberal.

(Before we continue I should note, I consider double IPAs, or IIPAs, to be the same as a normal IPA for the purpose of this discussion. My reasoning, the goal is essentially the same for both in modern times. Big flavours, big aromas, big bitterness. )

But here we are, nearing the end of 2013 and the two  of the biggest players in good Australian beer, Little Creatures and Mountain Goat, have released IPAs as part of their regular range. Bridge Road have started doing a “Beer School” Single IPA four pack as well as releasing their “Bling Bling” IIPA earlier this year and you can’t spill a beer in Melbourne without getting it on someone asking you if you’ve tried the new Monster Mash IIPA.

Mountain Goat and Little Creatures adding IPA to their core range is no accident. They are probably the two most respected “craft” breweries in the country and they don’t just add a core beer as a bit of a lark. It’s a calculated move.

Let me clarify my point. When I have said in the past that IPA will be the next trend I’m saying I don’t really think we have overarching dominant trends in this country just yet.

There are so many breweries starting up and releasing so many interesting beers that I think the only trend has been “good beer”.

Although admittedly the whole Belgian/White IPA thing recently was a bit of a trend. No one really saw that coming  – but even that boiled down to only handful of breweries.

However I still think IPA is crucial to this whole scenario and we are starting to see breweries pay more attention to that. It feels like there has been a bit of avoidance and unwillingness to accept the fate that we need IPA to grow good beer.

A well made modern IPA is a thing of absolute beauty. It is what has driven the beer movement of the last few years in the USA and what I think will help drive good beer acceptance in Australia.

IPAs are obvious, unsubtle, almost a bit cliché.

They are the commercial rock, the Rolling Stones or  Red Hot Chilli Peppers, of the beer world. Imitated, copied, redone, influential, tired, often boring as hell, but when at their peak; completely perfect.

I don’t think Australian IPAs as a group have reached that level yet. There are some exceptions, the Bridge Road Bling Bling (IIPA) – which suffered initially due to carbonation problems, and Feral Hop Hog spring to mind. But I don’t think too many other breweries are quite nailing it.

It’s almost as though the Australian beer scene needs two or three years of IPA domination to raise the profile of good beer and excite palates with bold, vibrant rich flavours.

To shake it all out. Get it out of our system.

Parallel to this is obviously the creativity we are also seeing with interesting ingredients, events and style subversion. That will obviously continue and I think we are all glad for that.

This next part might be some parochial bias, but if there is one country doing exceptionally well in the IPA space, it is New Zealand. So many great beers are showing two things that are too often overlooked in hopped-up beers: balance and technique.

Anyone can throw a lot of hops into a beer but can they do it well?

One brewery that I think does this better than anyone in our part of the world is Epic. Sure they have been famously (in the NZ beer world at least) called a “One Trick Pony” for their string of IPAs.

But let’s face it, it is a damn good trick and they have since begun calling their single hop IPA series “One Trick Pony”.

So in quite possibly the longest intro to a review, ever…

Epic Hop ZombieEpic Hop  Zombie.

The Basics

Epic, out of Auckland, New Zealand, contract brew at Steam Brewing Company, where Luke Nicholas, the man behind Epic, was formerly head brewer.

Luke used to have a cohort in the form of Kelly Ryan. Together they made great beers and did a road trip around NZ and filmed it. You can see it online here: http://nzcraftbeer.tv/

It needs to be mentioned that Kelly moved on to Hamilton, NZ, to head up Good George brewery.

However recently he’s announced he’s left due illness in his family. I, like the rest of the industry I’m sure, wish him nothing but the best for both his family and the future.

The Hop Zombie is a Double IPA, 8.5% and available at most good bottle stores in Australia and NZ. Also a few kegs around the place too. This is the third or fourth batch after a long hiatus due to hop shortages.

How does it look?

The bottle is 500ml, green label and says “Epic Hop Zombie” on it. It’s simple but it works.

The beer itself was described in the Beervana 2012 program as “School bus yellow”. While the current batch is slightly darker, that’s still a fair description (my photos here aren’t “true” colour).

How does it smell/taste

It smells like kiwifruit, mandarin. Big, rich, fresh aromas escape from the bottle as soon as you open it.

It tastes the same, but with a palm sugar like sweetness and a sharp clean bitterness. It’s very dry, surprisingly mellow while remaining constant and refreshing.  Epic Hop Zombie 2

Not an enamel stripping “drink only with a spicy curry or only if you have ever described yourself as a hop head” IIPA, but rather a rich, sweet, flavoursome and moreish beer.

It’s sunshine in a glass.

Enough sweet malt to soften the hops. Like a sugary biscuit with layers of vibrant summer fruit.

The Verdict

I’m writing about this beer, not because it is new, but because I think this, along with most Epic beers, are the perfect example of how I think hops can be utilized. Balanced with malt, fragrant, rich, inviting and refreshing rather than overwhelming and relentless.

So obviously the verdict is that I love this beer.

Epic Hop Zombie 3

Also try:

8 Wired – Super Conductor.

The IIPA from 8 Wired, also NZ, is another big IIPA. Closer to the enamel stripping ones but also fresh, loaded with tropical fruit flavours while being drinkable and balanced.

Bridge Road – Bling Bling.

Mentioned above as having carbonation issues when it was first released. Those have gone now and every time I have tried it, I love it more. Again, balanced.

Clown Shoes – Galactica.

I’ve been nothing but impressed by the beers from Clown Shoes (USA) that have arrived on our shores recently, and this is no exception. Another IIPA and again… balanced.

Balance your hops and your malt and we are friends.


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