There have been no beer styles that have ridden the wave of the craft beer craze to the degree that IPAs have. The 2008 BJCP Guidelines listed three varieties of IPAs: English, American, and Imperial. The 2015 update now lists four – English, American, Specialty, and Double – but the Specialty category defines six more (Black, Brown, White, Rye, Belgian, and Red) and leaves the door open for countless more to be added (Northeast IPAs are sure to be under consideration for the next update.) Further, IPAs are also classified by their strength:
- Session: 3.0-5.0% ABV
- Standard – 5.0-7.5% ABV
- Double: 7.5-10.0% ABV
So there are an endless list of possibilities within the IPA style and most breweries have a number of IPAs in their roster, often one of them being their flagship beer.
A relatively new brewery to enter this market is Singlecut Beersmiths, located in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, NY, and they are no exception to this rule. A stones throw from my home in CT, they’ve recently started appearing in limited quantities in my local bottle shops and I’ve heard good things, so I picked up a bottle of their Is This the Real Life? IPA to see for myself. (As an aside, music, guitar, and amps are their schtick, so their beers are named as such.)
First, the vitals:
- Style: American IPA (BJCP 2015 – 1D)
- ABV: 7.2%
- IBU: 120 (bottle), 110 (website)
- Color: 7-8 SRM estimated
- Hops: Pacific Northwest, New Zealand
- Malt: Unknown
- Cost: $7.99/bottle (1pt 9oz)
Technically speaking, this beer doesn’t fit nicely into a single category. The ABV is on the high end for a standard IPA, but their claimed bitterness is well above the range of 40-70 provided by the guidelines. This is one area where breweries are taking the
liberty to push beyond the specs for this style, and while I don’t object to not being boxed in by the guideline, the “more is better” approach to hopping isn’t always successful.
The bottle is a 1pt 9oz package and the label is a nice matte paper with spot varnish to highlight the brewery name. I love the die cut Les Paul head stock peeking out of the top of the label…a really nice touch and nod to their love of guitars.
The beer is a deep orange color, slightly hazy, and has a slightly off-white, fluffy head that reduces to a layer of tiny bubbles after about 2 minutes. The foam clinging to the wall of my tulip glass leaves nice lacing as I drink this beer. The smell is, as expected, all hops and very fruity. Tropical grapefruit is the strongest at first, but later the mandarin orange becomes more noticeable.
My first sip is a mouthful of beer, to say the least, and is slightly sticky. Not as dry as my previously reviewed Modern Times Fortunate Islands, which finished at 1.008, so I’d put this one around 1.012. The beer is very hoppy, but I doubt that I could distinguish the listed 120 IBUs from 90 or even 70 unless side-by-side, so it seems excessive. The fact that the ABV is in the Standard range but the IBUs are so high throws the IBU/OG ratio out of whack. Whereas you might expect something in the 1-1.25 range, this probably comes in around 1.7. While I think this beer is hopped for the sake of hopping, and this dominates the profile, it’s not overpowering. I don’t think the IBUs can even be perceived in this range, but it’s not as pleasant to my taste buds.
Ironically, the alcohol esters are a little punchier than I’d expect from 7.2% and so much bitterness, so I’m not sure the best balance has been struck here. Something seems off to me.
Flavor-wise, I’m picking up slightly floral, very soft notes, especially towards the back end of each sip. A medium body with resiny hops that come through later in the glass. Although the hops are clearly prominent, the body of the beer allows them to be front and center without overpowering the flavor. I pick up very little malt flavor, but the color would suggest mostly 2-row with only a little bit of crystal on the low end of the Lovibond scale, maybe 20-40.
The grapefruit continues to take front stage and I let the 2nd half of my beer warm for a little while. When I return, the aroma has opened up, partly due to warming and partly due to being able to get my nose fully into the glass. By the end of the beer, it’s gotten a little too warm and the alcohol esters are too strong.
While I enjoyed the experience of this beer (the bottle, color, aroma, and trying a new brewery,) I didn’t love the beer. If this review seems a little confused, it’s because the beer is too. The hopping tastes too strong to me compared to the maltiness (or lack thereof) and alcohol, but at the same time they’re not overwhelming. I wouldn’t expect any more malt flavor here, but the hops and bitterness are not extremely well balanced with the alcohol. For my taste buds, I’d like to tone back the bittering charge to achieve a more reasonable range of 50-60 IBUs. I’ve been warned that some Singlecut beers are better than others and I’m looking forward to trying some of their other beers before I make a final judgment on the brewery.
JK’s Rating – 3 out of 6