Craft Beer Corner
Ballast Point Sculpin
(Editor’s note: Cory Byrom, local craft beer enthusiast and home brewer from Peachtree City, shares his opinions on craft beer from all over the world.)
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Ballast Point's Big Eye IPA, a grassy, hoppy beer that exemplifies all that is good about West Coast-style IPAs. As the American IPA style has expanded over the years, though, another kind of IPA has grown in popularity, and Ballast Point is happy to offer another IPA in their year-round lineup in order to showcase the more citrusy, fruity side of the style. Sculpin is a boozy beer that dials back the bitterness in favor of earthy tones and tropical fruit. If Big Eye is an IPA for spring, Sculpin is an IPA for beachside barbecues and lazy summer days.
The history of the IPA traces back to beers that were exported from England to India in the 18th century. The story goes that they were highly hopped and stronger in alcohol to preserve them for the long voyage. How much of that history is myth is unclear, but by the time the style found its way to American brewers, it was fairly established as a highly hopped, dry ale with an average-to-high amount of alcohol compared to the porters and pale ales of the time. Once American brewers started brewing their versions, they changed things up the way Americans usually do: they made them bigger, stronger, and uniquely American. The “noble” hops of England were traded for American varieties that were more bitter and piney, and the ABV settled in the 6-7% range.
The so-called West Coast style pale ales and IPAs continue to represent these traits. But continued innovation and refinement has brought much more variety to the IPA style, and that's where Ballast Point's Sculpin comes in. This beer focuses on the fruity side of hops, both in the aroma and taste. It's floral and bright, but not nearly as bitter as IPAs you may be used to. The color is a deep golden, with reddish bronze hints in the light. A big white head sits atop, and hangs around for quite a while, leaving ample lacing around the glass as you drink. It's fruity without being too sweet, with a little honey sliding along with the strong malt backbone (which any good IPA should have), yet it finishes dry, which keeps it quite drinkable. Those citrus and tropical fruit notes (mango, pineapple, grapefruit) really shine, mingling perfectly with the earthy, fresh hops. It's wonderful.
It would be a neat experiment to sample Ballast Point's two IPAs side by side. Frankly, it would be hard for me to pick a favorite of the two, as both are delicious, and each one perfectly exemplifies the type of IPA it's striving to represent. If your averse to hoppy beers in general, you may not want to tackle a sixer of Sculpin in one session, but if IPAs are your thing, and you're not afraid of that slightly high 7% ABV, then you'll find Sculpin hard to beat. A
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(Cory Byrom is a stay-at-home dad to three young kids. He likes loud music and strong drinks, and in his spare time he enjoys listening to other people's stories. He hosts a monthly storytelling show in Atlanta called The Iceberg.)