Beer Sherpa Recommends: Breakside What Rough Beast
The difference between a ripe piece of fruit and fruit-flavored candy approximates the difference between a good New England IPA and a poor one. The succulence of ripe fruit is composed of a matrix of aromatics, flavor compounds (esters, terpenes, etc), sugars, tannins, and acids. The experience of biting into such fruit is one of intensity through complexity. Eating candy is a flat experience, with a few simple but exaggerated flavor notes enclosed in the cottony embrace of sucrose. Also intense, but naive and derivative. A poor NE IPA is much the same--intense flavor, but bright and without nuance, along with a heavy, coating sweetness that wears on the palate as one drinks. (And god forbid you let a poor NE IPA warm--oh what sticky goo!)
Let me therefore direct your attention to Breakside's first bottled NE IPA, What Rough Beast. It has all the characteristics you look for in such a beer--hideous appearance, full mouthfeel, heavy fruitiness--but contains a stiffening bitterness that brings all the elements into focus. At first whiff, while the head still billowed, the aroma was sweaty. But this was both fleeting and misleading; the flavor of the Beast was pure fruitiness in all its spiky, lively complexity. I could tot up the various fruits I was reminded of, but the actual effect wasn't specific like that. More like the discovery, in some tangled forest, of a new, undiscovered species. I was surprised to find that after the head dissipated, the sweat disappeared too, leaving just those myriad points of fruit aromas. I was drinking from a 22-ounce bottle and took an hour to finish the beer; at no point did Rough Beast grow cloying or flaccid; in fact, the aromas intensified. It's a really, really tasty beer.
As I have an abiding interest in this style, I asked brewer Ben Edmunds about it. He confirmed what I suspected about the bitterness: "We wanted a little firmer bitterness than you see in most NE IPAs, but it's substantially lower than what you'd see in any of our West Coast-style beers. Just enough for balance really." The recipe, which started with Ben and then went into committee, has a higher finishing gravity and uses chloride, which is becoming a standard practice among makers of these beers. (For more standard practices, see our podcast on the subject.)
Interestingly, the brewers treated the beer the way they do all of them--fining it but not filtering it. "It's a firm, permanent protein/polyphenol haze," Ben says. "We absolutely want protein character to impact body (and thus the overall impact/perception of the beer)." I think one of the most important elements in this style is the yeast strain, which adds to the hop fruitiness with esters, providing that matrix of complexity. Ben agrees, and Rough Beast uses an English strain.
Like so many of Breakside's best beers, What Rough Beast is just a seasonal, so don't wait to grab a bottle.
The beer's name, incidentally, comes from the Hamlet of poetry, "The Second Coming" by Irish poet WB Yeats. ("And what rough beast, its hour come round at last/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?") A poem written after WWI and at the dawn of Irish independence, it, like Hamlet, gives us so many phrases still used in common speech: "things fall apart," "the center cannot hold," "slouching toward...," and of course "the second coming." It's an affecting poem in which Yeats correctly guessed that the troubles of the day were not the final chapter. If you're of a apocalyptic bent, you might even find much in it that speaks to the current moment. Go give it a read. I'd love to see more poetry-themed names, and if Breakside continues in this vein, may I suggest "What peaches and what penumbras?"