Beer Sherpa Recommends: Grains of Wrath Overkill IPA
What constitutes a great IPA? This unanswerable question reveals insights about the answerer, not the beer, much like a “best bands” list. The Clash or the Miles Davis Quintet? West Coast IPA or hazy? They are so different that comparisons are futile. That said, there are a few bands like the Beatles that everyone likes, and a great many love. If I were to guess what the Beatles of IPAs tasted like, I’d nominate Grains of Wrath’s flagship Overkill.
Grains of Wrath is the project of Mike Hunsaker, who built up a large reputation on the short time he served as the brewer at Fat Head’s in Portland. There he earned a reputation for IPAs that tasted the way heavy metal sounds, and when Grains of Wrath opened in Camas (immediately east of Vancouver, WA) with a metal vibe, it signaled he’d carry on where Fat Head’s no longer could. True to form, the ratio of hoppy ales to everything else is about 4:5 (or was the last time I visited). Grains of Wrath has an affection for stouts as well, and lagers are a regular part of the lineup, too, if in small numbers. These unhoppy offerings are not throwaways, either. Two of the best beers pouring right now are an Irish stout and strong English bitter that are both authentic and extremely well-done. But hops are the undisputed champs at Grains of Wrath.
All of that is a little misdirection leading up to a discussion of Overkill, which despite its musical inspiration— Motörhead—is remarkably balanced and approachable. I don’t think anyone would seriously disagree that lush aromatics and vivid, zingy hop flavors are mandatory in an IPA in 2019. We differ on levels of bitterness, clarity, body, and sweetness. Overkill has the aromatics and flavor dials turned to ten—but without the fuzz or chlorophyll that come with too many dry hops. It’s perfectly bright. The hops are like rays of sunshine, all bright and zingy, with a largely tropical-to-citrus profile, spiked with little shafts of pine and ganja. Modern taxonomists would probably call it a West Coast IPA because of its golden, mostly bright appearance—and they’d be right. But that description goes to show how far we’ve come from much more bitter, citrus-piney, caramel-kissed beers of even five years ago. It’s a modern West Coast IPA, the kind built—to the degree a 6.5% beer can be—for session drinking. Each sip is satisfying, and the flavors are calibrated to keep the palate fresh through to the last sip. It is honestly one of the best IPAs I’ve encountered.
Grains of Wrath, for those of you who haven’t braved a trip across the Columbia, is definitely worth an expedition. It’s situated literally in the shadow of Camas’s most infamous local landmark, the Georgia-Pacific paper mill, which has sent sour wafts of wet-paper downriver toward Portland for decades. A giant paper mill wouldn’t normally be an ideal neighbor, except that the mill mostly shut down last summer. Now it functions more as a somehow comely backdrop for pubgoers enjoying a pint in the beer garden outside.
It’s an enormous space, with a huge dining room and a bar containing windows to both the brewery deck and serving tanks. The menu will be familiar to the pubgoer, but the food is tasty and hearty. We stopped in on a Saturday afternoon, and the place was already three-quarters full by 4pm. It’s a lively family stop and has clearly become a cornerstone of the downtown Camas community. We had just returned from a hike up Beacon Rock, and if you’re looking for a nice afternoon, you could do a lot worse than building up a thirst climbing one of the best views in the Gorge and then retiring to a pint of Overkill or two.