You can't have too many opinions.
Lots of brewers say they don’t check their Untappd and Ratebeer scores, but we always do. It’s partly morbid curiosity, but we also get vital feedback from any comments, wherever they are posted or said. We are constantly critiquing our beers and expect you to do the same.
Since most of our beers have been New England-inspired, we usually know what to expect from the reviews. On the surface some love them, some hate them. The real interest comes from the tiny tweaks we make and how our drinkers’ comments inform whether it was the right thing to do. If we change the water profile to up the body, do people use words like “soft” and “pillowy” or do they use words like “thick” and “heavy”. When we give a beer extra time in tank it’s interesting to see if people perceive a more rounded flavour, or if the difference in too small to notice without more context. If a beer came up a little dry, do people clock it and do they enjoy it? Having such data come back at you is vital to the recipe creation process.
But releasing Too Many Opinions… was a complete unknown to us. While Pulp is probably found somewhere in the Midwest, with its robust bitterness but very juicy aroma, Too Many Opinions is our first bona fide West Coast IPA since our home-brew days. So let’s start with the difference between a great West coast and New England IPA as we see it.
New England IPAs are what we’re known for. They should be pretty much opaque, and somehow cast their own bright glow like orange juice. Aroma-wise they should smell much like tropical fruit juice too, but hints of pine, resin, grapefruit and more class hop aromas can add depth and savoury notes; on the palate it should be big, soft and finely carbonated, keeping that juicy vibe going but finishing balanced. By balanced we mean with enough bitterness to clean up the residual sweetness but not to bite too hard. In technical terms that means lots of oats and wheat in the mash, little to no hops in the boil but a ton of them in the dry hop, and a specific low-flocculating yeast that produces lots of delicious esters.
West Coast IPAs should be clear or slightly hazy, with an aroma more like a pine forest than a rainforest – green needles, sweet sticky resin, grapefruit and orange zest can all combine with (sometimes) a hint of caramel from the malt. On the palate it is lighter and zippier, with an explosion of fresh pine and zest building to a massive bitter finish that leaves you gasping for more. From a techie perspective that means a lighter malt bill, lots of hops in the boil even if it's pretty late, lots of dry hop again but a clean, flocculating yeast.
On the brew sheet our beer does look a lot like a West Coast IPA – all barley malt, classic C hops in the boil and dry hop, and a ghost of a yeast. The idea was something close to Pliny. However, we have some trademark techniques in the brewhouse that we applied to the beer, so we ensured it still had those threads that make a Verdant beer look and taste like one. We watched for the reaction with bated breath, especially since the fermentation had proved surprisingly efficient and landed the beer at 9.2%!
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s still not quite a true West Coaster, because we have made sure we retained that signature Verdant juicy profile and a rich, rounded body – and people picked up on that. However, this was slightly enhanced by the higher alcohol, which always masks some bitterness and adds a perceived sweetness even if the beer is drier as a result. But we were really pleased to see so many people pick up on the definite resin and pine that we were shooting for – a kind of sweet Christmas tree sap – and a whack of bitterness, though some said there wasn’t enough. Even more pleasing was how drinkable everyone thought the beer was, which showed we got a really clean fermentation that is vital to a great west coast beer. Everyone talks about lagers needing to be clean, but the same is true of west coast beers where even the tiniest off-flavours can ruin the dialled in, citrusy aromas the styles require.
So what would we do differently next time based on that feedback? Well, partly through the higher alcohol but also through our recipe, we think the beer could have been crisper and more aggressively hopped. So for the next brew we’ll up the quantity of hops in the boil (might even reach for 100 IBU), as well as the sulphate level in our water, which is what gives that crisp, clean and fast bite.
It's always reassuring when our sensory analysis is backed up by what people taste in the pubs and bottleshops we send our beer to. So please, keep reviewing and feeding back to us online. We take it all in, and it's part of how far we have come.