99 Pours has chosen a topic close to my sweet and sticky little heart for this month's Session: novelty beers. So much weird random crap in my stash to choose from. But, with a Session audience watching, I decided to go for a well-known pair: the novelty beers of the moment, if you will.
They are (both) International Arms Race a collaborative/competitive project by BrewDog and Flying Dog. The novelty lies in the specification: a zero-IBU IPA made without hops. Daft, perhaps, but exploring what can be done in beer without the use of hops is one of my hobby-horses so I had to have these. Steve of Beers I've Known very kindly donated the bottles to me and I opened them side by side.
Though both are pale ales at 7.5% ABV, there was an immediate difference on pouring, with the BrewDog coming out a clear amber, shading towards red. The Flying Dog version was a paler orange but clouded by quite large globules suspended in the body of the liquid. Neither beer held a head for very long.
BrewDog also won the battle of the aroma, with some wonderfully enticing herbal smells: I got a big whack of rosemary in particular. It also avoided being any way medicinal, which can sometimes be the downfall of herb-infused beer. Conversely, I could get hardly any vapours from Flying Dog's effort.
But the primary front in this war was always going to be the flavour, and Flying Dog aces it, showing big white pepper notes at the front, given a twist of exotic sophistication with cedar and sandalwood spicing at the finish. Best of all, the flavours are bright, clean and distinct, making the most of the novelty and doing quite a job hiding all the alcohol. BrewDog's beer was a bit of a mess by contrast: much heavier and quite sweet, to the point of sickliness. The best I can do flavourwise is herbal bubblegum dipped in nutmeg, but even that doesn't quite cover it. It's certainly flavourful, but I didn't really enjoy it.
Despite the failings of the beers, I still think International Arms Race was a worthwhile experiment and I applaud the efforts of all brewers to do once-offs and oddities. It's a big part of what keeps beer interesting for me. Besides, every beer style started out as a novelty at some point.
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