Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
I’m a huge fan of the not so humble Oak tree, its majesty has captured my imagination since I myself was a little acorn. Not only is the tree itself great but the wood has been crafted into barrels or shaved into chips to be used by the brewing and distilling industries for a very long time. As the keener eyed readers among you may have already noticed (assuming you’ve read any of my previous blogs) I’m also a massive fan of the American style India Pale Ale and so tonight’s experiment involves comparing one of my favourite IPA’s to exactly the same IPA that has been aged using a combination of French and American Oak in an effort to alter or perhaps enhance the flavours of an already impressive brew.
The duo of beers up for assessment in what is surely going to be a true head to head 'clash' are Titan IPA and Rumble oak aged IPA from Great Divide Brewing based in Colorado, USA. I’ll confess now that I have had both of these beers before, in fact I’ve had Titan several times both in a bottle and from a keg. I’ve also tried both beers at the same time when I was lucky enough to visit their tap room in downtown Denver when on one of my jaunts to the States last year. However this is the first time I’ve had the chance to sit down on my own, really geek out over them and pit them together in a one on one battle for survival where only the best beer can win.
It would have been easy enough to write this blog based on those previous tastings, I pretty much got the gist of the two beers and had made my conclusions. However I think it’s important, as a beer geek, not to over analyse every single mouthful of ale and looking back at when I first tasted those beers I wasn’t in a situation that warranted in depth analysis, I was out with my family and my girlfriend having a few beers on my way to see Steve Earle and so that was not the time to be taking tasting notes. It was reasons like this that previously put me off writing a beer blog, I didn’t want to agonise over every beer I ever tasted, sometimes I just want to enjoy a beer with my mates and as a beer writer this is something I will try to remember… or not depending on how much I had to drink the night before.
This time though is the time to sit down on my own with a bottle of each of these beers, see what sets them apart and try and decide if there are any benefits to ageing this wonderful ale on oak. For the record I have thus far been unable to find out if Rumble is aged on oak chips or in a barrel so I would genuinely appreciate it if someone could enlighten me. Both beers are a hefty 7.1% ABV and once again I am drinking them straight from the fridge as I believe that a cool temperature best suits this style.
Cracking both bottles open I take a whiff before I pour them, Titan is everything I remember; freshly cut grass, pine needles and bitter citrus, a real thick and almost creamy nose. Rumble is almost noticeably thinner, sharper but much less in your face with definite notes of vanilla creeping up the nostrils. The nose translates pretty accurately into the pour with Titan oozing out of the bottle and leaving a nice, rich head around the rim of the glass but Rumble barely manages to gather enough bubbles to produce one. I take another whiff and my initial thoughts are backed up and so I hastily move on to the tasting. I decide to take a sip of Rumble first because I feel pretty familiar with Titan and so I wanted to give it the full benefit of my fresh palate having not had any other beers before these today.
Clash of the Titan... Rumble in the Jungle, etc.
My initial taste of Rumble found it to be very bitter and sharp with those subtle vanilla notes combining with lemon peel and a tiny hint of lychee. I found Rumble to be lacking a little in body for an IPA and it had a very dry, bitter finish missing enough malt sweetness to back up it’s sharpness. Titan, on the other hand had a much thicker mouth feel and loads of bready, digestive biscuit-esque malts to balance out flavours of grapefruit, lemon and pine from the stacks of hops used in this brew. Titan also had a much longer, more satisfying bitter finish whereas Rumble was very dry and did not stick around to party in my mouth.
I’ve tried and enjoyed many barrel and wood aged beers before but I’m not sure that the IPA sees much benefit from this process. IPA should be as fresh as possible when it is drank so that you can reap the maximum amount of flavour from the brew and so with Rumble being ‘aged’ it implies that it might not be as fresh as a typical India Pale Ale. That said after finishing of my fantastic bottle of Titan I went back to the Rumble and found it’s flavour starting to grow on me, I definitely enjoyed this beer but Titan was so awesome it wins hands down for me. As beer preference is relative to ones own taste buds I would love to hear from anyone who enjoyed Rumble more than Titan and why they thought it was a superior beer.