Saturday, 27 February 2016

Three Epic (drinking) evenings in Oshawa

I thought about it for only a moment before shaking my head at my own foolishness.

There may have been eight different beers in my box of fun from Down Under but I wasn't fooling anyone. There was always only going to be one beer that would be chosen first.

It was Hop Zombie time.

Orange and grapefruit bouquet with a floral aroma as well. Resiny and chewy citrus on the tongue, not unlike orange marmalade, with lots of tropical fruit, pepper and sweet malts. If I could quibble I would say the carbonation wasn't as prominent as I hoped, but as it had just arrived from a long voyage a little jet lag could be expected. Outstanding and world class beer.

Yeah, it was worth all the fuss.

After all the time, energy, expense and words expended in the name of this beer - this is the sixth blog written about it, fer crying out loud - it could be no other brew that would be first out of the box. The real question was what do I drink next?

I received my FedEx package on a Monday afternoon but because of work and family commitments it would be that evening before I got to my treasures - nine hop bombs from Epic Brewing (Auckland, NZ), courtesy of the Glorious Imp and the Divine Miss Ellie. With a 4 am wake-up call for work I had just a couple of hours of drinking ahead of me.

I wasn't going to drink them all in one sitting so a careful strategy was in order.

It was lucky then that I had Beer Bros Steve and Don to help me with my choices. "Drink ALL the beers," shouted Steve all the way from Wellington, N.Z.  "No! Save the big guys for tomorrow," cautioned Don from much closer Burlington, Ontario.

The legend that is Hop Zombie
Yeah, I know. Don being a voice of reason when it came to alcohol consumption was a new one on me, too.

So I made the decision to not listen to that big bully Steve and spread out my drinking over three magical evenings. After all, six of the nine bottles topped eight per cent alcohol, highlighted by Four Horsemen of the Hopocalypse and its massive 14 per cent ABV.

Steve, by the way, has had all the beers in the Epic fun box and seemed slightly offended that I felt the need to ask him. "I make sure to try all of Epic's offerings," he said rather huffily, adding that he enjoyed "at least one of each of them" at the last West Coast IPA Challenge at the Malthouse, Wellington's premier craft beer bar.

He wasn't too butt-hurt, however, as he stayed to offer encouragement from half-way 'round the world as I moved on from Hop Zombie to No Agenda, a most  excellent 7.5 per cent Brown Ale, a style I'm slowly coming around on.

Smells of brown sugar and pine and tastes of toffee malts and citrus with some sort of piney/grassy/spicy thing going on as well. Tough one to figure out but I liked it a lot.

Then it was on to the only 'session' beer in the mix: Epic Awakening, a 5.2 per cent Pilsner.

Mild lemony and peppery  aroma. Light and spicy on the tongue with citrus and a bit of pineapple and lime, with some sweetness. Hoppy. Good.

Steve is shouting from the South Pacific again, demanding that I have the Four Horsemen next, oblivious to the fact that I have to be up for work in four or five hours. I ignored him and drank my last bottle of The Dark Prince, a Black IPA from my local brewery Manantler in Bowmanville.

A dark and delicious nightcap that WASN'T 14 per cent alcohol.

Evening #2: When the big guns came out

After I  dropped off my son at his Mom's the next night I went right to the Four Horsemen of the Hopocalypse, a Triple IPA that is the brainchild of four of New Zealand's best brewers: Our man Luke (The Glorious Imp) Nicholas of Epic; Kelly Ryan of Fork & Brewer; Joseph Wood of Liberty; and Steve Plowman of Hallertau.

It's a big, bodacious beer at 14 per cent alcohol and it turned out to be the real prize in the box.

It has a fluffy head that seems to last forever and a powerful resiny aroma of pine, orange pulp, caramel malt and some sort of dark fruit. All those sweet malts give it a serious boozy kick  that threaten to overwhelm the massive load of hops. But they don't and the result is rich and thick and more than a little dangerous.

Four Horsemen IIIPA
Next up was Epic Imperium,  a nine per cent Imperial Stout, a beer that scored a very good 96 on Rate Beer but just a 53 for style, which makes zero sense to me, but then there are plenty of examples of Rate Beer scores that seem illogical at best.

Bitter chocolate, plums of various ages and a bit of coffee on the nose. Big taste of roasted malts with more bitter chocolate and dark fruits. Tasty.

My review - I  was the 53rd person to rate the beer - didn't affect the overall score but I did manage to bump up the style points from 53 to 55. There. I did my part.

The last beer of the night was The Observer, an Old Ale that checked in at a substantial 9.7 per cent ABV.

Red wine and bitter chocolate aroma. Lots of different dark fruit on the palate with rum and raisin, coffee and more chocolate. Strong malt base but not overpowering as the alcohol is well hidden. Epically good.

The Observer is billed as a 'Timeless Ale," which was true only for the beer. For me, it was time for bed.

The Pacific IPA Challenge and the end of the Epics

I kicked off the third and final installment in Drinking Epic Beers with a Pacific IPA Challenge, matching a Fat Tug from Driftwood Brewery of Victoria, B.C. (a beer I have fallen head-over-heels in love with since its introduction to Ontario a few months ago) against Armageddon, Epic's award-winning 6.66 per cent IPA that was so named by award-winning New Zealand beer writer and cricket fan Neil Miller.

Epic Armageddon
(Neil is also single-handily responsible for raising the profile of Canadian rock band Nickelback among the Australian cricket set with but a simple sign, but that's another story.)

I drank them simultaneously with the smaller (500 ml) Armageddon bottle the first to be emptied.

Lots of pine and tropical fruit on the nose. More citrus, pine, resin and bit of pineapple on the palate. Pleasingly bitter.

Fat Tug, a wee bit stronger at seven per cent, was next on the scorecard.

Huge aroma of grapefruit and mango and other tropical fruit. Big, resiny citrus hops on the tongue with more tropical fruit and biscuity malts. Deliciously bitter. An impressive beer.

The winner? I think I'll be diplomatic here as both were outstanding. It's a tie, damn it!

I had one more Imperial Stout in my Epic grab bag and the Epicurean Coffee & Fig Oatmeal Stout  (eight per cent ABV) was up next.

I got raisins and roast coffee with bitter chocolate on the nose. More of that on the tongue - especially the coffee, with sweet malts. Been a while since I ate a fig but this sure didn't taste like the fig newtons I used to know. It was, however, smooth and rich and really, really good.
Neil  and his friend Anika broke the
Twitterverse with this sign

There was just one beer left now: the second Hop Zombie. 

And then it was gone, proving it is true what they say: You can't have your Hop Zombies and drink them too.

I didn't know what else I could say about this 
amazing beer, so I did the next best thing: I stole someone else's review, namely that of Mr. Miller, who has probably consumed more Hop Zombies that anyone on the planet. Allegedly.

Take it away, Neil...

"This Imperial India Pale Ale has notes of ... who am I kidding? You get between me and a tap of this at Malthouse and I will trample you like a mummy hippo protecting her children."

I couldn't have said it better.

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