There’s probably no style of beer more associated with the terroir of the Pacific Northwest than India Pale Ale. A single taste of a well-executed, balanced IPA can not only display a complex and seemingly contradictory array of flavours (they’re kind of like the liquid equivalent of good Thai curries – which, incidentally, they happen to pair exceptionally well with), but they can also evoke a strong sense of this little corner of the world that we all call home; things like dense rain forests, snow-capped mountains, and the crashing waves of the Pacific.
As the well-known story goes, IPAs were first brewed in and around London in the late 18th century to be exported to that jewel in the crown of the British Empire, India. Originally referred to as an ‘October Ale’, their high alcohol and hop content were an attempt by the man credited with inventing the style, George Hodgson, to brew a beer that could withstand the six month sea journey from England to India. The IPAs that most of us are now familiar with are more of a product of the last thirty or so years of brewing history, and specifically the development of American hop varietals. While English-style IPAs aren’t too hard to find in good bottle shops (and are currently experiencing a resurgence in popularity back in Albion), the North American take on the style has become, (rightly or wrongly), the flag bearer for the expansion of ‘craft beer’ in the last few decades from the shores of the ‘new world’ to places like England, Germany, and beyond.
With the importance of the style to the Pacific North West’s craft beer culture and heritage, it’s not too surprising that almost every brewery in BC puts out an IPA at some point. There are definitely a lot of fantastic IPAs being made in BC right now (the Vexillum Imperial IPA and Juxtapose Brett IPA by Delta’s Four Winds Brewing Company and just about every IPA being made right now by Vancouver’s Machine Ales come to mind), but there are also many that miss the mark. Yellow Dog’s Play Dead IPA, which is available year-round in BC, is one of the best.
Since opening in 2014, Port Moody’s Yellow Dog Brewing Co. has established itself as a perennial favourite amongst BC’s craft beer intelligentsia. Producing a consistently solid lineup of core offerings and some fantastic seasonals (their wet-hopped Play Dead IPA, released after the hop harvest in September, topped many critic’s lists as BC’s best wet-hopped IPA this year), Yellow Dog came to many peoples’ attention when their ‘Shake A Paw Smoked Porter’ won Best in Show at the BC Beer Awards only a few months after the brewery first opened.
Pouring a lovely honeyed amber colour, Play Dead IPA displays initial sweet, bready malt aromas on the nose, followed by hints of pine resin, caramel, and guava. With your first sip, you’ll notice a similar bready sweetness that is nicely complimented by well-rounded, juicy tropical notes of passion fruit, papaya and pineapple, together with hints of mandarin orange, pine and fresh cut grass. A mouth feel that isn’t too heavy or full is cut by some light carbonation, and a tangy, almost resiny stickiness on the tongue. Finishing with hints of biscuit, earthy minerals, and a lingering grapefruit bitterness, Yellow Dog’s Play Dead IPA is a rare gem – an incredibly balanced IPA that manages to combine the typical grassy, piney and tropical fruit characteristics of a ‘West Coast IPA’ without allowing the subtleties that make the style so rewarding to get lost in a slew of overt hoppiness and atomic IBUs.
It’s maybe not what George Hodgson had in mind when he filled his first barrels with October Ale destined for the Subcontinent, but it remains a perfectly executed expression of a modern style that can be so delicious when done well.