Restaurant News & Reviews

First Draught: On the hunt for Bellingham’s best IPA, part III

On the last leg of my search for Bellingham’s top India Pale Ale, I revisited two breweries that are hardly separated by two city blocks, Aslan and Menace (by way of the Local Public House), expecting to find something a little edgy on tap.

Between the two of them, after all, these newer breweries have featured an India Farmhouse Ale, a recurring Chile beer, a Berliner Weisse mixed with lemongrass or raspberry syrup, and an English Mild infused with Earl Grey tea.

Turns out I misanticipated how that would translate over into their IPAs. All three beers I tried were fairly straightforward by today’s craft beer standards, though each had its own flourish.

Menace Denial IPA. A couple months ago a poll by the Bellingham Tap Trail named the IPA as Bellingham’s least favorite beer style. By a landslide. So Menace agreed to try to brew up something to change everyone’s minds. A strong resinous ale, Denial pours mostly translucent golden amber with little, if any, head. All around it’s much more alive than Menace’s flagship IPA, more hoppy, and more fleshed out in the body. However, if the shtick is to convert the uninitiated, then no, this won’t do it. But will it satisfy hop-heads? Yes, and that’s good enough for me. The hop make-up — good old Magnum for bittering; good old Cascade and Amarillo (and Citra) for finishing and dry-hopping — lends this ale a dry sticky feel. Some melon on the nose gets overridden by pine and citrus. Overall it’s another fine effort by Menace that I wouldn’t mind seeing as a permanent tap. You can’t get it in growlers, because the small-batch brewery doesn’t have much output. But who needs an excuse to hang out at The Local? B+

Aslan Batch 15 IPA. This hazy glowing orange ale gives off a fruity aroma that’s maybe just a little bit indecisive, or at least tough to pin down. However, the focal point seems to be a silky rounded-out mouth feel that’s juicy and mouth-wateringly smooth for an IPA at 65 IBU, and hey, whatever works. Lurking in the background are some of the same rough edges, in both the hop and malt character, I’ve noticed in Aslan’s lighter beers. But in general the roughness has smoothed over in recent months. Sometimes this brewery, especially early on, seemed to hop up its beers for hops’ sake, but a little restraint has gone a long way, even in a style where it’s acceptable and expected to be extreme. This one’s got a tasteful balance of bitter but not ruthlessly bitter. Even those who don’t normally like IPAs could give this a shot. B

Aslan Blueprint Session IPA. Here’s a top-heavy beer that’s not especially bitter, full, dull or exciting in body. Upfront on the nose, however, it’s sharp and strong. A nice soft bright white lacing tops off a pale yellow, slightly clouded body. The taste is crisp but — for lack of a better word — a bit raw on the palate. Light enough, in character, that you could almost still respect yourself after drinking three, except you might be deterred by a lingering sour lemon-citrus tang. Most session IPAs won’t knock your socks off. This one’s not quite exceptional, but it ain’t bad. C

Past IPA (& ISA) grades

Aslan Organic IPA, C

Chuckanut British IPA, C+

Boundary Bay Bellingham Traverse Red IPA, C+

Boundary Bay IPA B

Boundary Bay Imperial IPA A-

Boundary Bay Safety Break ISA, C+

Menace IPA, B

North Fork IPA, B-

Kulshan Bastard Kat IPA, B

Kulshan Dry-Hopped Bastard Kat A-

Kulshan Bull of the Woods Double IPA B-

Wander Shoe Toss Rye IPA, B+

Wander Boot Toss Triple IPA, C

Wander Chota Session IPA, B

In other brews

Speaking of Aslan Brewing Co., this week the brewery tapped its triple IPA, Megathrust, to celebrate its 100th batch. I didn’t get to try it in advance of this article, but I guess this means our local brewers aren’t done making IPAs forever, so there should be another chapter in this series sometime soon.

— Don’t miss April Brews Day on Saturday, April 25, at the Depot Market Square on Railroad Avenue. A ton of outstanding regional breweries — Foggy Noggin’, Old Schoolhouse, No-Li, Reuben’s Brews and Schooner Exact, to name a few — will be there, alongside our fine local brews. Tickets are $20 in advance at any local brewery, or $25 at the door. Proceeds help people with disabilities at the Max Higbee Center. Visit maxhigbee.org for more info.

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