This is a really beautiful enhanced IPA that’s just compulsively drinkable, wears well, and shovels flavor at ya with a backhoe.
I was never a car guy. Still not. To me, there’s nothing romantic about a car, adventure of the open road, don’t equate cars with freedom, none of that hot mess.
So, in high school, out there in the DC suburbs, when someone pointed at a Pontiac GTO and smirked, “Asshole“, I asked why the guy driving it was an asshole.
“He’s not,” my friend Boone, explained, as though I was very slow, “The car is the asshole.”
“How can a car be an asshole?” I asked, not unreasonably.
“GTOs are like assholes, ” Boone sighed, “Because everybody has one.”
The citrus IPA is the GTO of the 20-teen beer culture.
“Everybody has one.“… When the pendulum swung back from the full-frontal, megatonnage herbal/resin bitterness Extreme IPA Madness, it flew off at an oblique angle and landed smack in the citrus fruit section of a vast produce stand. Mercifully, the all-out chase after astronomical IBU counts has largely burnt out but it seemed that nobody had a clear idea for an alternative other than the spectrum of citrus fruits that many hops express. Deschutes “Fresh Squeezed”, Stone “Delicious”, Crux “Lemondrop” – all beautiful beers but that’s just the crest of the wave. Down below, in the fat part beneath the glossy surface, lurked a virtual ocean of deadly ordinary beers. Muddled flavors, misguided attempts to keep the beers bitter enough to pander to the Extreme Hops crowd, and especially the over-use of the new-ish Citra hops, which suggest a one-stop choice for making a citrusy IPA…except that the Citra also frequently can taste like something akin to potted meat – these were just a few of the raging gaffes that came about in the effort to follow the leaders up the summer IPA pipeline.
But the term “citrus” is not really a narrow idea. Tangerines are citrus fruit but so are limes and lemons and grapefruit and those are a rather wide range of flavors. Throw in the “lesser” citrus – the bergamot, pomelo, citron, bitter orange, blood orange, Buddha’s Hand, etrog, kumquat, ugli, and yuzu – and ya got some Options. Except that most breweries, somewhat predictably, used only about six of ’em. AND, sorta irrationally, many breweries decided that using actual citrus to make a citrus IPA was somehow cheating. I think, once you stray from the purists’ ideal of yeast, water, grains, and hops, what does it matter what else you toss in…
Which brings us to the new Pyramid “Outburst” Citrus IPA. “Outburst”, as Pyramid fans will remember, is not a new name and the base of this new IPA is a slightly scaled-back version of that Outburst that’s been around for the past few years, chugging along as one of the most under-appreciated Imperial IPAs in America. Pyramid’s Prime Directive has always been to make beers that are pleasurable to drink, for the broadest possible range of beer lovers. They’ve avoided the Extreme IPA Thang, which worked for casual beer fans but pretty much buried them with hard-core beer geeks. I read dozens of sniffy dismissals of Pyramid that were aired by the Extreme HopHead crowd and some of the criticisms were true, IF you were coming from that twisted perspective, while patently false by the simple standard of what’s good to drink and what’s not. But when Pyramid promotion department alerted me to this Outburst-based Citrus IPA, I sat up and barked because I really like Outburst and have bought it several times since its inception. It’s clean and crisp and aggressively flavorful and just bitter enough to say “Imperial IPA”, in a loud, clear voice, without screaming it into your ear. I figured it would be, as all Pyramids are, a fine, solid beer, and I was not disappointed at all. In fact, I was kinda, uh, blown away.
Pyramid used three hops in this ale and all three show prominent notes of citrus in their flavor profiles: Nugget offers up sweet and bitter herbs with a bold shot of pink grapefruit. The Northwest workhorse, Cascades, provide mild lemon/lime and tangerines. Centennial tosses in pomelo, kumquat, and lemons. These three together are a natural blend and would, uninfused, give you a very clean, citrusy ale but in a narrow range. So Pyramid dosed each batch liberally with tangerine and orange peels and that heady stew macerated until they got this: a bright, crisp, orangey, lemony, medium-bodied IPA that retains beautifully that earthy herbal/resin/grapefruit IPA-ness and forward bitterness, while stopping well short of something that produces “Bitter Beer Face”.
There is something wonderfully substantial about Outburst Citrus IPA. It’s not at all heavy and ponderous and finishes beautifully clean and refreshing, but it feels like you’re drinking a bigger ale. It’s 7% ABV and 55 IBUs, which is considerably scaled back from the original Outburst’s 80 IBU but then this is not an Imperial and they’ve skipped the whole step of dry-hopping and eliminated the CTZ hops varietal that amped up the original’s bitterness.
This is a really beautiful enhanced IPA that’s just compulsively drinkable, wears well, and shovels flavor at ya with a backhoe. In a brewing culture that so often struggles with the concept of this style, Pyramid’s hops roster and straight-forward addition of classic citrus peels hits the stylistic target, dead-center. This is a virtual template for making a fresh, modern American citrus ale and Pyramid has knocked this one all the way across South First Avenue and into SafeCo Field. DAMNED fine beer! 95 Points
NOTE: Don’t go out looking for your fave six-pack bottles of Outburst Citrus IPA. You can buy a 22 oz. bomber in glass but the 12 oz. size is all in cans.