Monday, January 30, 2012

Battle of the Hops

Remember last week, when I was so excited about the opening of Mill St. Brew Pub, how I was thrilled to learn, by Twitter, that the much-anticipated pub had opened its doors early? Remember how I said I would return for the grand opening, when I would sample a couple of the Ottawa-only brews on tap and then provide a review today?

Well, that didn't happen.


Because, as great as Mill St. was at tweeting about its soft opening, it was absolutely mum over the fact that Friday's opening was an invitation-only affair. There wasn't a single tweet about it.

And I wasn't on the list of the elite invitees. So imagine my surprise and disappointment in arriving, during a snow storm, with five people in tow, only to be turned away.

So there is no Mill St. review this week. Only scorn (don't worry, it'll be short-lived. I still consider Mill St. my favourite Ontario brewery).

Instead, I decided to do a little comparison taste with a beer I reviewed earlier this month and a competitor, a beer from a brewery whose beer I tried in early December.

As you know, I absolutely love porters and stouts. But over the past few months, I've really developed a love for IPAs too. So here are the beers I compared:

Muskoka Brewery Mad Tom IPA and Flying Monkeys Smashbomb Atomic IPA

To refresh your memory with my Mad Tom review, click here.

Here is the low-down on Smashbomb:

Smashbomb Atomic IPA
Barrie, Ontario
LCBO: $12.75, 6 x 355 mL; 6% alc/vol

Smashbomb reveals a deep orangy-gold hue that is a little murky when held to the light. The colour is in keeping with traditional IPAs. It is much deeper in colour, compared to Mad Tom. Going by colour alone, I prefer the appearance of Smashbomb; and so the point goes to Flying Monkeys.

On the nose, I was immediately hit with the powerful hops. In fact, the hops were all I could detect. It took a while, in the glass, for the ale to settle down and open up, to allow me to detect notes of citrus: a little orange, a touch of lime. Having to wait for the beer to settle down at first was a little off-putting, but when the flavours came, I was thankful for them. Compared with the immediate notes of lychee, grapefruit, and orange from Mad Tom, I prefer the up-front delivery. And so the point goes to Muskoka.

It's all tied up.

On the palate, Smashbomb has a good balance between the hops and the fruit. The hops are strong (at 70 IBUs) and are immediately backed up with grapefruit. Both flavours carry through to a long and satisfying finish. The Mad Tom, by comparison, hits you full on with an incredibly powerful mouthful. Even though it is not quite as bitter as the Smashbomb (Mad Tom rings in at 64 IBUs), I found the hops more intense.

These are both amazing ales. I like them both for different reasons. I like Flying Monkeys for its easy drinkability. I like Muskoka for its intensity in the mouth. And so I have to call it a draw.

I know that that sounds lame, but it's true. If I showed up at a party, and someone offered a choice between the two beers, I'd have to say "surprise me." And it would be a pleasant surprise, no matter what was brought to me.

When I first reviewed the Mad Tom, I mentioned that it might replace my regular beer. The beer that I would pick up for a weekend of settling down at home, watching a movie with the family. That beer was Tankhouse Ale by Mill St.

The next time I go to the LCBO to pick up a six pack, I'm going to flip a coin: heads, it's Mad Tom.

Tails, it's Smashbomb.

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