Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Warrior IPA

Left Hand Brewing
Longmont, CO

Style: India Pale Ale (IPA)
ABV: 6.6%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

As anybody familiar with this web site knows by now, Nigel loves hops. I’m the official Hopologist, a title that I take quite seriously, and am known throughout the land as a hophead extraordinaire. While I love all types of beer (I count among my favorite styles such lightly hopped “malt monsters” as barley wines, porters, and imperial stouts), in my mind no ingredient is more important to making a fine craft brew than the hop.

As my palate expands and my beer I.Q. increases, I’m becoming more aware of the various intricacies associated with different varieties of hops. The first step in learning about hops is to make the basic differentiation between American and European varieties. This isn’t too difficult, since for the most part the difference between styles in the new and old worlds are easy to detect (generally speaking, European varieties are more muted in flavor and aroma than their American counterparts … lets call them “earthier”). Breaking it down from there becomes more difficult, however. As genetic engineering becomes more advanced, new types of hops are developed that can grow in different climates, soils, etc., and some are only minor variations of their predecessors. While traditional, well-known hop varieties like German noble, English Goldings, and Northwest American (the “Cs”: Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, and Columbus … also the popular Amarillo) are easy to recognize for most hop lovers, other versions can be more difficult to distinguish, as can the latest varieties concocted in the lab of a gene-splicing scientist.

Clearly the use of hops has led the way in the movement towards “extreme” brews in the American craft beer industry. While hop utilization does not necessarily make a beer “extreme,” it certainly seems to be at the forefront with the development of ultra-powerful takes on the pale ale and IPA, and they’ve even become more prevalent in American versions of traditionally malty European “extreme” beers like imperial stouts and barley wines. Another development has been the use “wet” hops, or hops fresh off the vine rather than the typical version used by brewers, which is dehydrated “dry” hops that are added at various times and to various degrees to make a brew with just the right zip (ok, wet hopping isn’t “new,” per say, as it’s how all beer was made in the old days, but you get the point). I’ve debated this before when reviewing other fresh hopped beers, so I’ll summarize here. While I think the use of wet hops adds to the wonderful aroma of a heavily hopped brew, I haven’t really detected any noticeable enhancement in regards to flavor. I’ve had about four or five different fresh hop IPAs, and all were excellent. However, I don’t have any evidence to believe this was due to the wet hopping, but rather due to the fact that they were just quality brews in general (I’ve had far too many excellent hop monsters that utilized non-wet hops, so I truly believe that this is mostly just a gimmick, albeit one that I’m willing to accept).

This all leads me to my latest review, which is for a fresh-hopped ale from Colorado-based Left Hand Brewing. Warrior IPA not only utilizes wet hops, but also a variety that is somewhat new to the scene. Warrior hops are one of the newer developments in American hops, one that is heavy on the acids (alpha and beta) that give hops their bittering qualities (in the old days this was key for beer preservation … now its mostly just a flavor and aroma enhancement). Warrior hops are quickly becoming popular with American craft brewers, not only because they’re powerful both in flavor and aroma, but also due to the fact that they are a bit heartier (cultivation-wise) than many of their counterparts. Not only does Nigel get to sample one of his first Warrior hop-heavy brews, but he gets to sample another fresh-hopped brew. Quite a treat, indeed.

Pouring out of a 22-ounce bomber into a snifter-style glass, Warrior IPA reveals a hazy orange color, with a relatively prosperous creamy head that quickly settles, leaving a nice foamy trace throughout the drink and a high amount of stickiness on the sides of the glass. Mild amounts of sedimentation float about, making this a nice looking IPA similar to other fresh-hopped versions I’ve had before. The aroma is what first caught my attention. While I’ve stated that wet-hopped IPAs tend to be more aromatic, this one bucks the trend. This may be due to the use of Warrior hops, but I’m thinking it’s mostly due to a stronger malt presence than the other fresh-hopped versions I’ve sampled. Being somewhat unfamiliar with the Warrior hop, I didn’t really know what to expect, but the aroma in this is much more subdued, much earthier, and appears to be heavy on the malt. The initial fruity aromas are a bit atypical: I’d say they smell like candied versions of apple, orange, pear, and apricot. The next (and most prevalent) aroma is of sweet caramel malt. There is an evergreen backbone that would indicate nice amounts of hops, but it’s not as strong as I anticipated. It’s a nice aroma, just not what I was expecting.

The taste is good, but like the aroma, much different than I expected. Left Hand claims to use fresh Warrior hops from Washington’s Yakima Valley, as well as freshly picked hops from their home base in Longmont, CO. Ultimately it depends on the quantity of hops used when brewing as to just how bitter a brew will taste; my impression is that Left Hand didn’t use enough if they were intending for a hop monster, but used just the right amount if they were going for balance. A nice combination of bitter, piney hops, light fruit (some citrus, as well as some apple, pear, and apricot), and sweet malt make this a tasty beer, but not the IPA most would expect. The sweet malt flavors (caramel, toffee, and molasses) seem to take hold of the flavor as the beer warms, pushing the relatively mild hop flavors towards the back. It’s not bad, don’t get me wrong; it’s just doesn’t seem to fall into the typical wet-hopped IPA mold. On the plus side, if you like your IPAs more balanced, this is right up your alley. Medium bodied, Warrior IPA is smooth on the palate and has a mild aftertaste. Checking in at a modest 6.6 percent ABV, this could be a session brew if it came in four or six-pack form, but is meant to be a one-time only treat in a bomber.

When compared to the other fresh-hopped IPAs I’ve had thus far, this one ranks near the bottom. Again, it’s by no means a bad beer; it’s just lacking the crisp hop aroma and flavor I was looking for. If you’re interested in trying a nice wet hop beer, I’d look elsewhere. Priced at around six dollars for a bomber, Warrior IPA is a once-yearly release that is worth a shot if you’re so inclined, but left Nigel a bit disappointed. Let’s hope my next Warrior hop-heavy brew utilizes the ingredient better than this did.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on March 5, 2008.
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