Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews


Oskar Blues Brewery
Lyons, CO

Style: Imperial/Double IPA
ABV: 8.7%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (World class.)

Pair With:
March Madness has descended upon, and Nigel couldn’t be more excited. While February’s International Beer Month was quite the extravaganza, I’m looking forward to returning to our niche, which is the plethora of tasty brews crafted right here in the Midwest. I’m also excited about the return of warmer weather and the NCAA basketball tournament, but mostly I’m just thrilled about Midwest craft beer this month (at least that’s what I’m paid to say …).

Which is why I’m reviewing a brew from Colorado. Nigel has never been one to make a whole lot of sense, so why buck a well-established trend? While I have a number of brews in-waiting to review from our Midwestern backyard, I thought I’d start our return to America by reviewing one of my favorite non-Midwest breweries, Oskar Blues, and finally giving proper due to their fantastic imperial IPA, Gordon.

My love affair with Oskar Blues began last year, as I sampled and reviewed Old Chub Scottish Ale and Ten FIDY Imperial Stout, as well as having my first samples of Gordon and Dale’s Pale Ale. The more research I did, the more I became enamored with Oskar Blues’ unique brewing philosophy, which includes a fun, edgy image, funky canned brews, and absolutely top-rate beer filling those cans. Although my OB intake drastically decreased in the last six months or so, I’ve quickly realized that I’m far from the only person enamored with this brewery; on the contrary, my daily Google news alerts are often littered with news about OB or gushing reviews for their beer. It’s not like Oskar Blues is alone in the American craft beer industry with being fun and/or edgy (or canned for that matter), but they still deserve credit for doing it the right way, and clearly they are getting that much-deserved credit.

As for Gordon, it’s an imperial IPA that OB describes as a “hybrid version of strong ale, somewhere between an Imperial Red and a Double IPA.” Nice try guys, but this beer falls clearly into one category for Nigel: hop monster. It’s big, bold, and strong (8.7 percent ABV), and the dominant flavor and aroma is unquestionably North American hops; imperial reds/ambers or strong ales don’t typically check in at 85 IBUs. Like many West Coast and Rocky Mountain brewers, Oskar Blues loves hops, and they utilize them quite well in the opinion of this professional hophead.

Ultimately, style categorization matters not; Gordon is a damn fine beer regardless, though clearly it’s not for everyone. (Don’t love you some hops? Then stay the hell away from this one.) The aroma hits you like a freight train from the very second the can is cracked open until the time you finally wash out your beer glass; boatloads of Northwest hops inundate the nostrils, and I’m sensing Cascade and Centennial, though the only definitive description I got was “six different malts and three types of hops, then dry hopped with a mutha lode of Amarillo hops.” I’m simply guessing in regards to the Cascade and Centennial, but I sense many of the characteristics of those varieties in the aroma of Gordon. As for those six malts, they have a hard time breaking through in the aroma department thanks to the overall floral bitterness of Northwest gold. However, there is a subtle background aroma that is distinctly earthy and grainy, with a touch of light caramel and molasses that does indicate there is a decent malt profile buried deep inside of Gordon.

The pour is nice, leaving a lively, picturesque brew in the glass. An initial head of over an inch permeates instantly, settling quickly into a creamy white lace with significant clinging on the sides. A brilliant deep copper hue, Gordon has some cloudiness and is a touch darker than you’d perhaps expect for a straight-up imperial IPA.

The taste is great, but again, it’s suited for hop lovers. While there’s much more balance in the flavor than there was in the aroma, initial flavors are a bombardment of sweet, floral American hops, giving it all the piney, zesty, bitter characteristics that us hopheads love. In a way it reminds me of Bell’s Two Hearted and Hopslam in that there is a unique floral sweetness to the hops, something that is a bit hard to describe if you’re not familiar with those particular brews. The lighter characteristics of the hops allow the malt to eventually make its presence felt, mainly in the form of light brown sugar, caramel, and molasses. There’s a grainy undertone as well, an earthy element that is likely equal part hops and malt, but serves well as yet another counterbalance to a brew that is constantly on the verge of overwhelming in one particular area. A testament to the overall balance may be the fact that I detected little in the way of alcohol in either the aroma or the taste, despite the high ABV. But again, it should be noted that all of the other flavors are a distant second fiddle to the dominant hop profile, and yes, this IS an imperial IPA in every way. Medium bodied and surprisingly smooth on the palate, Gordon is meant to be a sipping beer, though a true Hophead like Nigel can sometimes get carried away if not careful. Finishing a four-pack in one evening is not recommended.

All in all, I’m very satisfied with my return to America and yet another phenomenal offering from Oskar Blues. While this wasn’t my first tango with Gordon, I regained a total appreciation for it after a few months of not having it. Like with their other brews, Gordon isn’t just some beer that’s meant to look fun in a can and seems cooler because the brewer is a bit whacked-out; on the contrary, its just a damn fine beer, and one of the better imperial IPAs out there. Now brewed year-round, Gordon is available at many craft beer retailers in four-pack form, often priced around $10. If you’re a lover of hops, this is a sure bet, and if you’re not, it will offer you a unique challenge that may surprise you.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on March 2, 2009.
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