Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fat Head's Head Hunter India Pale Ale

Cleveland is the home of many great craft brewers, such as Matt Cole, the brewer of Fat Head's Brewery & Saloon in North Olmsted, Ohio.  Whenever I am in Cleveland, I always try to stop by Fat Heads in order to try whatever Matt happens to have on tap at the time.  I've previously reviewed one of his beers, the Hop Juju Imperial India Pale Ale, which is probably one of the best Imperial IPAs that I've ever had.  I was able to do that review because I happened to be in Cleveland at the time when it was on draft.  Now, however, Matt has begun to bottle his beers, opening new possibilities in terms of distribution.  And, recently, I was able to try a bottle of his Headhunter IPA, although my father had to bring it to me from Cleveland.

The India Pale Ale style can be traced back to the pale ales of the seventeenth century in England.  One of the earliest brewers was George Hodgson of Boss Brewery.  Traders working for the East India Trading Company liked the beers of Boss Brewery because they could survive the trip to India.  Eventually, however, the Boss Brewery beers fell out of favor with those traders, and the East India Training Company turned to Allsop Brewery and others, which produced a strongly hopped pale ales in the style of the Boss beers.  The reason for all of those hops was to help preserve the beer. The use of hops, in conjunction with a beer that had a higher alcohol content, helped to prevent spoilage on the vessels during the long voyages to India. 

The IPA brewed by Fat Head's is brewed in a style that could take it around the world.  Matt describes the Head Hunter as a "balls-to-the-wall IPA" that surpasses all others, and an "in-your-face, dry-hopped West Coast-style IPA.  These descriptions are very appropriate.  From the moment you start to pour the beer, you see a nice orange beverage in your glass, but you are greeted with a nose that is basically a ton of grapefruit packed in pine crates.  For a hophead like myself, this is a much treasured aroma.  The nose of the beer clearly summarizes the taste of the beer, which is full of grapefruit, along with some pine and, as the label notes, some tangerine and pineapple. These bitter flavors are rounded, just a little, by the caramelized malts used in the brewing process.  All of these flavors have the tendency to make you forget that the beer has a whopping 7.5% ABV.

When it comes to pairing food with a beer like this one, the effort may require a little creativity. A beer that is packed with this much grapefruit flavor would seem to call for food that is equally full of flavor.  A good marbled piece of beef, or, perhaps chicken wings with a sauce that is full of spices or heat.  In the case of the beef, the beer would be a good contrast to the flavor of the meat.  And, as for the wings, the dry, hoppy nature of the beer may intensify those spices in the sauce, enhancing the meal.  Or, you could do what I did when I tried this beer ... just enjoy the beer by itself.

I would highly recommend this beer for those of you who can lay your hands on it.  It is an excellent example of the India Pale Ale style.  It is often available on tap at Fathead's Brewery and Saloon in North Olmsted, Ohio and bottles may be available there for purchase. 


For more about the history of India Pale Ale, check out Wikipedia and Brewing Techniques.

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