I've attached a picture of the contenders for this one, along with the pours of each so that color can be compared. (You'll note a lonely bottle of Tallgrass IPA in the background of this... though not officially a part of the tasting, I'll comment on this later).
So obviously, on the far right, we have the two double IPAs... Mojo Risin' and Boulevard Doublewide. We considered it fair and prudent to pitch these against one another AFTER completing the tasting of the other four (5, including Tallgrass). Even though OUR review saved the doubles for last, I'll begin with them, because it's a pretty darn easy one, with unanimous results among the four tasters in the room. The winner? Mojo Risin'. The loser? None. They're both remarkable. But they're HUGE beers. Beers this large and this malty are actually difficult to infuse with enough hop to overcome the malt, and in this respect, Boulder has outclassed Boulevard with ease. A much more pronounced hop character, which makes it easier to drink than the Boulevard (though neither is what I would call an "easy drinker").
That's it for the doubles. We loved them both, but Mojo Risin' takes the crown due to better hops.Now for the not-so-easy to judge.
This was a true blind test. Beers were poured by a non-participant, then photographed as attached. The beer bottles were then moved to another room, and tasting began. A few of the more noteworthy comments from the tasting (and I will attribute the comment numbers to the rightful owner in the review:
1) Smells like grapefruit juice... not a bad thing at all.
2) This is a meaty mess (a bad thing)
3) This tastes like horse dick
And now the results. I hope it's not a cop-out to have a tie for first place. We went through the line-up 3 times, trying to judge a clear winner. It simply didn't happen. There are two beers that were so neck-and-neck... so amazingly and deliciously equal, yet with different characteristics.
Third place was a VERY close third place (one of our testers ranked it #1, actually), and fourth place was condemnable. Dead last and easily pushed to the back of the table with authority by every tester. The final results stunned me.
FIRST (and second) PLACE: O'Dell IPA and Bell's Two Hearted Ale. These beers both pull off an amazing balancing act. They pack a nice 7-ish percent alcohol level, but remain drinkable and, dare I say, refreshing. They are the two happy hop monsters, but they have a different hop profile. O'Dell garnered comment #1 above. If you like a grapefruity/Amarillo hop, this is your beer. If your preference leans toward a more generic or lime-like citrus, Two Hearted Ale is for you. In the end, we decided that the better beer simply depends on your mood. In fact, I know from a recent 2-hour phone call with the hamster that in a similar side-by-side comparison, I declared O'Dell the victor over Bell's. In this blind test, my notes gave the nod to Bell's over O'Dell. You simply can't go wrong this these. There is ONE factor that could make the O'Dell a clear-cut winner for me... price. At the liquor store I went to, the Two Hearted Ale was $10.99 a six-pack. Ouch. Very ouch. O'Dell was a comparable bargain at $8.99.
THIRD PLACE: Sierra Nevada Torpedo. One taster's favorite, hands-down. It's drinkable. It's not too heavy. It oozes hop presence from every CO2 bubble that escapes the surface. For all but one of us, we found the hop character to be a bit more like "hop concentrate" than actual hops. That is, you get a concentrated whallop of hop BITTERNESS, but not necessarily the nose that you might expect. Kind of like a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on steroids. A universally-liked beer, but with the citrus hop-heads in our taster panel, this one didn't have a chance.
LAST PLACE: This pains me. Boulder Beer's Mojo IPA. I smell a conspiracy. For a couple of years, the hamster and I have wondered if the bean counters at Boulder Beer are handcuffing brewmaster David Zuckerman's hands. Hazed and Infused just hasn't tasted the same as it did when it first came out. After this IPA shootout, I seriously wonder if Mojo has fallen victim to the bean counter. It's no secret that hops are pricey. The temptation to cut back on these vine-ripened cones of perfection has to be powerful for the accounting dept. This beer was the unfortunate recipient of comments 2 & 3. It should be added that the taster who proclaimed comment #3 grew up on a farm, so I suspect he knows what he's talking about. This beer was the third one that each of us tasted. We would taste the first beer, then leave the glass in place. Taste the second beer, and either move it slightly forward or rearward of the first, thereby indicating its relative rank against the previous beer. When every one of us got to the Mojo, it was slid with forceful disgust to the back of the table. Now let me qualify these comments. It's not that Mojo is a bad IPA. It is not. We all agreed that it is not a bad IPA. But this test was supposed to be one of our "best of the best" shootouts. We had a lot higher hopes against the other competitors.
So where did it fail? Hops. Or the lack thereof. The thing tasted of malt, and almost exclusively malt. In the company of the other three beers we were tasting, you would have had a hard time convincing me that the Mojo was actually in IPA. We really tried to give this one a fair shot. We even mixed them up and tried the whole thing again, and with the same result. Mojo was simply out-classed and out-hopped at every blind sip we took. The irony of the taste test is that I've always considered Mojo to be a grapefruity hop king. They pile the Amarillo hops into this thing (supposedly). As I took this blind taste test, I got to the O'Dell IPA and, upon smelling the fragrant grapefruit, already proclaimed it to be Mojo. Which made me really scratch my head at what that awful #3 beer had to be. So when the curtain was lifted and Mojo turned out to be the dog, I was a bit crushed. Further irony came from a drunken e-mail that I sent Hamster one night saying that I would defend Boulder Beer to the death and beyond, since they are like family to me. After this tasting, I can no longer do that. Will someone please tell me that I got a bad 6-pack of Mojo? Will someone repeat a similar tasting and tell me if your panel is as unanimously turned off by the lack of hops in Mojo?
DISHONORABLE MENTION: Tallgrass IPA. This one was thrown in as a joke. As a proud product of Lawrence, Kansas, I've come to learn that the very best thing to ever come from Manhattan, KS is mediocrity. Unfortunately, Tallgrass couldn't even achieve mediocrity with their "IPA". Let's not try to kid anyone though... this is not an IPA. Or at least it's not an India Pale Ale. It could quite certainly be an Interestingly Pungent Amber. Perhaps an Insulting Pale Ale. But if hops supposedly kept IPAs fresh on the long ship voyage to India, I predict this beer would have gone sour about 2 miles from the English shore. This is about as hoppy as a Mai Bock. I don't know how a brewer could ever produce something like this and have the gumption to call it a Pale Ale, much less one fit for a trip to India. Laughably horrendous, this has to go down as one of the worst IPAs I've ever tasted.
So, there you have it. Our results of a blind, 4-way taste test. Your results may vary, and I'll look forward to what you think. Take care, sirs.