Did any of you see the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show earlier in the week? I missed it, because I'm more into cats and missing things, but it sounds sort of cool. I see a lot of dogs cruising around my neighborhood—just St. Bernards these days, but in less blizzardous times, there are all sorts of … I dunno, This-Colored Retriever and That-Flavored Lab, a bunch of mutts and regular old Good Doggies of what I assumed to be every stripe available in the wider world. I was mistaken.
It turns out that Dog Grammys are awarded to the best of 192 distinct breeds! I had no idea there were this many kinds of dog. And that's just the purebred ones. Who knows how many permutations might spring forth from an unsupervised afterparty? What if, say, a Leonberger and a Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier struck up an intimate friendship? I can't predict what would happen from a strictly zoological perspective, but I do know one thing: If the spawn's name were left up to us beer shysters, we'd call it a LeonWheaten IPA.
Beer breeds aren't as closely monitored as canine ones are, though we do still manage to split enough hairs to award Great American Beer Festival medals in 89 categories. But by and large, brewers just slot their stuff into either a) the traditional category to which it clearly belongs or b) the marketing catch-all "IPA," which used to mean "India pale ale," and then morphed into "a hoppier version of an existing style," before finally settling into its current role as signifier of "a new beer we would like to sell a lot of, please."
I have no real beef with this. Most American beers are hopped to the heavens these days, so this crass third-generation definition isn't so different from the one that preceded it—a careful drinker usually has a pretty good idea what he's in for when he sees that something's being pushed as, say, a red IPA, such as the fine Starr Hill model we reviewed earlier this week. And, sure, a lot of "session IPAs" could just as easily be called pale ales, but I don't think the wordplay really hurts anyone.
In fact, I'm gearing up to do a bullshit, clickbait "Session IPAs, Ranked" post as soon as the top two feet of snow melt; other than the weather, the main thing holding me back is that I can't decide if I should include 21st Amendment Bitter American. It's a 4.4-percent alcohol-by-volume pale ale that doesn't include "India" as part of the name, because that wasn't yet the done thing when it was rolled out in 2007. But it still fits the generally accepted qualifications of the category, and it would stand a fair chance of winning my upcoming semi-controlled, somewhat-blind taste test.
I'm unlikely to ever do a "Black IPAs, Ranked" post, because that would be an egregious dereliction of my duty to present unto you nothing but the facts, and also because I don't really care for them. Hops and roasted malt is a combination that tends to sit a bit funny on my tongue. But last week Founders sent me a couple bottles of their very hoppy Black Rye, and these days I'll review any damn thing that doesn't require leaving the house, so here we are.
Founders brought this one out of retirement just last month; it was introduced in 2004 (hence the name "Black Rye," rather than the "Black Rye IPA" the 2015 sales team would surely hang on a 7.5-percent-ABV, dry-hopped beer with 78 IBUs), then it went away, and now it's back. I'm not a huge fan of roasted malt and hops, but I do really like hoppy rye beers; a good rye IPA has an extra peppery dimension that adds to rather than muddles or detracts from the hop character. So sure, take that and make it black, I'll give it a whirl.
Founders Black Rye is black. It smells like citrus, pine, pepper, toasted rye, and bittersweet chocolate. Not bad! I could do without the chocolate, but it's not overpowering, and I think it turns toward coffee with a bit of time in the glass. There's not much pine in the flavor until the very end, when the dry, resinous finish begs us to call this a black IPA.
I admit that I'm not an expert in this category, and furthermore that I was bribed with four dollars worth of beer, but I am nonetheless confident in stating that if a hoppy, roasty, rye beer sounds like your kind of thing, you should give Founders Black Rye a spin before it goes away again in April. I haven't come across a better version.
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Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.
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