Last week, I challenged Barley Mowat to do parallel IPA reviews, pitting Central City‘s Red Racer IPA against Driftwood‘s Fat Tug IPA.

Then Barley Mowat posted his review and I procrastinated. First I had a bunch of turkey to digest, then I had a lot of turkey leftovers to digest, and then I had to go shopping for beer. But I procrastinate no longer!

To secure a diversity of opinions, last night I assembled a panel of IPA judges ranging in expertise from experienced (read: obsessive-compulsive) homebrewers and graduates of Chester Carey’s Serious Beer class, to an idiot manchild scarcely capable of pronouncing the word “beer”. Actually, that bit about the idiot manchild isn’t true, but we did have two tasters that aren’t really fans of IPAs; I thought it’d be interesting to see what they thought of these two beers, and besides, I could hardly invite my anonymous brother, Nate C., without inviting his IPA-ambivalent wife Linda.

The results of the battle were shocking. I know a lot of people would disagree, including CAMRA Vancouver president Paddy Treavor.

I decided to go ahead and blind the test. There wasn’t much point to that. Our five IPA-drinking judges have consumed hundreds of gallons of these beers, and knew which beer was which at first sniff; the other two judges didn’t know enough about either beer or either brewery to be biased one way or the other.

In the glass, the two beers look almost identical. They both have nice, persistent white head, brewer’s lace that sticks to the glass in rings from top to bottom, and the same light copper colour. Everyone agreed that one of the beers was slightly darker than the other, but there was a lot of disagreement about which beer that was. If you really stare at them, you’ll see that the Red Racer is just slightly hazy, while the Fat Tug is totally clear.

Red Racer has a huge aroma, with grapefruity, citrusy hops backed up by malts that were variously described by the judges as biscuity, caramely and nutty. The taste highlighted citrus rind and biscuity flavours, and there is a huge, lingering bitter aftertaste. There’s something magical about the hop-malt balance of this beer; although it’s clearly a hop-forward, bitter beer, the biscuity malts give you something to lean on, and they blend so well with the hops that it’s hard to tell where the malt flavour ends and the hop flavour begins.

Fat Tug has a milder aroma of floral hops. A melon-like sweetness comes through the taste, with slight brown sugar notes. A couple of our tasters swore they tasted cucumber. I’m normally as susceptible to suggestion as the next guy, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t taste any cucumber myself. I found Fat Tug a little less carbonated, but fuller-bodied, with a slightly syrupy mouthfeel.

I asked everyone to pick their favourite, and the battle turned into a rout. Six out of seven tasters picked Red Racer, including all five of our dedicated IPA drinkers. When asked for reasons, they cited a better aroma and a more complex flavour. Erin said simply, “because it’s genius.”

And that’s really the issue here. Fat Tug is a beautiful IPA, (and it’s totally worthy of winning beer of the year) but Red Racer IPA is a work of genius. I’ve had all kinds of American IPAs and I’ve loved many of them, but I’ve never found an IPA that does it for me like Red Racer. It’s magic; how can you ask a merely mortal brewer to compete with magic?

My friend Mitch gives Fat Tug it’s consolation epitaph: “I like Fat Tug a lot. I could drink more of it because it’s less aggressive, but if it were down to one glass of Fat Tug versus one glass of Red Racer, the Red Racer blasts Fat Tug out of the water.”

“Sorry, Driftwood.”

—–

Now that I’m finally done, I allowed myself to read Barley Mowat’s review.

He chose Fat Tug! I agree with him about Fat Tug’s fuller body, but I thought Red Racer’s hops left Fat Tug in the dust, not the other way around.

What’s your favourite IPA?

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