Wow, what a meeting! Brewery Rep Extraordinaire, Eric VanZile took us through a series of beers that ticked all the boxes — a session wheat beer, some gigantically hoppy brews and even a 2-year old Belgian quad. Eric’s been at Ithaca for seven years and seems to have had his hands in every aspect of the company. Its evident in just a couple of minutes of talking to him that his enthusiasm for the brand and his passion for craft beer is not something that was memorized off the company brochure. Eric is the real deal.
I’m not sure about you, but a certain brewery’s apricot beer kinda spoiled my pallet for fruit beers. I’ll admit, I drank my share of a “numbered” beer back in the day. I even stumbled on a six-pack holder in my basement just recently. But the beer never really stood up to the test of time for me. You know that album that you have such fond memories of, but then you go back and listen to it a few years later and you can’t imagine what you were thinking? Well, those VT fruit beers were my Stone Temple Pilots. I mention this, because I had never actually tried Ithaca’s Apricot Wheat until the other night. But, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. I assumed it was going to be some knock-off trick beer that was super sweet and with an over the top fruit flavor. It was very well balanced and had a surprisingly crisp, dry finish! Given its mass appeal, its not hard to believe that it outsells all the other labels at Ithaca.
Next up, we all dove into a huge pile of fresh cascade, chinook and crystal hops and rolled around for a half hour. Well, maybe it didn’t happen exactly like that. But the CascaZilla definitely left your pallet with the feeling of doing a cannonball into a pool of hops.
When we started planning this meeting over the Summer, I mentioned to Bryan Liegel, the owner of the Firkin, that it would be really cool if he could arrange to have a special Ithaca brew on tap the night of the meeting. I had no idea that we’d be pulling pints off one of only 2 kegs of Ithaca’s Outdoor Harvest Ale in South Jersey. There were only six delivered to the entire state. It’s a fantastic example of a hoppy American pale ale made entirely with hops grown in NY State. Do yourself a favor and get over there to try some of this before its all gone. [Edit: its gone!]
Next up was the Flower Power IPA. Don’t let the name fool you. This ain’t no delicate session beer. Its a big pale ale with an extremely hoppy profile. Forget about the trip to India, five additions give this enough hops to preserve it to Mars and back. Let’s call it a Interplanetary Pale Ale.
Another seasonal was up next — Cold Front is a Belgian Style amber. Belgian farmhouse yeast and some subtle noble hops really give this one an authentic flavor.
The last beer of the night was a really special one. The Excelsior TWELVE was a beer brewed for their 12th anniversary — TWO YEARS AGO! Yes, that’s right, we had a beautifully-aged 10% trappist ale to cap off the night. Speaking of aging, ALL of the beers we tasted were beautifully conditioned. None of those “green beers” that immediately had you thinking about how you should squirrel the rest of the six pack away in the basement for a few months.
Ithaca is making flawless beers with quality ingredients and bold flavors. They’re pushing the limit on popular styles and seem to be one batch ahead of everyone else. To sum up, Ithaca has their tongue firmly planted on craft brewing’s 9-volt battery and they can’t bring themselves to pull it off. Kudos!
Thanks, Eric! Thanks, Ithaca! And thanks Bryan for being such a great host to PALE ALES!