Monday, March 4, 2013

Believe it or not, a Climax double IPA

For a brewery that embodies feet-on-the-ground English and German styles and approaches, this may seem a little like entering the forbidden zone: making big beers in double-digital alcohol content fused to a wall of hops.

For Climax Brewing, actually, it's just a Second Coming.

For the first time since launching his Roselle Park brewery in the mid-1990s, Dave Hoffmann will come out with a double IPA, a beer that reflects Garden State beer enthusiasts' continued lust for towering ales that happily swarm the palate with hops. (No craft beer drinker these days is out of the loop on double IPAs. The style dates to 1994 and started getting traction six years later. A lot American craft beer trends are like the weather – they go west to east. This style is one of the biggest in that vein.) 

The beer was brewed last week as Climax's inaugural offering in a rebranding effort, a new series called The Second Coming (yes, there's some wink-wink, nudge-nudge innuendo to that name). It's targeted for a late-March/early-April release at Barcade in Philadelphia. (Dave's is the process of organizing that event; he expects to have it available at Barcade in Brooklyn and Jersey City afterward.)

Dave's no stranger to high-gravity beers. But in his time as a brewer, such beers have been a style he was been inclined to hold at arm's length, unless it was doppelbock time, or another special occasion.

Or a business decision like now.

At 80 IBUs, the new double IPA's alcohol content will be second only to the barleywines Dave made to mark his brewery's 10th anniversary in 2006 and 15th in 2011. Those brews clocked in at 11.5% ABV. (A Russian imperial stout made last year was 8.7%, in the same ballpark as his doppelbock.)

"We just checked the gravity – it's only been fermenting for maybe five days," he says. "So far it's like 8.2 percent alcohol now. I'd like to get it to ferment out a little bit more, so it's going to probably be between 9 and 10 percent. 

"It's a lot lighter in color than my regular IPA. It's straw leading into an amber color. It's going to have a decent malt backbone to it. It's not going to be one of those super hop bombs that everybody makes lately.

"It's going to be real hoppy, but there will be enough malt backing it up. It'll be a little dry, but it's still going to be balanced and easy to drink for how strong it is. The first taste you get is like orange marmalade, then it leads into tangerine notes. There are no double IPAs out there that taste remotely close to what this tastes like."

Dave at a 2008 Oktoberfest in Toms River
The tangerine notes come from the use of Newport hops, a recent American cultivar that's a high-alpha bittering hop. "It's been around maybe five years, but not a lot of people use it," Dave says.

The other four hop varieties are: First Gold, Galena, Cluster and Centennial.

Dave intentionally steered away from hops that would impart a resiny signature in the beer. "Everybody and their brother makes one of them," he says.

Climax Brewing launched as a production brewery in the winter of 1996, after being stalled from a 1995 opening, on the heels of the Ship Inn (Milford) and Triumph (Princeton) brewpubs. The holdup resulted from the government shutdown amid the duel between the Clinton White House and the Newt Gingrich-led House of Representatives.

Climax's signature has been ales and lagers that speak to English and German leanings – traditional IPAs, brown ales, ESBs under the Climax label, and helles, hefes, doppelbocks and maibocks under labels that bear Dave's surname, Hoffmann Lager Beer. (Dave is German by heritage: both of his parents are German.)

Those styles not only reflect Dave's preference in beer, but also speak to how his business developed from a homebrew supply shop in the Cranbury-Roselle Park area to a 4-barrel brewery in his dad's machine shop in Roselle Park. (Dave's a machinist by trade.)

The new double IPA, Dave says, comes at the urging of distributors, bar owners and the desire to reach fans of big beers. The latter group cuts a large swath across the craft beer spectrum and overlaps younger and older craft beer demographics. Dave's Russian imperial stout, called Tuxedo and named in tribute to the brewery's jet-black cat, followed a similar course. 

"Everybody wants these big, strong weird beers, so that's what I'm making," he says. "I don't know what the next one's going to be. It might be a big, hoppy, West Coast red ale or something. I like Red Seal Ale; it's real hoppy, but it's nice and good and easy to drink. So, I might do an imperial red ale, a West Coast imperial red ale."

The double IPA isn't all that's new at Climax.

Reacting to the recent change in New Jersey craft beer regulations, Dave has opened the brewery to tours and tastings on Friday evenings and retail sales during all brewery hours. His first open house was Feb. 22; he also plans to trick-out the brewery to better accommodate tour guests. 

Tours are practically de rigueur at production craft breweries, but they've always been something Dave skipped: too little bang for the buck from selling two six-packs or filling two growlers per person, the former New Jersey limit, he says. Last fall's law change cleared the way for production breweries to retail kegs and cases directly to people and pints of beer to tour guests.

"From now on, I'm going to be open on every Friday from 6 'til 9 for tours and tastings. I usually have four beers on tap when I do open houses," he says.

•It's getting to be maibock time. Dave's 2013 incarnation comes out in April. He also brews at Artisan's brewpub in Toms River and will tap a batch of hybrid oatmeal/foreign stout at the end of this week or early next for St. Patrick's Day.

•The video was shot in summer 2011, when Climax added 12-ounce bottles to its packaging.

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