Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Maine Beer - Lunch IPA Review

Brewery: Maine Beer Company (ME)
Style: American IPA
ABV: 7%
Grade: A

The explosion of great American IPAs is really a wonderful thing. It's hard to write about most of them, because there are so many solid IPAs that just hit the mark. A few, of course, still manage to stand out, and Lunch IPA is one of those.

Lunch is an understated IPA in an understated bottle (like every beer that the brewery puts out.) Its hop character is as big as almost anything out there, yet seems somehow restrained, gentle, at the same time. The bitterness is as smooth as I've encountered in an IPA this potent — as a matter of fact, this would be a killer IPA to convert non-hopheads who think the style is all about bitterness. After its gentle opening, Lunch unleashes a relaxed malty sweetness that morphs into the rich hop character, with a hint of berries and tropical fruit, and a juicy grapefruit profile that somehow establishes its uniqueness from other citrusy west-coast IPAs. The finish has a lingering bitterness that isn't present in the initial taste, but never becomes unpleasant either, offering more of that rich berry/grapefruit flavor.

In other words, Lunch delivers what a great IPA should: intense hop character, rearranged in some subtly unique way, and delivered with masterful balance and complexity. It's not an IPA that knocks you out with intense, rich hops, yet it's still packed full of character in its own way. And thanks to that delicate, clean mouthfeel, this one just keeps growing on me with every minute. Much like Heady Topper, this is a beer that you can't judge after a few sips — I think an entire bottle/can is necessary to really appreciate it. And, well, here's the thing about that.

I rarely talk about price in these reviews, because rarely is it significant enough to affect my final estimation. Unfortunately, this is one of those times when it hurts the beer. At around $7 for a 16 ounce bottle, Lunch might be the most expensive IPA I can think of off the top of my head. Heady Topper is three or four dollars cheaper. Ithaca Flower Power, an equally good and possibly better IPA, is around $12 for an entire sixpack. And to make matters worse, Lunch is extremely hard to get in the first place — I've only seen it on shelves once or twice in New York. It may be one of the best IPAs out there, but it's too pricey and hard to find to be more than a rare treat. 

Still — if you can get this for a reasonable price, or you've never had it before, do it. I'd take this over a sandwich any day. (For lunch? Get it?)

Availability: 16 ounce bottles. Pricey. Hard to find. 

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