Style: Imperial IPA
Man, what a cool bottle. Three Floyds gets an A just for graphic design. But Three Floyds seem to be (in the limited experience of myself and my friends) the sort of enviable sons of bitches who just do everything right. They design killer labels, have clever and endearing branding, play metal all the time at their brewpub, and most importantly, brew a diverse lineup of exceptionally brewed, interesting beer. They're the sort of brewery that makes you think: "I need to spend more time in Munster, Indiana."
An 11% ABV imperial IPA wouldn't normally be my first choice, because that is a heck of a lot of booze accompanying my beloved hops. But Apocalypse Cow is even more than just a huge IPA — it's a bit of an oddball, as the label implies. I've never seen any kind of IPA brewed with lactose sugar before, but here it is: an 11% IPA brewed with lactose sugar. This particular kind of sugar is unfermentable by brewer's yeast, resulting in a richer, creamier, sweeter beer — it's where milk stouts get their name, and yes, it is just sugar. No dairy involved. And it may seem odd — super high ABV beer tends to be overly sweet in the first place — but it weirdly seems to provide the right amount of balance in the case of Apocalypse Cow. Just as intended, this is one smooth beer, with a crisp mouthfeel and hoppy, resinous finish. There certainly is sweetness, but it hits that perfect sweet spot, providing backbone without an excess of richness. In other words, it doesn't taste like someone poured caramel syrup into my beer. And the ABV is what I would describe as "frighteningly well hidden." This is a silky, smooth beer, and it's quite a beast.
But let's not ignore the hops, which are still the stars of Apocalypse Cow, and ultimately the reason this jumps from 'interesting' to 'exceptional.' Though the aroma is surprisingly subdued compared to the flavor — and that may partly be my traveling-for-work-feeling-blah-sinus-issues — it is a brilliantly hoppy beer, with one of the most complex-yet-balanced hop profiles I've encountered. Off the top of my head, it's very reminiscent of Ithaca Flower Power: catching the best of fruity, floral, piney and slightly dank hops. The character is made bright and clear by the gentle sweetness, with a bitterness that seems to step aside until the end, allowing for more nuanced flavors to surge forward. There's a strong presence of mango, tropical fruit, and a very noticeable orange character.
Apocalypse Cow hits everything I like in an IPA and very little that I don't. Its unique caliber certainly helps to cement its victory, but step away from the packaging and this is simply a fantastic beer. And here's what really gets me: this bottle probably wasn't even fresh.
Availability: Summer release, but probably hard to find outside of the Indiana / Chicago area. 22 ounce bombers.