Monday, March 10, 2014

Cigar City - Jai Alai IPA on White Oak

Brewery: Cigar City (FL)
Style: IPA / Oak-Aged Beer
ABV: 7.5%
Grade: A-
Age at Consumption: 1 Month

You might as well know, I'm a sucker for oak. The usual roundup of barrel-aged beers is immediately appealing to me, but I also love beers that break outside the mold and use wood as simply another element, a piece of the overall beer puzzle to be balanced alongside malts, hops and yeast. I've been chasing a few concepts for lower-ABV session beers pairing hops, dark malts and oak, but there are already a couple interesting commercial examples of that idea on the market. Dogfish Head has been doing Burton Baton for years now, and it's actually one of my favorite beers of theirs. Southern Tier and Great Divide offer regular oak-aged IPAs, but few breweries are as known for their wood experiments as Cigar City. Now, at long last, I've gotten to try Cigar City's version of Jai Alai IPA aged on white oak. In a can.

If you're looking for pure hops, this is not the beer for you. One reviewer on Beer Advocate lamented: "Dear Cigar City, aging Jai Alai on white oak is trying to fix something that's not broken, and ending up breaking it. Is it good? Yes, but it's nowhere near as good as the regular Jai Alai." They're not wrong, in that you could make an argument that regular Jai Alai is better than this, but I think taking a view that Cigar City is trying to fix anything about Jai Alai by brewing this is simply misguided. Jai Alai isn't in need of fixing — this is simply a different version of that beer, a separate entity that happens to share the name.

Despite the horrendous clip-art of hops featured on the can (another sad case of an ugly label for a beautiful beer), hops are not the focus of this — wood is. And the pairing of oaky tannins and sweet vanilla alongside fruity, vibrant, tropical hops creates something like an orange creamsicle, or  maybe peaches and cream in rich liquid form. Or maybe both. Whatever this is, it's unique, inviting, and delicious. Oak-aged Jai Alai is just as refreshing as the regular, but in an entirely different way.

Everything here gives a surprising impression of sweetness, though I suspect the beer is not actually that high in residual sugar (not much more than your average IPA, anyway.) The oak brings such heavy impressions of vanilla that this can't help but taste like dessert. Another nice thing about those tannins backing it up: even at a month old, it's clear that this will age much better than the average beer.

Plenty of reasons for doing things differently — keep it up, CCB.

Availability: Year-round. 12 ounce cans.

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