Welcome to Bellingham Brewed Reviews, where we review ONLY beers brewed in Bellingham. Opinions held here are not necessarily those of Tap Trail.
There’s a new type of beer that you may have encountered lately. Generally, they come with the term “IPA” as a style descriptor, but look nothing like the IPAs that we are used to. Popularized by some breweries in Vermont and Massachusetts, these beers are sometimes referred to as New England IPAs. They feature a color profile that ranges from orange juice to Sunny Delight to a more familiar orange-amber. These brews also tend to be unfiltered, and carry a lot of hop, malt, and yeast particles in suspension, which contributes to the color. They often have a much softer hop presence, due to heavy dry hopping, a smoother body, and a quickly evaporating finish. Since these beers are different than “typical” IPAs, I personally refer to them as “American Orange Ales”.
“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, once said some old guy named Bill. Bellingham’s Structures Brewing has produced several of these types of beers under the IPA and Pale Ale names. I recently tried their latest iteration of the AOA, Empress. The brewers call it an Imperial IPA, and at 8% ABV it fits the traditional requirements to do so. The heart of the beer, the malt, is a blend of base 2row, with smaller percentages of wheat and oats. The soul of the beer, the hops, were left a mystery to me, even with my most charming inquisitions. To take a guess at the hops involved, I think there is a healthy dose of classic American “C” hops (Cascade, Columbus, Centennial), along some of the newer strains, perhaps Mosaic, Citra, or Galaxy.
Served in one of the breweries logo stemmed goblets, the visuals nailed the AOA perfectly; a solidly opaque orange color with a bit over a half inch of bright white head that took about 3 minutes to completely dissipate, and no lacing was left on the sides of the glass. Taking in a healthy whiff of the beer, there was a soft malt base that provided a good foundation. Building up, the hops showed through very brightly, and featured mostly citrusy tones; orange and lemon being dominant.
The flavor profile hewed closely to the tack set by the scent. Light grains underneath very bright hop scents. I thought the orange flavor was most prominent, but the lemon was close behind. There was a tingle of grapefruit at the back that I didn’t pick up my first few sips, but that grew apparent as I sipped my way through the glass. If any aspect of a new variation of a beer can be called typical, the low bitterness of Empress was illustrative of what my experiences with AOAs has been.
These are not your usual PNW piney bitterbombs. The mouthfeel was smooth and even across the tongue, with a soft lightness that made the beer seem to float over the palate, ending with an almost ethereal evaporation. The flavors tended to not stick around long after finishing a sip, another attribute I’ve found common to AOAs.
Drinkability was a pleasure and a joy. Another pour would have easily been enjoyed as much as the first. For a beer at its ABV point, there was no alcohol taste anywhere to be found. I enjoyed this beer more than I’ve tended to enjoy this new “style” in general. AOAs tend to fade quickly, so I encourage you to head on over to the brewery and try this for yourself.
Terry’s Score in Bold:
2 Almost undrinkable
3 Flawed, needs work
4 OK, but can be improved
5 Solid, pleasant
5.5 Good; typical for its style
6 Above average
7 Well above average
8 Very good