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Belt’s Beer Garden: Finishing strong

Dragoon IPA & The Brew Kettle Old 21

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For this weeks installment I started with an award winning IPA then, wanting to finish it off just as strong, I cracked open an Imperial IPA from Ohio.

To start things off, a little while ago I came across this Food & Wine article that named the best IPA from each state and, while I was visiting my mom in Arizona, I made sure to find the top of the hop from the Grand Canyon State: Dragoon IPA.

Dragoon IPA is made by Dragoon Brewing from Tucson, Arizona. They started in April of 2012 with just two beers: Dragoon IPA and Stronghold Session Ale. To this day, those are still their only year-round beers. Don’t worry though because they still make/have 11 beers on-tap at any given moment and offer up to 30 different varieties every year. The only catch? You need to be in Arizona to find their beers.

But on to the beer.

Dragoon IPA is made with five hops (Apollo, Columbus, Magnum, Nugget, and Summit), three malts (Crystal 15, Crystal 60, and Rahr), and packs a punch with 83 IBU and a 7.3% ABV. A 16-ounce can cost me $3.99, which, in Chicago, is a steal!

It poured a hazy copper color with about a finger of off-white head topping the beer. The foam didn’t hang around too long and soon there was just a small circle around the edge of the glass with some light clouds clinging to the sides.

On the nose this IPA was dank, tropical, and amazing. Bright tropical notes of mango, papaya, melon, and grapefruit blended together, filling my nose. But, for as many tropical flavors that came flooding out, there was also an equally strong dankness that made sure you knew that this was a hopped up beer (packed with those 83 IBU).

The smell was so nice, I almost didn’t want to ruin it by drinking it…but of course I couldn’t just let it sit there.

A moderate, but long lasting, carbonation fizz starts off the sip as the liquid coated my tongue. And from there, the flavors were as good as the aroma indicated.

Huge tropical fruit notes – mostly grapefruit and melon – exploded with the carbonated sting. The dankness faded some in the taste (although it was still there) and, instead, was replaced with a light pine backing that cut slightly into the juiciness of the fruit flavors.

On the backend, Dragoon isn’t too dry or too bitter. The bitterness, despite the high rating, is very manageable and (for a hop-head like myself) hardly noticeable behind all those awesome tasting notes. As for the dryness…there is a slight drying out but nothing that will have you in need of water or dying for your next sip.

And, as an added bonus, that 7.3% ABV…completely hidden!

I might take their recommendations but I don’t put much faith into those “Top Beers” posts…however, this one was accurate. Dragoon IPA is one of the best beers from Arizona that I’ve had. It’s also one of the better IPAs I’ve tried. An amazing aroma, awesome flavors, high ABV, and reasonable price…what more do you need in a beer?! 9/10

9 beers

Now on to something a little stronger...Old 21 from The Brew Kettle.

The Brew Kettle calls Strongsville, Ohio (a southwest suburb of Cleveland) home and has been making beer since 1995, although at that time they were called Ringneck Brewing. You can find them throughout Ohio and in parts of Kentucky as well.

They have plenty of success, with their White Rajah being their most well known (and most awarded) beer, and even have a line of beers that is sold strictly at Cedar Point.

They offer seven year-round beers, including the one I found while in Kentucky…their Old 21 Imperial IPA. A four pack of 12-ounce bottles cost $9.99, so it was a little on the higher side but the 9% ABV was worth the extra cash.

This imperial IPA, brewed strictly with Simcoe hops, poured a dark copper color with a finger of eggshell white head topping it. The bubbles stick around for a little while before dispersing into a light ring around the edge of my glass.

The 9% ABV and 90 IBU was a solid indication that this was going to be a heavy hitter…but once I got a whiff of this brew, I knew for a fact this was going to be strong. Bready malt and a resinous pine were the main contenders but there was an underlying citrus component and a musty hint to it.

My first sip began with just a light carbonation and a slightly watery mouthfeel to it…not nearly as heavy as I thought it would be.

Once the initial carbonated fizz departed, the flavors came out…and it wasn’t quite what I was expecting from high ABV/IBU listing and imperial nature of this beer. Sure, there was a small hoppy sting that imparted loads of pine and those light citrus notes. But it was the bready and caramel malts that really shined through.

Old 21 was really balanced and came with some really sweet qualities that slashed the hoppy bitterness down to size. Even as the beer warmed up some, the flavors were consistently malt heavy and sugary sweet and didn’t pack the strong bite that most have.

As the beer faded from my glass, the few bubbles that remained laced my glass really well – creating well defined lines after every sip. The 9% ABV was hidden really well and was hardly noticeable…until the end of the glass when you sure could feel it.

Overall this was a surprisingly balanced, tasty imperial IPA; sweeter than most and not as heavy on the hops…a great beginner DIPA. 8/10

8 beers