Ayala Alabang Craft Beer Night, Part I

The old crew from the dearly departed and sorely missed Tasting Corner gathered at Noel’s house for a craft beer face-off, dinner and a few wines. We started off with bottles of Ayala Brut Majeur along with some excellent Brie de Meaux, cave-aged Gruyere, dried apricots, parma ham and Rosette de Lyon.

There was way too much beer to finish, from fresh India Pale Ales, four-year-old stouts and barleywine, and Trappist and abbey ales. The first ales to come out, however, are the highest-rated India Pale Ale and Double/Imperial IPA in the world, according to the rankings at BeerAdvocate.com.

The Beer Professor-slash-Beertender lays out the blind test

These were, or course, the elusive Pliny the Elder Double IPA from Russian River and Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA. Pliny was the traditional favorite, based on beer advocate rankings and personal experience, but a few weeks ago, a two-month old Sculpin pulled off a surprising upset against a one-month old Pliny. Think of it as Chael Sonnen actually landing that prayer of a spinning backfist against Anderson Silva and knocking the Spider out. IPAs (like Sculpin) and Double IPAs (like PtE) are best when drunk fresh, because the hop aroma and bitterness are much more dominant. This time though, the Sculpin was already at three months, and the Pliny was a month old.

The tasting was done semi-blind. We didn’t see the beers being poured, but our eyes were open when we tasted. Visually, one look is enough to tell the difference between the two (at least for beer geek hop heads like us), which could have affected our judgment subconsciously. The Pliny is a much deeper, clearer orange, with a more substantial head than the thinner and more hazy Sculpin. Pliny the Elder, to me is just a beautiful beer, in the same way that I consider many Trappist beers to be handsome. Maybe beer has a gender, and notwithstanding the name, I’d say Pliny leans more toward the fairer sex. After all, only female hops are used in giving beer flavor and aroma, and there are few beers that are more hop-centric than Pliny. Appearance: Pliny 10-8.

I don’t think the fact that we saw the beer would have made a difference either way. Sculpin’s grapefruit, citrus, floral aroma has always been quite distinctive to me, and I still believe that it’s the most fragrant beer I’ve ever had. One whiff, and you know it’s Sculpin. Pliny has a more grassy and pine aroma with a bit of citrus, but it just doesn’t fill a room up like Sculpin does. The only IPA that ever came close was the surprising Central City Red Racer IPA from Canada. Just as Sculpin was no match for Pliny visually, the former wins the olfactory round by much more than a nose. Aroma: Sculpin 10-8.

an old photo, but good for demonstrative purposes

Flavor-wise, this was close. I found Sculpin had a much hoppier finish, but Pliny had more prominent malts but without compromising the bitterness, and a much more imposing entrance. I’m surprised that I don’t have much else to say, probably because after the initial sips, differentiating one from the other became much more difficult because of the hop assault on the taste buds. In terms of body, Sculpin felt thin and watery next to the almost nectary Pliny. Since I have to pick, though, I’d go for Pliny because of the superior mouthfeel it provides. This round goes to Pliny, 10-9.

For me, Pliny narrowly prevails over Sculpin with a score of 28-27. Overall, though, it was a split decision. Those of us who weren’t present at the previous head-to-head tasting went with the Elder, while those who had the fresher Sculpin still found the latter superior. While Pliny is given a lot of slack (it’s a double IPA compared to a single, and is much more fresh), it made the most of it to come out on top. At least for me.

The night was just beginning, and I don’t think the sun had even set when we began with the Pliny/Sculpin face-off. But I’ll write about the dinner another time, as this post is getting a bit long and both the IPAs and the excellent food deserve their own entries. All the photos except the last one, of the Pliny the Elder are from Dra. Thea Ancheta. Thanks! As our gracious host for the evening would say, until the next!

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