Sunday, December 16, 2012

Surly - Wet

Well, this is one of those beers that I never thought I was going to be able to try. It sells quick, it doesn’t distribute outside the brewer's home state, and while I have plenty of family in Minnesota, I don’t have a go to trading partner up there. So when my wife brought back some Boston-based Wachusett beer for some friends that used to live there, imagine my surprise when they responded in kind with this little gem! Thanks Jim & Anne!  In fact, I only received this beer last night, but so much of its reputation is based on freshness that I wanted to drink it and review it as soon as possible.

For those not familiar with Surly’s Wet, it boasts on its can that the hops are picked on Day1, shipped on Day 2, and used on Day 4 so that the hops never have a chance to dry out.  Different hop varieties are used so the brew may vary a bit, but rest assured that will this much attention being paid to freshness (or "Ultra-Fresh" as the can states) you are all but guaranteed a big resiny treat.  The beer that I am reviewing today was canned on 10/1/2012.

Please excuse both my recent posting infrequency as I have just moved into my first house. There are features of said house that will definitely warrant their own post in the coming months. This also means that I haven’t yet set up a great spot to take pictures of these amazing beers, so bear with me.  Let's pour!

Aroma 12/12
Things begin with some very pleasant pine and orange rind notes. Rising up just behind those are mangos, pineapples, and some resin lingering in the background. However, once the beer begins to warm the resin takes on more of a primary role with the rind and gives a very “bitter orange” vibe to the overall character. Along with this resin comes some pretty strong grassy notes and since I happen to love that particular hop trait, it is most welcome. For those of you keeping track, yes I’ve only talked about the hop aromas thus far. The malts are in there, but are very far back and only open up once the beer has warmed. I’m thankful they show up as it gives the beer a more substantial, intense aroma and their sweetness helps to emphasize the sweet hop aromas like the pineapple. 

Appearance 3/3
This beer pours lighter than I expected, but still looks like a million damn dollars. It shines like a orange sapphire (yes, there are orange sapphires, smarty pants) and enjoys much of the same brilliance and clarity. Its robust eggshell colored head is maintained by a constantly ascending carbonation. The head forms slowly but builds tall and fluffy, before settling a bit and taking on more of a whipped cream texture. If any photographers out there are looking to create stock images of beer and what it should look like, this is it. Wow! Also worth mentioning, I’ve written the review up until this point with beer in my glass and the head is still present! I’ve never seen retention like this. Top marks and extra sparkle magic unicorn rainbow brownie bonus points to Surly for this! 

Flavor 19/20
First impressions are everything and this beer’s impression is bitter. I’m anxious to see what happens once my taste buds acclimate a bit more to the bitterness. Interestingly enough, the bitter in the first sips can be sensed in accented waves, each punctuating its own beginning. My initial notes read as, “woody, resin, long lasting bitter” and I’m pretty sure a part of my tongue went numb. Thankfully it recovered, finally acclimated, and then other flavors begin to emerge. Most notably are a muted pineapple and a sweet malt that I am having trouble placing. It’s sweet and lighter and almost sugary, which makes me think honey but the flavor isn’t correct for honey. This malt flavor is more fruitlike and definitely not the typical caramel malts used in making heavy duty West Coast IPAs. A quick wine taster’s slurp gives me little additional information, only a splash pineapple, a hint of the warmth, some nice pepper spice, and shot of pure resin. The finish is (obviously) not as intensely bitter as when I started this glass, but it still unapologetically offers its own take. Immediately after swallowing is a mellow sweetness, detectable only after one’s tongue has been adequately prepared for the resin, and then an intense aspirin-like bitter that fades in to tie up any loose ends. In hindsight, the sweet malts that confused me earlier are probably caramel malts that taste sweeter with melding with pineapple from the hops. It’s a great combination!

Mouthfeel 5/5
A big bodied beer to hold some big flavors. It rolls around in the mouth like mercury, but the hops’ spicy pepper note give a prickly sensation on the tongue and keeps it from becoming sluggish. The carbonation that was so present in the glass and contributing to the head is still ascending in subsequent pours, but this diminishes its presence in the mouth. The result is a beer that feels exceptionally smooth and silky thanks to an unobtrusive carbonation that dies quickly once inside the mouth. The warmth that became present during a slurp really never had much more presence than that. 

Overall Impression 9/10 
This beer is impressive, but definitely has the potential to be more-so if drank closer to its birth date.  I feel that the main consequence is that the fruits in the aroma do not come out as well in the flavor, resulting in a less complex beer than it was created to be. At 2 ½ months of age, this beer still has plenty going for it. It’s head and appearance were fantastic, its aroma was excellent, and it’s tasty as all get out. Right now it stands as a strong West Coast IPA, but at a younger age it could truly stand out from the pack. The only question is how to do that. How can you possibly get this beer with any less hop deterioration than Surly has tried to do?

Total 48/50
The answer to the question in the previous sentence is, “you don’t.” Surly has made more than an earnest effort to get a beer into its customers’ waiting hands that is as fresh as they can possibly make it and can it. Any further action lies in the hands of distributors, retailers, and how quickly craft beer drinkers can snatch it off the shelves. I dig this beer as a whole, with only minor nit-picky issues here and there. If Surly had the same distribution abilities as Oskar Blues, this beer would compete nationally with Deviant Dales. Hop heads should of course seek it out as fresh as possible, but if you’re not accustomed to how relentless hops can be, you may wanna sit this one out. This beer is a stern reminder than Minnesota is not just a state of quiet, polite, church-going folk. It’s also a state filled with potential hockey defensemen ready to administer a hockey stick enema if you stand in their crease too long. So noted, Surly. So noted.

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