Mendocino Brewing made it on to TSJ’s radar a few months ago and fared pretty well, so I was energized to see they had produced an imperial series. I giddily examined each new bottle until a dark realization overtook me – I was going to have to pay for them.
It’s not that they were terribly expensive. Even sold as a four-pack their price point was not obscene in the least. It was just the realization that I, a professional beer reviewer of the highest self-appointed calibre, was paying for my beer in the exact same universe where a pudgy melanoma called “Snooki” was getting paid $32k to speak at fucking Rutgers.
Don’t misread my tone. I don’t hate Snooki any more than I hate any lottery winner, which in essence she is. MTV was casting for a reality show and she was just the right skank in the right place. What kills me is her subsequent rise to stardom. Her book deal, cameo appearances and lucrative collegiate speeches haven’t materialized from her copious wit or worldly insights, but rather her ability to absorb a right cross.
Following the incident, Snooki’s personal appearance fee increased five-fold simply because people were willing to pay it. She found a way to turn concussive trauma into a financial windfall the likes of which is only duplicated in Super Mario World:
America, we can do better. We can choose to be fascinated with excellence rather than the first recorded mouth-to-fist transmission of herpes. We can work to elevate our discourse. We can fund programs that ensure that hard-working and hilarious beer writers need never pony up for a brew again. At the very least we can ensure that Nobel prize winners don’t make $2,000 less than Jersey Shore cast members to speak at the exact same damned school.
Failing that, I’m pretty much willing to let any of you punch me in the face for a few bucks.
Imperial Barley Wine Ale (11% ABV)
This ruby-hued sobriety terminator has a nose heavy with plums, strawberry jam and cough syrup. It smells like a gateway beer for kids, which would be fine if it didn’t also happen to have sufficient alcohol to put a tween in a coma.
Barleywines are often a little sticky in their sweetness, but the flavors I’m about to describe may seem more akin to a dessert topping than a beer. I get immediate notes of cinnamon and ginger spices, a sour cherry flavor that’s long on cherry and short on sour, and a boozy flavor somewhere between rum and sherry. It finishes drier than you’d expect for that profile, but it is definitely sweet overall. All it needs is the ability to form a beer casing when dispensed on ice cream and I’ll pretty much be in heaven.
This one would probably improve considerably with age, but for now it’s a somewhat eclectic and zealous take on the barley wine style.
Imperial Stout (10% ABV)
This impenetrably inky black stout has a dark mocha head and a standard accompaniment of earthy, roasted aromas. I got some hints of chocolate in the nose as well.
The flavor has a complexity that I wasn’t able to unearth in the nose, but that’s not necessarily a compliment. The experience of drinking this beer is like meeting the brilliant and beautiful girl of your dreams only to discover she not only has opinions, but feels compelled to voice them. Simplicity has its virtues too.
I detect anise, toffee and some dark chocolate, but there’s a bitter, tar flavor that accompanies them. Some flowery hops do manifest in the finish, but the carbon bitterness seems to really dominate there as well.
The big alcohol was well-moderated in this potent brew, but ultimately the beer was somewhat undone for me before that.
Imperial IPA (8% ABV)
I don’t shy away from any beer. More to the point, beers consider themselves lucky if I don’t tackle them with the gusto of a secret service agent removing the president from the line of fire. But I’ll admit that Imperial IPAs make me a little nervous. They can be a real wrecking ball to the palate, if wrecking balls had the presence of mind to follow that up by delivering a liver contusion. Let us all pray that Skynet never gets into the construction business for that very same reason.
Mendocino’s Imperial IPA is a reddish-amber brew with a full, rocky head. It has moderate floral hops in the nose, which seem a bit gentle for the genre.
The hop presence captures peppery, flowery and grassy dimensions in the beer with a somewhat oily mouthfeel, but this is offset by an almost barleywine-style sweetness. This balance functions just fine and tastes pretty good, but nothing about the experience screams SUPER IPA to me.
It’s entirely possible I’ve just become so accustomed to west coast IPAs abusing me. Maybe I don’t remember what a loving, respectful relationship with an IPA feels like.* So I’ll just say that this is, at worst, a little underwhelming, but definitely worth taking for a spin.
*Rihanna, I finally understand what you went through, gurl. Keep ya head up, even if it means recording duets with Britney Spears occasionally.
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