Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ipswich Shows its Age

In celebration of its hometown's 375th anniversary, Mercury Brewing Company is releasing, in 1.5-liter bottles, a series of strong ales under the Ipswich Ale label. The first such bottling, due out the beginning of 2009, is Choate Bridge Imperial Stout. Also reportedly due out are a Summer Barleywine (whatever that means), a Double IPA (great, just what we need: another IIPA), and a barrel-aged Old Ale (which, admittedly, sounds pretty tasty).

I can't tell if this is Mercury giving something back to the community that's sustained them for so long, or if they're going for broke with a mediocre beer brand in hopes of reviving it. Either way, it's good to see Ipswich Ale breaking out of its shell. Until recently the Oatmeal Stout was really the only Ipswich worth buying, which leaves me with high expectations for the Imperial Stout.

Here's what I'm worried about, though. First of all, can someone email me the definition of a Summer Barleywine? Because I can't find it in the BJCP Style Guidelines. I'm hoping for something like Smuttynose's compelling Wheat Wine, but I'm not holding my breath. After all, the last time Mercury tried to brew a barleywine (Stone Cat Barleywine, 10.2%), it came out like godawful, soulless hop juice.

Double IPA, well, whatever. It'll be like every other double IPA on the market. Compare it to Opa-Opa's Double Red Rock if you want; it'll probably turn out very similar. I'm really getting tired of brewers thinking they can put a new twist on something that even the West Coast is getting tired of twisting.

A barrel-aged Old Ale, you say? Hmmm. Well, Old Ales are rare these days, and though it may or may not be true that they're making a comeback, those that I have seen recently have been of pretty darned high quality. John Harvard's Old Man Winter, for example, was wonderful. If the base brew isn't too cloyingly sweet, the addition of barrel aging sould round out the hop edge with a good vanilla note, emphasize the roast malt with the barrel toasting, and bring everything into harmonious balance. The only thing that makes me a bit wary, however, is that, to my knowledge, Mercury has never produced an Old Ale or a barrel-aged beer of any kind for public consumption. (If I'm wrong about this, email me and I'll gladly recant.) Upside: Mercury has made a dry barleywine, the long-retired 1084, which was, if nothing else, an exercize in low finishing gravity. If they can finish the Old Ale like this before putting it in the barrels, it might come out pretty damn tasty.

We'll have to wait to find out. In the mean time, crack open an Ipswich Winter, or a Fall Harvest if you still have some, and relax. I'll let you know more when they release more info.


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