Reviewed: The Alchemist Focal Banger
Product description: Focal Banger is an American India Pale Ale. We have a real love for IPAs here at Alchemist, and we strive to offer you the best hop experience that we possibly can. This beer is brewed using Citra and Mosaic hops and our favorite British malts. Truly an abundance of hoppy goodness…
The Alchemist – The Alchemist Focal Banger – 16oz served eventually in specialty glassware – 7% ABV
I recently reviewed this beer’s big brother, Heady Topper, and walked away impressed but wasn’t in love with the beer necessarily. I had the same feelings about Focal Banger when I first tried it in 2014. Thanks to a recent distribution of Alchemist beers to Southern California, I had a chance to revisit this as well.
Same as Heady Topper, Focal Banger makes a strong case for drinking this beer directly from the can. The explanation as to why is spelled out in the Heady Topper review, so I won’t rehash that here. I similarly started drinking this from the can and then switched over to glassware midway through for comparison.
Cracking this one open, you get a nice hop aroma funneled through the small mouth of the can, but it isn’t as juicy and ripe smelling as Heady Topper. This is brighter with fresh pineapple, grassy hop pellets, and sourdough bread. It’s a familiar and inviting aroma. Dig in, and immediately this beer sets itself far apart from Heady Topper. Heady is a sweeter, fruitier beer with an unfinished, yeasty flavor that we’ve grown accustomed to with hazy IPAs. Focal Banger is a finished beer with a crisp, malty backbone and more traditional IPA bitterness. Freshly cut pineapple mixes with juicy grapefruit style hops that builds up to an 8/10 intensity in terms of apparent bitterness. Sweetness is dialed back to a 4/10 giving the beer a distinctive hop-forward character and relative dryness. Alcohol is in the regular strength segment at 7% and plays essentially no role in the flavor profile, which I appreciate.
That odd graininess I mentioned in my Heady Topper review is back in Focal Banger, which makes me think this is just part of how their beers taste – a grain bill and water chemistry terroir if you will. In Focal Banger, though, I really like it. Again, it tastes almost raw and farmy to me but this time with corn grits and white wheat piled on top of a sourdough base. This gives the beer a lot of personality and sets it apart from most IPAs in our region. There’s just a touch of powderiness in the mouthfeel perhaps from being shipped to the West Coast.
I switched over to drinking this from a glass and really appreciated the change. There’s more liquid and less air with each sip and the aroma is easier to appreciate, although The Alchemist will argue that this moment is fleeting as the beer is opened up to more oxygen and volatile compounds will quickly escape from the glass. I’m not too worried because at this juncture Focal Banger is ticking all the right boxes for me. The color is a slightly hazy, beautiful straw to light golden with generous cream-colored foam on top. The aroma continues to impress, but I’m more focused on the mouthfeel. This reminds me more and more of my favorite local IPAs like Pizza Port Swami’s and Beachwood Citraholic. There’s a chewier malt base and thicker body here compared to the softness, sweetness, and saltiness of Heady Topper. Focal Banger is richer, sharper, and all-around more complete of an IPA in my opinion. It’s more of an everyday beer than its big brother. Whereas Heady Topper tastes like a deliberately unfinished beer and fun experiment, Focal Banger is a refined masterpiece.
This is seriously outstanding. I’ll duck and run, but I liked it better out of a glass. I think seeing the color and getting the foam is a significant part of enjoying beer – I can’t do without it. After spending about 30 minutes with this beer, I’m confident is placing this in my Top 5 IPAs of all time.