The Long and Hoppy Road to Firestone Walker Hopnosis IPA
Last week, Firestone Walker released a new beer called Hopnosis IPA. We received a press release and a few cans of the beer to try. Before I get into my thoughts on the new beer, it made me think back to all the IPAs I’ve had over the years from Firestone Walker.
The Pre-Jack Days
Shortly before and during the initial days of The Full Pint, unless you got in the car and drove to Firestone Walker’s two locations on the Central Coast, roughly around 2006-2007, you had slim options for buying Firestone Walker beer varieties. You could get a six pack of tried-and-true Double Barrel Ale, Pale 31 and Walker’s Reserve Porter. If you were geeking out on craft beer at this time, you could buy a packaged IPA by way of the Humboldt Ales-acquired Nectar IPA. Nectar IPA was awesome, but looking back, wasn’t a full-fledged West Coast IPA as we know it today, as it had a touch of caramel malt which brewers would claim kept the beer balanced. Now if you were of the utmost geeky variety, you also were aware Firestone Walker brewed white labeled beer for restaurants and pubs all over California. Around early 2007, many pubs that caried these “white labeled” beers brewed by Firestone Walker were carrying a new, delightful IPA. This would soon debut as Union Jack IPA.
West Coast IPAs were at the beginning of their popularity around the early 2000s and the trend was for high bitterness, high aromatics and a pale body. Firestone Walker had already established a pedigree of finesse by this point with their pale ale line, many other California brewers were making hoppy beers with extreme bitterness and pushing the boundaries of alcohol content. At this point, Firestone Walker’s house yeast was an English strain versus the popular Cal Ale yeast many here in California were brewing West Coast IPAs with. The result was the highly bitter but very polished Union Jack IPA. I drank a lot of Union Jack, whether it was 12 oz. bottles or even the once-popular 22 oz bottles. While I enjoyed it a lot, it was the odd beer out compared to the prototypical West Coast IPA. An anecdote I’d like to share is one time I came home from the market with a bomber of Union Jack. The bottle fell out of my bag and shattered everywhere. My entire house smelled like fresh hops; it was unreal.
A few years later, Double Jack (a stronger version of Union Jack), Easy Jack (a weaker version of Union Jack) and Wookey Jack (a Black IPA with the Jack namesake) all hit the market.
Firestone Walker took the tried and true “rotational” hop series formula to the next level with Luponic Distortion. Starting it off with a series of numbers to signify a new batch or version and in later years, began marking the newest batch with flavor descriptors. The beer was always delicious but as a West Coast IPA lover, the beer was a little too light/refreshing/easy to drink. It straddled the line between modern pale ale and West Coast IPA, where unapologetically, I want more body and more bite. The best insult a beer can receive is that it is too drinkable, and that might be Luponic in a nutshell.
Introducing Hopnosis IPA
It seems Firestone Walker has a constant balancing act going on between pleasing the casual beer drinker and keeping beer geeks like myself interested. They sent us a note saying they have a new IPA on deck called Hopnosis. I scoffed at them, pretty much telling them they slapped a new label on Luponic Distortion, nice try guys! They explained that Hopnosis was a full-on West Coast IPA using modern hops and cutting-edge hops technology. Specifically, Mosaic Cryo Hops, which concentrates the delicious parts of the hops and leaves out the undesirable parts. The process and technique are above my pay grade, but lots of West Coast IPA masters have been utilizing these new hop styles and new hop products to hone in their IPA recipes.
After trying a few cans, my feedback is that this beer has what I thought was missing in Luponic Distortion. It has enough pungent hop flavor and aroma and a nudge higher alcohol, and has a modern malt bill like some of my other favorite West Coast IPAs. While there will always be a special place in my heart for a beer like Union Jack, I like something such as Hopnosis if given the choice.