Quick Take: This is a west coast beer specifically made to satisfy the bitter is better crowd. If your idea of a great IPA is honeyed Chillwave or Hopslam, stay far away. But if bitter grapefruit is your thing, meet your new beer king. For me, it takes one of my favorite drinking IPAs and turns it into a one note bore of bitter grapefruit peel that lacks the juicy grapefruit I crave.
Brew Facts: Ballast Point started as, and still runs, a home brew store called Home Brew Mart. Their beers are now available nationwide and they are in the midst of building a 4th brewery. Additionally, Ballast Point has a series of spirits, Fugu (vodka), Old Grove (gin), and Three Sheets (rum).
Appearance: I was hoping for a bottle to have time to really appreciate this one, but draft is all I got. There are worse problems to have. It’s poured into a water goblet with little head room, but a tenacious film coats the surface. It’s creamy white and retentive, just like me. Few bubbles disturb the crystal pool of still copper, which looks in line with regular Sculpin.
Aroma: In the race to my nose, grapefruit gets first, second and third. Any other aromatics didn’t have a chance of making it to my nostrils as the grapefruit bullied past them. Metaphor aside, some serious searching finds resin, sweeter malts, lemon, and grass wrapped tightly within bitter grapefruit rind, but that might be my memories of regular Sculpin informing my brain. Some fruity esters slink around in the background, but this is a grapefruit bomb as expected.
Taste/Mouth Feel: The beer in my mouth is small-bubbled and prickly, but the mouth feel is full. For as clear as this beer is, it boarders on chewy but never syrupy. I’d have to try a regular Sculpin to see if there are any differences, but I think the body and mouth feel is comparable. The flavor profile, however, is not. Sweet takes a backseat to extreme bitter grapefruit rind or peel. The lack of malt body to balance bitter with sweet just leaves some grassiness to grow in the background. It finishes just as bitter as it drinks, but dry and with some heat. The lack of resin or sugary qualities is disconcerting as this beer is unbalanced, tipping wholly to bitter bomb levels. It’s more pine tar bitter where some tropical fruits could help balance it out. Another big gulp washes across my entire tongue with a strong, clear grapefruit flavor. It coats the mouth and stickily clings to the lips. Not oily per say, but it binds with you tongue in a way that generations not yet born to your family are gonna taste this it’s so strong. I wouldn’t consider this necessarily juicy, more like your picking the hop cones out of your teeth. To me, juicy equals a hoppy, bitter sweetness that bursts with fruit flavors. Grapefruit Sculpin isn’t quite enamel stripping bitter, but huge none the less.
Final Thoughts: This is a west coast beer specifically made to satisfy the bitter is better crowd. No mistaking it. If your idea of a great IPA is honeyed Chillwave or Hopslam, stay far away. The balance and layers of IPA flavors that is Sculpin becomes flattened under the heavy-handed weight of the grapefruit. It certainly isn’t a bad beer and many will (and do) find this to be a refreshing take on a classic, but I’m not one of those. I don’t know what I was expecting as addressing my complaints would probably turn this into regular Sculpin, but I can’t hide my disappointment in the lack of balance or sweeter fruit qualities. If bitter grapefruit is your thing, meet your new beer king. For me, it takes one of my favorite drinking IPAs and turns it into a one note bore of bitter grapefruit peel that lacks the juicy grapefruit I crave.
Update (11/18/14): I had the opportunity to drink a bottled version and it was a much improved experience. The aroma was of grapefruit, fruity pebbles, floral/lavender and resin, while the taste was clean, crisp grapefruit, resin and grass. The bottle presents a much more balanced and subdued experience that was a palate pleaser. I’m not sure if the tap version I had was an anomaly, but I would recommend trying both. My personal preference for regular Sculpin remains, but I better understand the hype and would gladly drink the bottled version again.