Wednesday, August 31, 2011

DRANK: CascaZilla Red Ale, Ithaca Beer Company, Ithaca, NY - BOTTLE


The benchmark of all great beers. The yin and yang between malty sweetness and bitter, hoppy bite. Just as every batter in the bigs yearns for the sweet spot—the perfect contact between white ash and cowhide—the brewer aspires to reach the same sort of beery zen with each of their brews.

Unless that's not what your going for.

It's not necessarily a bad thing either. I don't mean disharmony, just not balance. Look at how many breweries of late, are producing a single ingredient "showcase" beer—from raspberries and coffee to chipotle peppers and bananas. Really, who wants to play nice with everybody all the time? Sometimes, ya' just gotta do you own thing, right? CascaZilla Red Ale from Ithaca Beer Company, proves this point.

Do you think all this beer has made me put on weight?
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of this tasty treat, let me give a little background on the name. As the bumper stickers states, "Ithaca is gorges,"and who am I to argue? That being said one of Ithaca's gorges happens to be named Cascadilla gorge. A potent and popular American hop variety, coincidentally, goes by the name of Cascade. To round out the triple threat, there also happens to be a gigantic, Tokyo destroying dinosaur named Godzilla. Put them all together and you get Casca (from the Latin root meaning to tumble down a hoppy gorge) and Zilla (meaning "Oh no there goes Tokyo—Go Go Godzilla!)

While all that is quite amusing and wonderfully punny. The real important part is that bit about the hops. Cascades have become the defining American hop. It's flowery and spicy with a citrus-like quality. So why not make a beer that highlights this star of the Cannabaceae family—and that's exactly what Ithaca Beer Company did with CasacaZilla.

The bottle opened with a hiss and immediately I could smell the distinct citrus/floral aroma, so associated with Casacdes. It pours a deep, almost garnet, red with a dense tan head. Ithaca's website says CascaZilla is both hopped and dry hopped with Cascades, and that's apparent to the nose as the head settled. There's also just a hint of caramel that manages to sneak past the hoppy defensive line (Look at that, two sports comparisons in a single post.) At first sip you get a little burnt sugar, some smooth caramel and a nice earthy, oaky tone. Then ever so slowly, the orange and citrus moves in, followed by cherry and then rolling into that deep, sweet piny goodness, sought after by so many, especially West Coast, brewers. It holds slightly heavy in the mouth and it brings a pronounced bitterness, but not in an overwhelming way. Yes, the bitterness lingers but just until the next sip. Although the label reads "Red Ale," it is definitely not your Grandfather's red ale.

Here's what makes this beer good. Simplicity. Ithaca chose to highlight a traditional beer ingredient in this brew—and stopped there. Nothing crazy, just a solid malt profile and the right amount of hops. Wait a minute, that sounds like a balanced beer. But it's not, and again that's nod bad. The Cascades still hold the spotlight—they take center stage and keep your attention through all three acts.  Ithaca knew what this hop was capable of and they let them do their job. No over compensating for the sake of making this a "Cascade beer"—throwing in hops for hops sake—just simple, smart brewing.

The real question is could CascaZilla kick Mothra's ass?

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