Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Un*Earthly Imperial IPA

Southern Tier Brewing Company
Lakewood, NY

Style: Imperial/Double IPA
ABV: 11.0%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

Pair With:
Every now and then a routine trip to the local craft beer retailer provides an unexpected discovery. A casual browse of the shelves will turn up a new, exciting brew or brewery that piques your interest and causes your lil’ plastic basket to overflow, making you look like a fool (this has happened to Nigel on a number of occasions, but my English stubbornness prevents me from just getting a damn cart). Perhaps it’s a well known brewery that is new to your particular region, or perhaps it’s a new brewery altogether. Perhaps it’s a new brew from one of your favorite breweries that you somehow didn’t hear about prior to its release, or perhaps it’s an intriguing brew from a brewery you typically avoid that causes you to give it another shot. Whatever the exact situation, it’s always nice to be surprised.

This happened to me a few weeks back on one of my pilgrimages to my favorite good beer retailer. Among the discombobulated plethora of American craft offerings (Nigel’s favorite retailer has a great selection that is randomly thrown onto various shelves in no particular order—it has the ambiance of a back alley dumpster) were a few bombers and sixers from a brewery I had not previously heard of. Southern Tier Brewing Co. is based in Lakewood, New York (in the far southwest corner of the state) and is spreading through the Midwest like wildfire with a variety of ballsy brews in both bombers and six packs. Like any good Beer Dork, Nigel decided to try this previously unknown brewery by selecting a bomber of the style that suits me best: an imperial IPA.

When I find a new brew or brewer, I usually pick it up to sample even if I know nothing about it. However, before I actually drink it, I often look up information online, first on the official web site of the brewery (if there is one), then on some of the better known craft sites where I can gain some insight on the brewer or the beer (I can assure you this doesn’t alter my perception of any beer I review, as I really, truly don’t care what other bloggers think about the beer … I’m simply looking for information on when, where, why and how the beer is brewed so I can include as much information as possible in my review). Knowing nothing about Southern Tier, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they have a nice selection of some of my favorite styles and they don’t shy away from making them to the extreme. Southern Tier has received some positive feedback among craft beer bloggers, but ultimately the only thing that Nigel cares about is what Nigel thinks. After all, Nigel is Nigel’s biggest fan.

I was surprised that a brewery that seems to be so well received and is gaining such widespread Midwestern distribution had flown under the Nigel radar. I’m guessing this has a lot to do with Lakewood’s location in “craft beer purgatory.” Too far east to be considered Midwest and too far west to be considered Northeast, Southern Tier is located in a somewhat obscure spot between two of the bigger craft beer hotbeds in America. Throw in the fact that Buffalo and Erie, Pennsylvania aren’t exactly media meccas (the last thing I heard out of Buffalo was Scott Norwood missing that damn kick in the Super Bowl over 15 years ago), and it's understandable that I haven’t exactly been inundated with information on Southern Tier.

Nothing helps make a new, previously obscure brewery well known to the beer drinking public than quality selections, and if Un*Earthly IPA is any indication, it won’t be long before people around the country are clamoring for more brews from Southern Tier. Established in 2004 by a couple of guys who clearly know their stuff, the rapid rise of Southern Tier shows there is still a market for new craft breweries, as long as they’re willing to take chances and make quality products.

Un*Earthly IPA is intense, even by imperial IPA standards: 11 percent ABV and—I shit you not—153 IBUs! For example’s sake, the über-hoppy Devil Dancer Triple IPA from Founders checks in at a mere 112 on the IBU meter. I kind of have a hard time believing this could actually be a 153, but that’s what’s listed on Southern Tier’s website. Light two-row pale and cara-pils malt is combined with red wheat, as well as significant hop additions that include Willamette and Cascade hops in the kettle, whole leaf Amarillo’s on the hop back, and dry-hopped selections of Amarillo, Centennial, and Chinook. Clearly, this is a dream come true for any lover of American hops.

Un*Earthly pops open with a massive waft of Cascade gold, the sweet, citrusy, piney aroma that sends us hopheads into a tizzy. The pour is nice, with a picturesque, half-inch pillowy white head on the pour that dissipates quickly, leaving a fair amount of creamy skim at the top of the drink. A nice, translucent golden brown color without any noticeable sedimentation, Un*Earthly is exactly what you’d expect a fine imperial IPA to look like. The initial overpowering Cascade aroma is surprisingly tempered by a nice amount of earthiness, as well as a tinge of alcohol.

The flavor is powerful as you would expect, but it’s not so hoppy as to render it undrinkable. I can’t quite pinpoint the flavor, but the same earthy notes that affected the aroma also alters the flavor. The citrusy zip of grapefruit and orange zest is in full force, as is the piney bite of Northwest hops, but there is an underlying earthiness that tempers it nicely. It’s not overly sweet outside of the hops, so it’s not really sugary malt that tempers it; perhaps it’s the wheat. Whatever it is, it’s a welcome addition to what would otherwise be the textbook definition of a hop monster. A tinge of alcohol is detectable on the back end, but not to the extreme. For an 11 percent ABV, 153 IBU giant, it’s surprisingly drinkable. Medium bodied, it goes down fairly smooth for the style, though it does have a significant aftertaste that lingers for a bit. All in all, it’s an excellent imperial IPA, though not quite a five mugger in my opinion.

I have to say, Southern Tier has left a very favorable impression on me thus far. There are many more brews of theirs that I look forward to sampling in the coming months, starting with my newly purchased six-pack of their standard IPA. As I stated previously, Southern Tier brews are rapidly expanding throughout the Midwest, and I would certainly recommend giving them a shot. They’re reasonably priced at about $7-$8 for a sixer, and $5-$7 for a bomber. Any true Hophead should definitely pick up a bomber of Un*Earthly should they stumble across it, as it’s an experience that will not disappoint.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on December 31, 2007.
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