By Aaron Ramson
The coffee IPA; nothing brings my enthusiasm for artisan craft to a screeching halt like those three words tossed together so sloppily, my high school lunch lady could have made it. On paper, coffee and hops go together like Jada Pinkett Smith and marriage fidelity. Yet, coffee has successfully made the leap from stouts and porters to Kolsches and IPAs, with some of the country’s biggest independent breweries making coffee IPAs. San Diego’s Stone Brewing did a collaboration back in 2013 that yielded their excellent Dayman Coffee IPA, and they’ve done it once again in 2020, this time collaborating with Modern Times for the new Wizards and Gargoyles Hazy IPA.
Modern Times Brewing Co has made a name for themselves not just as one of San Diego’s premier breweries, but also as an exceptional coffee roaster. Brewery founder Jacob McKean explained, “Roasting coffee has been part of Modern Times from the very beginning. At some point during my career in the beer industry, I started to apply the same level of passion I have for beer to specialty coffee. I really wanted to incorporate coffee into the DNA of the brewery.” Modern Times now sells several varieties of roasted coffee beans, but it was Black House, a 5.8% ABV coffee stout full of roasted flavor, that first gave the public a taste of how well the brewery mixed coffee with beer. Modern Times may have a winning beer in their signature coffee stout, but the company’s IPAs have gained them just as many fans. It’s a surprise that Modern Times hasn’t made a coffee IPA before this collaboration with Stone, as the style seems to be one that brewers enjoy making.
Sierra Nevada released their “No Middle Ground” coffee IPA a few years back, and the Bay Area’s 21st Amendment Brewery is currently teaming up with Peet’s coffee for a collaboration IPA called 1966, named for the year Peet’s opened their first coffee shop. Oregon’s Rogue Ales created a brew simply called “Cold Brew IPA”, while Colorado’s Oscar Blues has their “Hotbox Coffee IPA”. What sets Stone and Modern Times collaboration apart from other coffee IPAs is the substyle of hazy, giving it a different flavor profile and mouthfeel than a standard IPA.
Press releases for Wizards and Gargoyles Hazy IPA include the fact that this beer is made from Citra, Cashmere, and Centennial hops, as well as two new experimental hops not yet on the market, simply called HBC 685 and HBC 692. While the title of the beer calls attention to its hazy nature, it makes no claims to be a NEIPA, or New England-style IPA. There’s some confusion as to the correlation between hazy and NEIPAs, with many people thinking they’re the same thing. While NEIPAs are hazy, not all hazies are NEIPAs. Many west coast hazy IPAs are just that, turbid versions of the big, bold hop bomb, with an emphasis on tropical-fruit-profile hops instead of the classic citrus-tasting varietals. The true NEIPA is much less aggressively hopped, featuring almost no bittering, with the hop character coming across as juicy more than dank.
This beer was released on August 10th, and was readily available at Total Wine, featured on their promotional endcap. Sold in 4-packs and featuring retro artwork meant to invoke the classic 8-bit game “Wizards and Warriors”, I purchased Wizards and Gargoyles to see just what this beer had to offer.
WIZARDS AND GARGOYLES COFFEE IPA – Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA. 7% ABV, 51 IBU.
APPEARANCE: Pours an opaque, French gold color that doesn’t seem to be especially turbid or thick with suspended matter. A billowy white cap of foam retains nicely, leaving a sticky lacing down the side of the glass. 4.25/5
NOSE: Notes of orange, pineapple and hatch chili upfront; these fruity, herbal aromas of peppercorn permeate the nose. Citrusy and a bit spicy. No roasted coffee notes to be found, leading me to believe green coffee beans are a component. 4.25/5
TASTE: The taste follows the nose with the fruitiness of peppercorn and the greenness of hatch chili giving this a flavor more akin to a chili IPA instead of a coffee IPA. Lots of orange zest and grapefruit pith. The hop character is indeed dank and not very juicy. Each sip finishes dry and mildly astringent. The woody, earthy notes of coffee show up in the after taste. No roasted flavors present. 4/5
MOUTHFEEL: Creamy but thin. Coats the tongue for a second before drying your mouth with astringency. 3.5/5
OVERALL: With its dry finish, resiny, pithy hop character, and decidedly green overtones, the title of “coffee IPA” is deceptive for this beer. It isn’t coffee in the roasted sense like you expect from a stout, rather the beans give a vegetal brightness that has more in common with chili peppers. Seek it out, if for no other reason than it being a rather unique and well-made interpretation of a style that has yet to prove its staying power. OVERALL SCORE: 4/5