Thursday, October 8, 2015

From Shiner, something Wicked this way comes

Image credit: Spoetzl Brewery.

I'm always curious to find out what's in a certain little white box that shows up on my doorstep every now and again. It's always the same size and shape, and it always has a Shiner stamp of approval somewhere on the outside. The curiosity is natural, I suppose, since I know there's some sort of beer inside, but given the brewery's history and how they've taken a few steps outside the "bocks" over the past few years, lately when I see the package I start to ask myself, "What have they gone and done this time?"

In this case, at least, it turns out that the "little brewery" has gone and done something wicked. It's a new year-round offering called Wicked Ram IPA, and it's the first India pale ale Shiner has brewed in its 106-year history.

Wicked Ram arrived at my door packaged in box full
of hop cones (click to enlarge, © Brian Brown/Beer In Big D)

Now, first off, I think it's important to note that when Shiner makes a statement saying Wicked Ram is "the wickedest brew we've ever made", the word "wicked" is a relative term. Remember, Shiner has focused on lagers for most of its 106 years, and only over the past few has the brewery tried to do some things differently. Even then, Wicked Ram represents a departure compared to other recent releases, in that it's probably the first relatively hop-forward beer in Shiner's portfolio and it's got the highest ABV (6.0%) of any beer the brewery is currently producing.

With that in mind, you can probably gather that Wicked Ram isn't going to have you putting aside your favorite West Coast IPA. Shiner's IPA may be hop-forward, but there's nothing tongue-buckling about it in terms of either intensity or bitterness. The hop character in Wicked Ram is mild-to-moderate (at best), with the hop additions geared towards flavor and aroma much more so than bitterness. As far as the flavors go, Wicked Ram is grassy and floral on the nose, with a bready feel and a touch of caramel malt forming the beer's foundation. There's also some citrus in the finish, though it's more lightly lemony in nature and not like the orange or grapefruit notes that are typical in many American IPAs.

Something else worth mentioning, in case the thought crossed your mind, is that Wicked Ram doesn't really fit the mold of a session IPA. For one thing, the beer's ABV puts it firmly outside the sessionable range. Beyond that, though, Wicked Ram just has more body than I've come to expect from that particular (made-up) craft beer category. In fact, I would argue it has more body than a lot of Shiner beers. That said, we're talking "medium" in that respect, as opposed to something lighter.

So, what's the verdict? I'd say the above more or less speaks for itself. Wicked Ram is an easy-drinking, milder version of an IPA. There's not a lot of bitterness to it, which may appeal to someone looking for an introduction to the style, but there is a reasonable amount of flavor. It's just that it's a little atypical in being florally-based and not having the citrus or pine elements more often associated with today's most popular IPAs. Some will enjoy it...others won't. Like anything else, it all comes down to personal taste.

Wicked Ram
Style: India Pale Ale
Malts: 2-Row Pale, Caramel, Wheat
Hops: Bravo and Crystal in the boil, with Centennial used for dry-hopping.
ABV: 6.0%
IBU: 55
Availability: Year-round in 12-ounce bottles and cans, as well as in 24-ounce bottles and on tap.

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