Saturday evening, I went to a 10-year-old buddy's ice-hockey game. It turns out they don't serve beer at youth hockey games in this uptight town; you can't even get a little something extra added to your snack-bar hot chocolate. When you ostentatiously drop a $5 bill in the tip jar before placing your order for "One hot chocolate, please, a little light on the chocolate, maybe smarten it up with whatever you got in the backpack?" all you end up with is a paper cup of Swiss Miss, a used highlighter, and a confused but delighted snack-bar volunteer.
It was probably for the best, though. Hockey rinks, as it happens, are cold as fuck, making them imperfect places to drink beer, and I didn't need a hard-liquor buzz distracting me from the thrilling 6-2 victory or perhaps defeat enjoyed or suffered by the home team. It was a great game, maybe, and either way I learned a few valuable lessons that night. First, I'm a saint. Second, little kids suck at sports, but in a fun way. Third, I'm burning out on beer.
I gained this last, awful bit of knowledge after the game, when I skulked drily around East Cambridge looking for a friendly innkeeper with vacancy and a decent tap list. Most of the city's better beer bars are clustered around the tech companies in Kendall Square, which used to be a lame neighborhood and is now a lame neighborhood with good bars. These are the sort of bars that are paradoxically easier to deal with on the weekends, when the tech weenies who haunt the hood during the week are off doing whatever they do when they're not beer-blocking me after work.
But all these higher-end beer places were stuffed with people celebrating the first non-blizzardous weekend of 2015, so my wife and I had to take refuge in an all-day breakfast joint that features what any reasonable person would consider a good beer list. But, like I said, I'm burning out. I can't think clearly about beer these days. I'm sure this will pass, as it's just a flare-up of the beer blogger's main occupational hazard. I can't complain, because it beats the actual hazards that accompany actual occupations, but Saturday night (after a few days of intense stout-ranking research), I was only in the mood for weird beers.
The problem with weird beers is that they're hard to find, and a great many of them don't appeal to me. Have you tried Stone's Green Tea IPA, for instance? I do not like it. I do, however, like the Smoked Peach Short Weisse from venerable New Hampshire brewery Smuttynose's new weird-beer imprint, Smuttlabs, and I was hoping for something along those crooked lines with my dinner eggs on Saturday. No dice. I had to make do with a couple of IPAs, a raspberry barleywine, and an unfiltered American Dortmunder.
Sunday, I woke up with a new resolve, an extra hour of daylight, and three cans of Oskar Blues's Gubna double India pale ale in the fridge. Gubna is their spring DIPA; the recipe changes every year, but I didn't think that was a huge deal, because even when I'm feeling beer-strong, I find that a lot of extra-strength IPAs taste sorta the same. That's not a criticism, because I like the general flavor profile: citrus, sweet tropical fruit and malt, then bitter pine. The formula works. So well, in fact, that I often recommend against pilgrimages to out-of-the-way double-IPA holy lands in favor of a quick trip to the closest beer store for Dogfish Head 90 Minute, Lagunitas Sucks, Stone Enjoy By, or any of the other excellent and accessible versions brewed (and shipped) all over the country.
So when Oskar Blues sent me a few cans of the 2015 rendition of this annual 10-percenter, I thought, "Oh cool, free beer. I like strong IPAs, and three of these will get me drunk in a pinch." And that they did, but they also impressed me by being the rarest of crossovers: the successful double IPA/weird-beer hybrid.
Most of the weirdness in this year's Gubna comes from use of the strange and potentially wonderful Sorachi Ace hop, which tastes like lemon and dill and unlike any other hop I've tried. I love Brooklyn Brewery's Sorachi Ace, a single-hop saison that made me think I'd found a new favorite hop. But then I tried a very good local brewpub's Sorachi'd pale ale and hated it. Gubna breaks the tie. I am pro-Ace.
Oskar Blues Gubna comes in a can. I like that about Oskar Blues; their beer always tastes fresh, because it's packaged exclusively in kegs and cans, and their new brewery in North Carolina (joining the Coloradan original) means they can further streamline distribution to help get the freshest beer in the most mouths. This year's Gubna uses three malts: rye, North American pale, and Munich. There are a whole bunch of hops added all over the brewing process: Galena, then Columbus and Sorachi Ace, then back to Galena before a final dry-hopping with El Dorado, Comet, and Chinook. There's a lot going on here, but keep your eye on the rye and the Sorachi Ace. Those, to my dumb tongue, are what set Gubna apart.
The first aromas to hit are strong, spicy black pepper and a sweet Fresca-like citrus, but the dill shows up shortly thereafter; there's also a nice bit of biscuit. The rye spice and Sorachi weirdness come on strong on the palate, but they're kept in line by fresh, sweet bread from the malted barley and tropical fruit and resin from the more traditional IPA hops. The finish is long and surprisingly dry, and the whole experience is very smooth, especially given the 10-percent ABV.
This is the ideal beer for the avowed hophead looking to spice things up, or just for anyone looking to get strange in a potent and pleasurable fashion.
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Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.
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