Last year I had a ‘red IPA’ that blew every other red IPA I’ve ever had out of the water like the mother of all torpedos; Stone Brewing’s Pataskala Red-X IPA, which solely used Bestmalz’s Red-X malt with some super-duper citrusy hops on it, but the bittering of it was incredibly light, instead aiming for more of the mid-palette & aroma. It none the less gave me some rather neat ideas what to do with this malt. And it looks like the malt gave the Warg Riders of Wicklow Wolf some ideas with their new SMaSH (single malt and single hop) beer; Zoso.
As I undertook this fellowship of beeryness, I had to learn that the Zoso hop comes from the Misty Mountains in Middle Earth. No I’m kidding, they’re in Colorado. And there may or may not be hobbits at the Misty Mountain Hop Farm in Olate Colorado. Zoso clocks in with 9.7% alpha acids, 4.2% on the beta acids. It’s a citrus forward hop.
The colour pour on Zoso is that same wonderous & lovely ruby red that Stone’s Pataskala has. The beer boasts notes of tangerine & sweet grapefruit, which honestly I don’t get off the beer. Tangerine is absolutely one of my favourite flavours when it pops up in IPA’s/Pale Ales/Red or Amber ales but I’m just not getting it here. If anything, its citrus pith only that comes through on the aroma. And, at this point I’m worried.
The first taste is a mild toffee hit as I expect from a Red-X beer, but the bitterness comes flying in like a demented axe wielding dwarf intent on avenging his kinsman & its beyond resinous. It’s harsh, acerbic, hateful & metallic. And honestly, it’s deeply deeply unpleasant. It lingers around like a character with nothing to do but be a shouty, beardy, pissed off mountain dweller.
I used to work as a chef way, way back in the day. And one thing I was always taught was if there is a star of a dish, have it ring out loud & clear, with all flavours on the plate bringing a harmony with the star ingredient. They can’t overpower it. They can’t be underwhelming either. They have to pull their weight. In this beer’s case, it should have been an ideological fellowship like the following image we all remember from The Lord of The Rings.
And just like that fellowship eventually disintegrated into treachery, deceit, greedy, betrayal & tested Frodo, so too did Zoso by the end of its journey across my palette. Instead of being taken on a rollercoaster ride similar to Stone’s Pataskala, I was instead jammed into a mine cart with metal shards, & blasted off a broken track, hitting a rocky cavern floor because of that bitterness.
While I’m not privy to the brewsheet for this beer, in my limited brewing abilities, if I was brewing this I would have gone for a slightly higher ABV around the 6-7% mark to give the hop flavours more canvas space, skipped the hopboil at the start instead shooting for hop additions from the halfway point of the boil, with two more late additions at 45 minutes & whirlpool, reserving additional hopping in the dry hop phase.
But then again, opinions are worthless nor am I a professional brewer (or even a professional beer writer). I just think however this was brewed, it did not give a good account for the malt or the hop. And it made for a sad ending for a beer I was actually quite excited to try out having missed out on trying it in my exuberance at AllTech.
I love seeing Irish breweries try things like this. I really do. It shows character, fearlessness & a willingness to be bold. We need more breweries doing this. Too many are still skating by ‘playing it safe’ at events like this where the opportunity to showcase something different, interesting & that causes opinion is a brass ring waiting to be grabbed. So, kudos to the bravery of Wicklow Wolf for this one, even if it just wasn’t my bag.