Beer: Hop Bomber India Pale Ale Brewery: Grand Canyon Brewing Co. Style: American IPA ABV: 7.5 percent
One of my major complaints about Arizona's breweries is that they seem afraid to innovate. For all the different breweries in the state, the consumer still has very few Belgian ales to choose from -- and not a single sour. Novelty is rare, so when a brewery does come out with something new and interesting, I applaud it.
This week's acclamation goes out to the Flavor Bomb, an invention from Grand Canyon Brewing Co. in Williams, Ariz. Sent to shelves in December, these tiny plastic vessels are made to be stuffed with additional ingredients -- wood chips, cocoa nibs, hops -- and added to a bottle of beer before capping.
"With the Flavor Bomb, you can add new flavor profiles by packing it full of complimentary spices, woods and other flavorful ingredients," says John Peasley, Grand Canyon's owner. "Its thin, bullet-like design allows for easy insertion into beer bottles and its breathable holes let the flavors seep."
The Bombs take a brewing technique known as dry-hopping -- which involves adding ingredients (usually hops) to the beer while it's fermenting to augment its aroma -- and basically continue the process up until the moment you open the bottle. The longer the ingredient-packed pod is left in the bottle, brewers say, the more the beer's flavor will improve.
Grand Canyon's come out with three of these "Bomber Bottles" so far. Shaggy Bock, a strong lager made three different types of Munich malt smoked over shaggy bark juniper, is packed with a Flavor Bomb containing a toasted oak stick. Coffee Bean Stout -- made with 100 pounds of oatmeal per batch -- is Bombed with locally sourced Sumatra coffee beans. It smells like a double-shot cappuccino but tastes more like burnt sourdough bread.
Hop Bomber IPA is the best of the three -- an American-style IPA featuring a Flavor Bomb filled with a variety of whole hop cones. Colored like a gold brick, the liquid's brilliantly clear and bright in the glass. The aroma is replete with floral and citrus notes like rose, honeysuckle, grass, tangerine -- appropriate considering this has been extra dry-hopped. Marris Otter malt -- a variety most often found in English-style ales -- provides a backbone of caramel-glazed biscuits to the nose and a malty-sweetness to the flavor, hitting the front of the tongue with notes of English toffee, honey and toasted bread. Orange peel, pine and floral hop spice settle into the taste buds upon the swallow. Highly bitter, the dank hop resins give the brew an almost peppery heat on the tongue.
Now, all that said -- does the Flavor Bomb make Hop Bomber noticeably better than other IPAs on the market? Nah. The best-executed aspect of all three beers, in fact, is the Flavor Bomb itself. It's a cool invention, and Homebrewers who pick the pods up at their local homebrewing shop or at theflavorbomb.com will doubtless have a great time experimenting with all the flavor combinations they can create. Skittlebrau, anyone?
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.