The Brewery: Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
Stats: 7.2% ABV, 75 IBU
In the Valley of the Sun, there are few things more refreshing than a crisp, clean beer with a nice dry finish. And that's exactly what you get in Arizona Wilderness' Refuge IPA, an artfully crafted IPA that can hold its own against IPAs from all across the country.
History: IPA, short for "India Pale Ale" is a style that evolved out of necessity. Pale ales were a popular beer brewed in England loved by its citizens at home and abroad. These classic ales were being transported to British outposts in India to satisfy British military and civilians alike. They wanted the beer they were used to from the homeland, but sending beer hundreds of miles unrefrigerated made much of the beer go bad before it ever arrived in India. English brewers realized that the antioxidant and antibacterial properties found in hops — the plant that provides the bittering spice of beer — could act as a natural preserver. Therefore the brewers increased the amount of hops put into their beer solely as a mechanism to protect it. The brewers didn't realize they were creating a brand new style of beer, but alas was born a much hoppier, more robust pale ale that came to be known as an India Pale Ale.
IPAs are, by design, meant to be an unbalanced beer. They're a showcase for hops, with just enough malt to support. British IPAs were a little more balanced with a more pronounced malt bill than the modern day American versions, and Refuge IPA is a prime example of a modern, "West coast" style IPA. The west coast connotation implies a bigger hop profile, especially in the flavor and aroma of the beer. In a nutshell, it's all about the hops.
The Beer: Aromatically, imagine a nice afternoon drive with the windows down through the forests in Flagstaff or Prescott; the smell is a pleasant, sensory overload of aromatic pine. It's a very similar experience when you first inhale the vibrant hop bouquet of Refuge IPA. Chinook and Simcoe hops provide the pine essence, while Cascade and Columbus hops give it complexity with notes of grapefruit citrus and a background hint of tropical fruit. The malt provides a white bread crust sweetness with notes of caramel giving the beer a nice depth of character.
Refuge IPA pours a beautiful, clear light copper color with a persistent off-white head. Consumers of fine IPAs will typically experience a long lasting foam stand on an IPA, which is a by-product of the heavy handed use of hops in this beer style. Hops add to the beer's body and head retention, and this beer is no exception.
From a flavor perspective, hops lead with pine dominating, citrus fruit supporting, and hints of tropical fruit all placed on a solid backdrop of bitterness. Not a harsh bitterness, by any means, but a crisp, clean, pleasant bitterness. For an IPA, the malt is fairly rich providing bready and caramel-like flavors balanced by low levels of alcohol sweetness which fade into a dry finish.
Accolades: Arizona Wilderness seems to be the darling of RateBeer.com. Besides scoring an extremely respectable 98 for Refuge IPA, RateBeer.com proclaimed Arizona Wilderness as "The World's Best New Brewery of 2014."
The Brewery: It's usually the "West coast" style beers that dominate the conversation about the best IPAs in America right now. This is a true-to-style West coast IPA that can compete with many of the larger, more well known regional or national breweries — and Arizonans are lucky to have such a fine brewery in their own backyard.
Arizona Wilderness is located at 721 N. Arizona Avenue in Gilbert. For information, check out www.azwbeer.com.