REVIEW: 400 Pound Monkey from Left Hand Brewing Co.

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Left Hand Brewing Co.
Location: Longmont, CO
Style: English IPA
ABV: 6.80%
IBU: The Monkey Isn’t Telling.
Appearance: Light-Golden Pour with White Foam Head
Aroma: Subdued Citrus & Grain with Hoppy Freshness
Flavor: Earthy Pine, Grapefruit Hints, Malt
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Coconut Chicken with Curry, Burgers with Caramelized Onions

Colorado seems to be full of top notch craft breweries these days and Left Hand Brewing Company is no exception. They have a nice year round lineup of beers including the one siting before me now, fondly named 400 Pound Monkey. I’m not too sure what gave them the idea for the name, the beer doesn’t taste like a 400 pound monkey at all (bad joke… sorry).

Actually the name, as far as I can gather, came out of a discussion over extreme beers for an article Lew Bryson was writing for Beer Advocate Magazine. In the article Eric Wallace quotes his VP of brewing as saying “Any monkey can put 400 pounds of hops in a kettle,” and with those words I can only speculate that both an idea and a name were born.

India Pale Ale’s are gaining more and more of a foot hold within the craft brewing community and there are more consumers out there than ever willing to take the plunge into bitter beers. So, why another IPA? Well, judging from the article just quoted, I think maybe the brewers up at Left Hand got it in their heads that they might be able to pull off something a little different than the usual “mostly” American IPA offerings out there. They decided to try to make an English style IPA.

“A multitude of five, did stare, and offered difference, with subtle cheer.”

What this means in style profile is a slightly more restrained approach to the hops, and in turn the bitterness. European hops are used, bringing more earthy aroma to the beer and less of the fresh-pine of American hops. Because the bitterness is lower the malt and caramel flavors, like the striking face of a flower in a field of green, are more noticeable.

The Pour & Aroma

On the pour and in the glass it misses the dark robust orange color of other IPA’s, instead settling into the glass with a light-golden hue, just maybe a hair darker then a lager or wheat. It was able to push up a good finger of white-as-cloud foam making the beer seem a barley field beneath a few cumulus clouds passing under an intense sun. Aroma is subdued. I get slight citrus and grain with and overriding but still quiet hoppy freshness, not much though, even at room temperature, the aromas seem to hug the delicate side of shyness, as if flashing hints of possibilities abiding, waiting for the call.

400 Pound Monkey

Mouth-feel into Taste

After experiencing the muffled aromas I wasn’t sure what to expect. I tipped the glass, took a careful sip, and let the golden liquid languidly drain across my taste buds. The mouth-feel is medium, sliding across the palate like a slow ocean swell. First, comes earth and pine, a running hint of grapefruit, and then it falls away showing malt underneath earth. Not too much bite or bitter kick, not like the typical American IPA.

I find myself wondering why more IPA’s aren’t made in this more balanced way, instead of sprinting for the trophy of who can put the most hops, create the most bitterness, in a brew… why don’t more brewers pursue, or at the very least peruse the path of a more balanced offering in the IPA arena. The low hoppyness and earthy notes persist, leaving a satisfied feeling of having tasted something worthy, something beyond the ordinary.

Completing the Impression

This beer is different. Remember this, if you wander in search of IPA’s, stopped in the grocery store by a quintet of monkeys staring back at you. These guys know their business. You might pass them by at first, but curiosity will pull, and you’ll find yourself stopped in front of the monkey’s multiple times in your slow examination of the ever-present IPA’s.

You might pass it off as considering that “other IPA”, sharing the same shelf space as the monkey’s, but the monkey’s know the truth… you’re intrigued, and in the end you walk out of the store with 400 pounds of monkey in tow, and a quiet nagging curiosity… why monkey’s? And the answer is simply this, it’s different. That’s all.

Whether you like this beer or not, it will challenge your idea of what an IPA first was, and what it still might be. It will give you something different to measure those “extreme” hop-bombs against, and maybe, find something you can appreciate for its subtle balance, when walking the tight rope of hoppy bitterness.

More IPA Reviews:

Jeff Flowers

About Author

Jeff Flowers has been a self-described beer geek for over a decade now. When he's not chasing his daughter around, you can usually find him drinking a fresh brew and wasting too much of his time on both Google+ & Twitter.

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