Everything about this beer makes for a great story from a beer geek’s perspective. Popular, regional brewer involved? Check. Breaking the rules and defying established style categories? Check. Collaboration between multiple craft brewers (who, in any other industry, would just be competitors)? Check. Catchy name? Check. Good liquid? And... check.
The basics: Oxymoron has the soul of an American India pale ale but is brewed with German malts, German hops, and fermented with German lager yeast. Apparently it’s an India pale lager. The alcohol by volume clocks in at 7.2%.
It’s a collaboration between Left Hand Brewing in Longmont, Colorado and Terrapin Beer Co. in Athens, Georgia. It’s the third annual collaboration between Terrapin and Left Hand (which they call the Midnight Project Series), and each year they alternate the location where the beer is brewed. In 2008, it was a rye black lager brewed at Left Hand called Terra-Rye’zd. Last year it was an espresso milk stout brewed at Terrapin called Depth Charge. This year they were back in Colorado.
The internet gives us some insight for the timeline on the development of a special release like this, as the amateur videographers at Hop-Cast.com posted a video back in February with footage of their interview with Terrapin head brewer Spike Buckowski. At the time, Spike said he and the Left Hand folks were “leaning” towards a beer with all-German ingredients hopped like an IPA. So back in February, the final decision on the nature of the beer wasn’t official. The brew session was in July and the beer just went on tap here in Birmingham last week.
Make a note: once again, widespread enjoyment of a cool special release beer is severely limited by Alabama’s still-archaic alcohol laws as Oxymoron is only packaged in 22 ounce bottles. So our 16 ounce limit on beer keeps this one off retailer shelves and makes it a draft-only item in our state. The Hops are not yet Free, folks.
As for the beer itself, think of it like Samuel Adams Boston Lager on steroids. That’s intended as a compliment, as Boston Lager is a very good beer. It’s hoppier than most American and German lagers, and it uses German malts and hops. Boost the ABV by around 45% and ratchet up the hop schedule to keep it balanced and you’ll end up with something that tastes an awful lot like Oxymoron—rich, malty backbone highlighted by Munich and Vienna malts supporting a spicy, grassy noble hop profile. It’s dry hopped with Tettnang.
I find it amusing that the RateBeer.com website classifies this brew as an imperial pilsner while the BeerAdvocate.com website classifies it as an American IPA. Both are correct depending on your point of view. And that’s one of the things I love most about American craft brewers. Increasingly they are abandoning the question, “How can I brew a great IPA/pilsner/etc.?” and are embracing the question, “How can I brew a great and interesting beer?” Traditional notions of beer styles are slowly eroding.
Of course, those “traditional” notions of beer styles aren’t always as traditional as many beer connoisseurs have thought for the past few decades. For example, I recently read an excellent article posted by historian Martyn Cornell on his Zythophile blog in which he picks apart the commonly held belief that “old ale” and “barley wine” were ever two distinct styles of beer. He further explained that the term “barley wine” wasn’t commonly used by brewers as its own style of beer until the 1950s.
So, some of our modern ideas about what constitute beer styles are incorrect, and some aren’t as traditional as many imagine them to be. Cheers to Terrapin and Left Hand for pushing the envelope. I can’t wait to see what their Midnight Project Series produces next year, when they’re back in Athens.
“Hopped Up” is a weekly brew review by Danner Kline, founder of Free the Hops and co-organizer of the annual Magic City Brewfest. Send your feedback to email@example.com