Hype can ruin a beer, because few brews can live up to the expectations heaped upon them by mad beer geek love. Hype ruined Pliny the Elder for me, and it screwed up my approach to sour beers – had I know they tasted like week-old laundry left in the washer, I would’ve expected less. In a nutshell, hype tastes awful.
But hype’s younger brother (let’s call him buzz) can taste delicious. The way I see it, buzz is a form of hype, but it’s based on an actual visceral interaction with a beer (I just had Beer X and it was awesome!), not a predetermined notion about a brew based on what others have said about it (I’ve never had it, but Dark Lord is the best stout evar!).
Enough buzz can eventually lead to hype, and sometimes that hype is warranted. Case in point is Cigar City’s Jai Alai India Pale Ale, a beer that wiggled its way into the “great beer” portion of my brain without me ever tasting it. How did it get there? Hype, or at least lots of buzz.
I was prepared not to like this beer, mostly because I don’t like the name Cigar City – I think about a beer served in a dirty ashtray every time I hear it. Not tasty. But this beer was the opposite of that – it was VERY tasty.
I got to sample Jai Alai India Pale Ale from the bottle at a conference in Orlando last week, and it was love at first sip – there’s a lot of wonderful stuff happening in this beer. There’s a rich biscuity foundation, loads of citrusy hops, and an underlying tropical fruitiness (pineapple, maybe a touch of mango) that walk up to the line of overpowering your senses the way DIPA might, but then back away. Cigar City (dirty ashtray – dammit!) has created a beer that’s not quite a double, but more than a single IPA. Let call it a 1.75 IPA. All told, this is a beer that’s big on flavor that won’t totally weigh you down, but at 7.5% ABV, it might just creep up on you.
It’s a wonderful beer, and even better, it surpassed my already elevated expectations, which is a rare thing for me these days. I’m not saying it’s the best beer in the world (I don’t want to hype it after all), but if this stuff were available in New Jersey, it would be in my fridge all the time. I’m glad I finally had a chance to taste it for myself.
I should also note that our brother-in-law Sassoune is Basque and was a professional Jai Alai player in Milford, Connecticut (where he met our sister Wendi) and later went on to win the French Outdoor National Championship. I’m not bragging, but I figured Don would go nuts and Wendi would be pipe up in the comments if I didn’t mention it. That would be like reviewing Bear Beer and not mentioning that Don is one.