Many people today are aware of Harpoon Brewery and their beers. But some people may not be aware of the part Harpoon played in the surge that was the craft beer revolution in the late 1980’s and 1990’s.
Harpoon formed in 1986 when Rich Doyle, Dan Kenary and George Ligeti formed the company modeled from a business plan Doyle wrote up in Harvard Business School. Harpoon was responsible of helping to give the craft beer movement a push in the New England area, being the first company in 25 years to be granted a permit to manufacture and sell alcohol in Massachusetts.
Doyle’s business plan was driven by the desire to give his customers access to the variety of beers he’d experienced in Europe. At the time Harpoon was starting to hit the shelves around our area, it was already one of the most prolific of the new “craft breweries” (to be honest, I don’t even remember if the term was coined yet so I’m using the term retroactively most likely) offering such styles as an ale, an alt, a winter warmer, a pilsner, a lager, an IPA, a stout, a spring maibock, an Octoberfest, and an apple flavored beer called Snakebite.
I remember drinking many a Harpoon with my ex-father-in-law, the beers were solid across the board and at one point we thought they were one of best breweries out there. But as the craft scene grew, other great breweries popped up, and soon Harpoon was one of the very good breweries amongst an on coming tide of very good breweries.
I still revisit Harpoon on occasion (although they no longer make the maibock which was my favorite), just to see if their beers still stand up to my memories, so I was really excited when my friend Kenny recently returned from a trip to Boston with a bottle of their Leviathan Imperial IPA. Let’s taste.
THEM: Harpoon’s Leviathan series is a collection of beers where the brewery experiments with bigger beers and flavors. Their first beer in the series, an Imperial IPA, promises “a 90 IBU IPA that would showcase glorious American hops while maintaining overall character. A powerful bitterness balanced by a sweet malt backbone, and a continuation of our ode to IPA.” Other beers in the series are a Baltic Porter, a Quad, a Wee Heavy and an Imperial Red.
The grain bill is nothing complicate, simply pale and caramel malts, however the hops are another story. A combination of Amarillo, Chinook, Centennial, and Simcoe hops are added “at various points during the boil to create a complex hop flavor and clean lingering bitter finish”. That lingering bitter clocks in at around 90 IBUs and the beer ferments to a
non-shabby 10% ABV. Harpoon then dry hops it to the tune of 1lb a barrel .
ME: This is another very pretty beer (I’m on a roll lately), pouring very (very) clear with an amazing rush of bubbles that cascade up to a creamy white head, which dissipates eventually leaving a film of bubbles across the top. The aroma is hop forward (for the record I hate using any variation of “_________ forward” when talking about beer or wine but it’s the “lingo” now, so…) with hints of grapefruit which isn’t surprising considering the variety and amount of hops used. But I’m surprised at the generous amount of malt in the mix. My surprise turns to joy upon the first sip as notes of caramel and something I was picking up as honey coat the inside of my mouth and then give way to more grapefruit and earthy hoppiness. The finish is a mix of syrupy stickiness with a bitter finish that lingers a bit, almost to the point of leading me to believe there might be a touch of warmth in there from the alcohol. But in the end all you’re left with is a nice malt stickiness in your mouth.
There are some hop side beers that I enjoy, but I really love my malt. I went in thinking this was going to be another hop monster, but came away pleasantly surprised. This beer solidifies my love for pale ales, IPAs, and double/imperial IPAs that really highlight their malty side and confirms to me that Harpoon hasn’t lost a step over all these years when it comes to their ability to make a great beer. At least when it comes to their most recent “ode to IPA”.
Thanks to Kenny for bringing me the bottle!
Time for another beer.