Good Beer Hunting

Deep Six

Deep Six: River North Brewing’s Mountain Haze New England-Style IPA

I live in the UK, where the six pack doesn’t exist. It’s a concept that never quite made its way into modern British drinking culture, where enthusiastic beer lovers prefer to pick up single bottles and cans. Those looking to drink beer en masse can still get slabs of commodity Lager in supermarkets, but so far this is a packaging format that very few British craft brewers have embraced. That could all change soon, however. As the UK’s modern beer scene becomes more developed, so will its means to shift beer in higher volumes.

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Beer costs a lot more to make in the UK than it does in the U.S. It’s also far more heavily taxed which, in turn, means it’s far more expensive for consumers. I laugh when I see Americans complain about the price of a six pack exceeding $10 Stateside, knowing that same beer—even at twice the price—would be a bargain back home. These extra costs mean that British brewers don’t have the financial resources to invest in extra packaging. Adding something as simple as a cardboard carton to a six pack would stretch profit margins too thin, or tip retail pricing over an acceptable premium, making the packaging unviable for most UK breweries.

I do love a six pack, though. Since I began visiting the U.S. around a decade ago, they’ve been a staple of my travel spend. The beauty of a sixer is that it provides you with the perfect amount of beer for almost any situation. It can be experienced solo, shared with friends, taken to cookouts or dinner parties—just wherever it damn well wants to go. There’s no situation where a six pack doesn’t work.

But I hit my first hurdle the moment it’s time to make my purchase. Faced with the intimidating volume of choice within the fridges at Wilbur’s Total Beverage in Fort Collins, Colorado, literally hundreds of six packs were vying for my attention.

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“I want some juicy-ass NE IPA,” the voice in my head declared.

Thankfully, there was a variety of six packs from Denver’s River North Brewery. I’ve visited River North’s taproom in the eponymously named Denver district a few times, but they weren’t known for Hazy IPA then. Instead, I knew them for interpretations of classic Belgian and German styles, and lots of barrel aging. It appears that few breweries can resist the pull of the NE IPA, even out here on Colorado’s Front Range.

I grabbed a sixer of Mountain Haze, River North’s attempt at capturing some of the juicy zeitgeist. On the face of it, the cans themselves didn’t look too appealing, a blocky typeface clashing with mint green and battleship grey tones. But I’d been trying to decide what beer to buy for almost 15 minutes. It was time to start drinking.

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I promptly forgot about Mountain Haze for a couple days. My dad, who I was visiting in Fort Collins, is a habitual beer purchaser. Finding a spare few inches in his fridge involved a little bit of geometry, but we got there in the end.

He arrived home one night with some Chinese takeout. While he was busy dishing out noodles and slices of Szechuan beef, I grabbed us each a can. The beer’s aroma percolated our senses instantly, heady with ripe pineapple. While there may have been other fruits in the basket vying for our attention, it was that singular note that stood out foremost.

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And the flavor! If you can imagine drinking the juice from the bottom of a pineapple can—piquant, acidic, intensely sweet and satisfying—then you can imagine how fresh Mountain Haze tastes.The only difference between this beer and the actual juice is its dry finish, bringing with it a deeply refreshing quality. It also provided the ideal foil for the spicy hunks of beef I was currently chopsticking into my face.

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The second can went to my dad as he, too, scarfed a hearty plateful. He smiled with delight as those first pineapple aromas wisped out of the can—my dad is an IPA lover much like myself. Judging by his Cheshire Cat grin, his initial gulps were evidently as satisfying as my own.

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I forgot about Mountain Haze for another couple days. This is easy to do when you’re in Fort Collins—when you’re not enjoying great beer at home, you’re out experiencing some of the college town’s fantastic nightlife. The Old Town neighborhood is at the heart of this. With its range of great restaurants, music venues, dive bars, and craft beer spots, you’re spoilt for choice—until they close, that is.

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So it would come to pass that our party one evening would still require refreshment into the wee hours, and my dad always has a solution when the bars are shuttered—his place. That’s where we headed, to shoot a few games of pool amidst many a shared beer and bourbon. I managed to sneak in another can of Mountain Haze, and I can’t honestly say if I appreciated it all that much for its flavor this time, but it certainly helped to steady my pool hand.

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At trip’s end, I stood over my half-packed open suitcase with a pile of beers, trying to figure out what to take with me. I definitely find myself less precious about what I bring back to the UK these days—the heavy bombers of sours and Bourbon Barrel-Aged Stouts tend to stay in Colorado and await my next visit. The rise in popularity of cans and crowlers means I tend to veer toward bringing back plenty of fresh IPA for personal consumption.

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Trying to fit all of said IPA into my case was proving challenging, so I lightened the load by cracking another can of Mountain Haze. It was still fresh as a daisy, and vibrantly tropical—that pineapple note still dominating, but I was starting to find shades of peach and apricot amongst all that pulpy acidity. I’ll be seeking out this great beer again the next time I’m in town.

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“This is so bloody good I thought I’d join you in trying to finish this six pack,” my dad says. He had helped himself to the penultimate can. This was a boon in disguise, as my suitcase had already hit 50 pounds on the nose—a particularly prescient skill of mine. My next stop would be Nashville for this year’s Craft Brewers Conference. The small puzzle ahead of me would be to figure out which cans would be consumed—shared with my colleagues at GBH, as it were—over the next few days to make room for some beer from the Volunteer State.

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My final can of Mountain Haze did make it back home with me, but sat lonely in my fridge for over a month as my drinking habits returned to normal. These days, London finds me more likely to be sitting in a pub or bar, or chilling at a bottle shop—many of which allow you to relax and enjoy a beer on the premises. Eventually, near the end of one gloriously sunny day spent in my office writing about beer, I decided to walk to The Prince, one of my local pubs, and I grabbed the last can of Mountain Haze to sip during the mile-long stroll.

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Despite the age on the can, there was still a satisfying hop-burst of aroma when I opened it, but it wasn’t quite the same as before. Instead of the well-defined pineapple notes, it had become somewhat herbaceous, maybe even a little vegetal. It was almost as though someone had taken the remote and turned the color setting down on your TV. It was good, but not quite the same. And it was just what I needed as I snaked my way around my little corner of North London.