I know we see a lot of New England IPAs here at Booze and Birds. Well, this week’s beer doesn’t quite qualify as one but it’s pretty close: A Beer Named Duck from Mast Landing Brewing Company of Westbrook, Maine is a New England pale ale. Note that that’s “PA” without the “I”, which used to stand for “India” back in the nineteenth century but it’s really nothing more than a meaningless, alphabetical vestige these days. New England pale ales provide all the fruity, easy-drinking haze one expects from a New England “India” pale ale, just in a more manageable, lower-alcohol version. Makes sense, too — as most knowledgeable beer drinkers these days can tell you, an India pale ale is always stronger than plain old pale ale, right?
Except this ranking is rooted in a rather quirky misunderstanding of brewing history that eventually became true over time. In nineteenth-century Britain, the original India pale ales were relatively light but rather heavily hopped ales – and yes, some were exported to India, hence the name. But they were always less potent in alcohol than plain old pale ale, a heftier and more simply named style (many British breweries of the time made both and pale ale was always the bigger, more expensive beer). This pecking order endured in Britain into the twentieth century, but due to the effects of two world wars, public health concerns about alcohol consumption, and taxes on and rationing of brewing ingredients, both pale and India pale ale weakened in strength over the decades, becoming mere shadows of their once brawny, high-alcohol, Victorian selves. There’s probably a metaphor for the decline of the British Empire in there, somewhere.
Anyway, after the Second World War, British IPA had generally settled into a more modest, drinkable strength of three or four percent alcohol by volume. But when American craft brewers began reviving IPA domestically in the 1970s, they looked instead to the original Victorian IPAs for inspiration, beers that commonly weighed in at six or seven percent alcohol – again, weaker than the brutally strong pale ales, milds, and porters of nineteenth-century Britain, but still considerably more intoxicating than any beer being made in post-Prohibition America (which were generally light, fairly bland American pale lagers). It seems this first generation of American craft brewers misinterpreted the “India” prefix as denoting a stronger beer – the extra word must mean it’s stronger, right? – and flipped the old hierarchy of India pale ale and pale around forever. From that point on – and around the world, really – any beer drinker outside of England could assume that an India pale ale is stronger than a simple pale ale.
Well, now that we’ve got that bit of unsolicited beer history out the way, let’s get to the beer of the moment. Naturally, one would expect a beer named A Beer Named Duck to have a duck on it ( and I’m happy to report that A Beer Named Duck does not disappoint in this regard: on the can label, we get a nice, rather detailed illustration of a dabbling duck. Well, some kind of dabbling duck. Probably a female Mallard (Anas platyrhyncos) but there’s really not enough going on in this monochrome sketch to make a call beyond Anatinae sp., I’m afraid, at least not as far as I can tell.
A Beer Named Duck is brewed with Simcoe, Centennial, and Cascade hops, three of the most well-known varieties in American craft brewing, but some unexpectedly old-fashioned choices for a New England-style pale ale: New England IPAs (and pale ales!) often feature slightly newer, sought-after strains like Citra, Galaxy, and Mosaic. But Mast Landing manages to pull off the New England effect nonetheless, producing a pale, cloudy ale with the sweet, fruity aromas of blueberry and cantaloupe, a zesty fragrance that leans more toward juniper and spruce than anything with tropical origins, and a sugary hint of cotton candy drifting over the top. The palate is light and crisp, equally sweet from bready malt and a floral, honeysuckle flavor, followed by creamy, citrusy splash reminiscent of Orange Julius, and just the mildest hint of grapefruit bitterness in the finish.
Good birding and happy drinking!
Mast Landing Brewing Company – A Beer Named Duck
Four out of five feathers (Excellent).