A couple of weeks ago, my two sons went to San Diego with a friend for vacation. They took in all the sights and a ton of fun and came home quite sunburned. As they unpacked, one kid came out of his room with two sixpacks of beer. “We didn’t forget the old man.”
“We tried many different places looking for Pliny the Elder, but every place said sorry, it was too hard to get. So we got you these.” One was a pale ale from a Hawaiian brewery I had heard about, the other was a stout from a brewing company in Mendocino, CA.
“We wrapped each bottle in clothing and hid them in our bags for the flight home.” My sons, the beer smugglers. Makes a guy kinda proud. I thanked them profusely and offered to let then drive my truck. They politely declined. It was off to see their babes soon thereafter.
I held off on drinking this beer until after the holiday. The sixers sat for two weeks in the garage beer fridge until tonight. I had decided to partake of some Kona Fire Rock Pale ale. Beer brewed in Hawaii. How I’d love to tour the brewery!
This beer is not available here in these parts, but I understand that Kona brews their beer in Hawaii and has it bottled in Oregon. They distribute to 26 states in the country, Illinois not being one of them as far as I know.
Preliminary research showed that overall, Kona is a highly respected brewery with some great beers available to those who can get them. Their website had stats on this pale ale, and I got a pretty good idea what to expect. But not being that well versed in individual hop characteristics or distinctive malt tastes, I had a general idea that it would be a good night.
When the time rolled around, I grabbed the first bottle and looked for a description of what was inside. The neck read as follows:
Active volcanoes on the big island of Hawaii leave visitors awestruck by their power. The glow of lava as it meets the ocean is an amazing sight. Our Fire Rock Pale Ale is inspired by this place with a bright copper color and rich roasted malt taste. Aloha!
Interesting. I glanced at the bottom of the sixpack carton and discovered that Kona has given us a little visitor’s guide pointing out the a few highlights of the island state. But on the bottom panel was a contradiction. In essence, it stated that the recipe for the beer included roasted malts and five premium hops. Their website mentioned only three. However, it could be that they were talking about hop additions instead of varieties.
The beer filled the glass with a foggy orange-brown color. I had pondered whether the trip on a jet plane in a set of luggage in the cargo hold caused this beer to cloud up or if that’s just the way it’s made. The head on this just seemed to go away after about a minute, but the foam was an off-white color. From what I could see inside the glass, the carbonation was vigorous with many small bubbles. Hardly any aroma. I cupped my hand over the glass and got a faint scent of nicely sweet malt.
The first sip was tremendous. Hops, right off the bat, ran upstairs and greeted my nose. The body of this beer was great and it had a nice, somewhat sweet flavor to it. The Kona website states that this beer is brewed with 38 IBUs. I’d say it was a bit more than that, perhaps in the high 40s or low 50s. Either that or my palate has been layin’ down on the job. There was a nice rasp at the back for the first few swallows.
Soon the citrus flavors came out. The taste seemed to tell my tongue grapefruit, but my tongue said hops. Not overpowering in bitterness and not obvious in its citrus tastes, but the general makeup of this beer was excellent. From what I could recall, I dare say that this beer may be akin to the notorious Sierra Nevada Celebration ale.
The malts in this beer balance out the bitterness and after each sip, a subtle sweetness lightly clings to the tongue. It was a medium bodied beer and from the looks and feel of the beer, it had a nice big grain bill. The ABV as stated on the bottle label was right at 6.0%.
The beer stats on Kona’s site stated also that the hop additions were Galena, Cascade and Mt. Hood. The alpha acid content are 10 to 14% for Galena and 4.5 to 6% each for Cascade and Mt. Hood. I’m sure the Galena was what gave this beer its zing. Regardless of how the hops were used in the brew process, they seemed to be perfectly suited for a beer of this style.
Last night I had a few Sierra Nevada pale ales which are bittered to 38 IBUs and also using Cascade hops. But those beers, although yielding hop characteristics to the palate, weren’t as aggressive on the uvula as this one was. Yep. Gotta be the Galena.
At first sip, a noob beer drinker may mistake this for an IPA. That was the first thought that entered my mind during the initial tastings. But IBUs are measured by instruments which determine the concentration of alpha acids in the beer. If all these figures are correct, then there’s no arguing with the data. It’s the tongue that gets fooled with this beer.
The beer warmed up a bit in the 82° garage temp and the flavors mellowed out. The liquid in the bottom of the glass turned amazingly clear, but the head was a fleeting thing of the past. There was little to no lacing on the sides but the carbonation stayed at its job.
The second bottle of this beer was poured into a vertical glass. The head came up a little more, to about a half-inch. Then, over a few short minutes, it too, just went away. Once again the liquid poured up cloudy but the taste remained as before, only colder, a little less intense.
This beer is primarily a hop kick in the tonsils but with a nice maltiness to back it up. It would make for some great sippage out on the lanai while watching the surfers get creamed by the waves. Anyone who has a leaning toward the more hoppy beers will get a nice taste bang out of Fire Rock. Perhaps an IPA in disguise, but the figures don’t lie. It is what it is, and that’s a great tasting beer.
I urge you to pick up a sixer if you live in an area where Fire Rock is available. For all the others… I hear Hawaii is wonderful this time of year. Hell, all times of the year.
Taste: B+ > Sweet and bitter matched perfectly.
Smoothness: B+ > A glass bead sandblast.
Drinkability: B > Hell yeah, I’ll have another.
Bang for the buck: B > Not including plane fare.
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: Oh, not too much foam on that one. Kinda cloudy. (sip) You go dry but just for a second but then it pops back. (sip, pause) A little caramelly. Not bad. Not bad at all. (sip)It’s kinda good actually. (Madame Pele is pleased.)
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