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Chicagoist's "Beer of the Week": Ska Decadent Imperial IPA

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Apr 4, 2007 4:00PM

2007_04_ska.jpgSpring is in the air, and we're going to try something different this month for "BotW." For April, we're featuring selections from a single brewery we feel deserves some recognition, and chose Durango, Colorado's Ska Brewing Company. We e-mailed Ska co-founder Bill Graham last month, who gave us some background on the company:

(Co-founder) Dave Thibodeau and I were avid homebrewers, and at that time our two favorite things (other than beer, of course) were comic books and Ska music. At that time we were riding out the second wave of ska, the 2-Tone era. It became part of our brewing ritual at home, listening and dancing to ska while we polished off the last batch and created a new one. We used to make funky little labels that read “Ska Brewing, Bill’s Kitchen, Durango Co.” We mainly gave away the beer as gifts. The actual brewery took shape in 1995. We added a third partner the following year in 1996, Matt Vincent. Matt was also an avid homebrewer and had previous experience as the brewer at nearby Durango Brewing Company. We stuck with the idea of Ska Brewing and have been supporters of Ska music ever since. The brewery’s story and relationship to Ska is told in comic book form and revealed piecemeal on our labels. We have written a comic book and we illustrate small pieces of it as we introduce new beers and ideas. And much like everyone needs a written business plan, the comic book is our marketing plan.
Our philosophy behind brewing is simple: make great beer. All too often however, one gets too geeked out on being a beer geek. This leads you to forget about any other interests you might have, like the outdoors and skiing, biking and fishing, dead of winter and playing hockey, the heat of summer and cold chillin’ with a cold pilsner. Tie your passions and interests together … and Ska Brewing is what I got. So as the 3rd wave of ska rolled through with a more punk influenced tone, our beers grew bigger and bolder. We were even asked by a fan to make a “No-Doubt Stout” (we didn’t as there was already one in existence, no relation to ska or the band). We would have liked to though, because, let’s face it Gwen Stefani is really, really hot. As far as the 4th wave and how it will influence our beers from here, I don’t really know, ask me again in 4-5 years.

Aside from the cartoon labeling, the tops of Ska's "robust reincarnations" bomber bottles are also sealed in wax, which helps them stand out further on shelves. Of all the Colorado-based craft beers we've tasted, Ska brews some of the boldest, but they still manage to maintain an accessibility for drinkers who aren't used to hop bombs. Our first Ska selection, Decadent Imperial IPA, is a perfect example. Our tasting notes for Decadent follow the jump.

2007_04_botw14_1.jpgIndia Pale Ales can sometimes contain too much hop flavor for some. An Imperial IPA only ups the ante. Drinking one conjures images of barrel-chested, burly men in the mind. A great imperial IPA finds a balance, usually through sweeter malts like caramel. Decadent is hoppy, but nowhere near what we expected. Serves us right for drinking all those hop bombs from Goose Island and Three Floyds.

2007_04_botw14_2.jpgDecadent poured a lovely dark amber, almost honey in color. The head on this beer was creamy and dissipated quickly; we'd love to see how this beer handles on draft. Hops are prominent throughout, particularly on the nose. Caramel was the dominant malt flavor, with a balance of citrus to complement the hops. Now, the full flavor of an IPA tends to come out as the beer warms up. Refrigeration is an IPA's enemy as it mutes the malts and brings out the sharper flavors of the hops. We let Decadent warm a bit as we ate dinner, and it was a completely different beer when we returned to it. The citrus flavor we found really brightened, reminiscent of grapefruit. We also noticed a slight mineral, earthy note to the beer. Finish, as with most IPAs, was dry. Decadent lingered in the back of the mouth, the hops we expected up front finally announced their presence with clear authority. And, since we bought a bomber, we had enough for a refill.

It isn't hard to ferret out a bottle of Decadent. You'll find it at Map Room, where beers around the world is a mantra. It's a good introduction to Ska Brewing and an idea of what Mssrs. Graham, Thibodeau, and Vincent are doing in Durango. We'll have another Ska selection next week; until then, go out and enjoy a bottle of Decadent Imperial IPA, Chicagoist's "Beer of the Week."