When a brewery is small—I mean truly small—a ramshackle operation only a few years removed from making single batch beers on a wing and a prayer, then consistency is rarely a common feature of the product lineup. Sometimes it’s a matter of necessity or ingredient access. Other times, it’s simply a desire to experiment as much as possible and cover new territory. But even when the same beers do get made more than once, they’re rarely exactly the same as they were before. Ingredient scarcity alone plays a big role. Can’t get any more of those Citra hops? Well, maybe toss in some Mosaic and see how things play out.
For Chicago’s Pipeworks, the ridiculously named “Ninja vs. Unicorn Double IPA” is perhaps the closest thing they have to a flagship. They’ve been making it since early 2012, but even with its popularity, it’s never been constantly available. Pipeworks is simply too small and too ambitious to devote year-round space to any one beer. And so, fans of a beer like Ninja vs. Unicorn simply keep an eye out for when a new batch hits the shelves, or one of its many single-hopped spin-offs (Citra Ninja, Amarillo Ninja, Simcoe Ninja, etc.).
The one constant is that when you see a fresh batch of Ninja Anything from Pipeworks, you snap it up right quick. Giant IPAs are squarely in their comfort zone, and even if you’ve had the beer before, its newest incarnation is likely to turn over a new leaf in one way or another.
This most recent batch of Ninja vs. Unicorn (Batch 449/450) was bottled only a few weeks ago, and it smells the part. Aromas of heavy pine, orange citrus, black tea and black cherry waft out of the glass like a plug-in air freshener, perfuming the room immediately. It smells like a hop bomb, and that’s exactly what it is.
The flavor is overwhelmingly hop-forward as well, supercharged with fresh-cut grass, pine, and lots of orange marmalade-type citrus. It’s a bitter, pithy sort of fruitiness, because make no doubt about it, this is not balanced beer. The malt barely puts up a fight—it tastes a bit like bitter orange marmalade spread over the fading and transparent apparition of a ghostly slice of toast, calling out from the beyond. At 9% ABV, it’s one of the drier DIPAs one is likely to find in this alcohol range.
Anyone likely to criticize this sort of beer is going to label it an exercise in excess, calling out for some degree of balance that would let you perceive something past the bitterness and hops. Others will continue to appreciate it as one of the purer hop transfusions available. These are big, bold, somewhat simple flavors, but for hop-heads they most certainly hit the spot.
Brewery: Pipeworks Brewing Co.
City: Chicago, Ill.
Style: American Double IPA
IBU: Through the roof
Availability: 22 oz bottles, “year round” when it’s on the shelves