Alan Stiles is shaking things up over at Phantom Canyon. The Phantom IPA at the brewery has been a cask beer for 15 years, and it’s a beer that I order almost every time I’m there. The beer will no longer be available on cask after the last two casks sell out in the upstairs bar. Phantom has the best cask beers around, and at the cask festival at Bristol this year, I said Alan’s beer (not the IPA) was best in show. So why remove such a popular beer from the menu, a beer that many Phantom fans will be quite upset to see disappear? Instead of the Phantom IPA, we’ll see a new non-cask IPA called the Streamliner IPA.
|The Phantom IPA on the left and the Streamliner IPA on the right.|
Alan invited Grant Goodwiler and me to come sample the beer, side by side to the new version of the beer. The new version, called the Streamliner IPA is actually the same beer as the Phantom IPA, but no longer on cask. Now, I don’t like explaining the difference of cask and gas beers every time I write about it, so I won’t say much. The two processes entail different fermentation procedures and in the gas version we have the introduction of Co2 into the beer. Cask is served slightly cooler than room temperature while the other is served even colder than that. If you’re drinking a beer on tap somewhere, 99% chance it’s on gas. I’ve talked about cask more here.
So, what do we think of them side by side? Well, together we discussed the fact that this IPA is
an American IPA with heavy doses of northwest hops at the end of the boil and a generous amount of Cascade and Amarillo hops for dry hopping. This is an expensive beer to make. In the new version, the citrusy hops are very present in the nose, while they are very subtle in the cask version. This was the most immediate difference. The second most important difference is that the Streamliner IPA has a crisper, poppier mouthfeel to it while the older Phantom IPA is rounded, smoothe and subdued. The bittering hops are much more present in the Streamliner and are hidden in the Phantom, making the older version actually taste much more like a type of mild. Even though the hop presence is so much stronger, the beer remains nicely balanced. So, for what the beer is, it’s economically a smart move. I believe, considering the style, the new Streamliner is a better beer. It also proves to be slightly sweeter, the alcohol is more present, and the beer feels a lot heavier in general. Around the table, we all finished the cask beer first because it was ‘more drinkable’ as they say. My thought is that despite the heavier nature of this new version, it will become a crowd-pleaser very easily. It’s simply going to appeal to the growing interest in more heavily hopped beers, and it makes good use of those hops where they were previously lost. I’ve often wondered why Phantom didn’t have a flagship IPA with a big hop presence because it seems like this is the kind of beer people want. It’s a good beer, both Grant and I definitely give it a thumbs up; it’s also a different beer altogether even though it’s the same, if that makes sense. I’ll miss the cask IPA, but I’ll be totally happy with the new version.
|Alan Stiles, Grant Goodwiler, and Mike Dee doing a side by side taste test.|
And it’s not like Alan’s removing the cask altogether. Taking the place of the Phantom IPA will be a line up of seasonal cask beers. So, now instead of only having the two options, we’re going to have the yearly Peated Porter along with a seasonal offering. Coming soon we will see an English Mild, in the Fall it will be an English IPA, the Winter will be an Old Ale, and then an ESB in the Spring. So basically they’re going to have English style beers on cask, which makes perfect sense to me. As a side note: Don’t miss the English IPA on cask, I had the gas version of that last time it was on at Phantom and it’s the best beer I’ve had there.
This is bound to be Phantom Canyon’s best year in beer, as the brewers expect to make more than 2000 barrels. Their sales have increased steadily since Alan took over. He’s making good decisions and it’s showing in sales. The new beer may be hard for the longtime Phantom IPA lovers, but keep in mind there will be new casks on tap all the time now. The people (myself included) who really appreciate cask and the subtleties of it are still going to have plenty to keep us busy. In my opinion this is such a great move, and it is really exciting to have a broader selection of quality cask.
Normally I would end by saying something like, “I suppose only time will tell if this was a good decsion” but to be totally honest I’m already confident that it was a good decision.