Drunken Speculation

#35 McLaren Vale Beer Company IPA

vale ipaMcLaren Vale Beer Company is one of the darlings of the craft beer scene. They took out top spot in the 2010 Hottest 100 with their Australian Pale Ale and this particular beer, the Vale/IPA, was fourth in the 2012 countdown. And, of course, ammo loved Vale/Ale.

The brewery is located in the grape-infested region that is McLaren Vale, South Australia.  Buried in the Adelaide hills, the idea of a craft brewery in amongst the vineyards makes a lot of sense from a tourism point of view. With their distinctive dots and simple graphic design, the McLaren Vale beers are easy to spot at the bottleshop but just how good is their Indian Pale Ale?

With that super-distinctive labelling, there isn’t a whole lot of room for a description, so I’m obliged to turn to the McLaren Vale website:

An Australian interpretation of an American IPA, using a combination of hops from three countries. Galaxy from Australia, Nelson Sauvin from New Zealand and Citra from United States. Malt flavours are derived from the combination of pale, wheat and crystal. Very hop forward showing strong pine and citrus notes, with stone fruit and passionfruit characters. The malt structure is beautifully matched with the dry hopping, giving this beer a refined balance.

The “refined balance” remains to be seen, although that is an all-star hop line-up.

On the pour and there’s an enormous head and it has staying power. Seriously, it won’t go down. The creamy-looking bubbles are predominantly small but almost immortal. Disappear, damn you, I want to drink some actual beer!

The IPA itself is a dark golden colour. There were traces of impurities in the bottle when I picked it up but after the pour, it’s now a cloudier beer, which looks kind of gross as you approach the bottom of your glass.

The aroma promises hops. What else would you expect? It’s not an lively aroma, promising the world, it’s kind of quiet but upbeat but mostly subtle. There are traces of fruit in there and I would hazard grapefruit, similar in nature to #28. A perplexing start.

With a sampling, the Vale/IPA doesn’t have the hopslosion of other local IPAs, in particular Hop Hog. It kicks your tastebuds awake but it’s more from the strong bitterness that comes through, rather than interesting hoppy aromas. I’m not finding myself blown away by it, more carefully considering what is actually happening and not finding a whole heap going on. It’s not that dry but quite bitter on the finish.

The Vale/IPA is sessionable at least. It’ll knock you around a bit at 5.5% but if you’re looking at IPAs for a sesh, you’re probably a pretty hardened drinker in any case. I think what’s more impressive is that they’ve managed to create an IPA that is almost as popular as Feral’s Hop Hog but doesn’t actually replicate the flavour. It would be too easy to do that but McLaren Vale have taken the high road and gone their own direction. Kudos!

Overall, I don’t think this would rate in my top five or maybe even top twenty Australian beers. It’s distinctive but not terribly interesting and, considering the price point, its not going to be a beer you sit on for an extended period.


  • Website
  • Genre: IPA
  • Regionality: McLaren Vale, SA
  • Strength: 4.9%
  • Rating: 1.5 / 3 taste + 1 / 2 ancillaries = 2.5 / 5
  • Plus: Red label draws the eye.
  • Minus: Overly heady.
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