Here’s an interesting beer my friends that not only has a bang-up super groovy name but also has a great concept behind it, too. I’m talking about Cluster’s Last Stand, a collaboration brew with San Diego’s Stone Brewing Company. The beer is in fact brewed and bottled by Smuttynose as you can easily tell by the shape of the bottle itself.
Now for that interesting concept, and for that I’m going to provide some information straight from the Smuttynose website that best explains it:
Old, new? It’s all the same, really. Cluster’s Last Stand defies the commonly accepted notion that strong, hoppy beers are recent arrivals on the US beer landscape. Smuttynose has teamed up with Stone Brewing Company to recreate the original, post-Prohibition Ballantine IPA recipe. That’s right; strong, 60 IBU beer was brewed in the 30’s. How do we know? We read it in Stone Brewmaster Mitch Steele’s excellent and well-researched book, “IPA, Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale.” The only difference between this beer and more contemporary IPAs are the hop varieties: Cluster, Brewers Gold, Bullion and East Kent Goldings. None of these are trendy and we were a little surprised to find out that all four were readily available.
So there you go. Not only do you now know why they call this Cluster’s Last Stand (the hop varieties), but hopefully you get the allusion that quality beer did make a stand against boring macrolagers after Prohibition ended. That stand may have been about as successful as George Armstrong Custer’s last battle with the Sioux, but hey, give Ballantine credit for trying.
Which is of course the cool premise here, that Ballantine brewed a tasty IPA 70 years ago and Smuttynose and Stone are recreating it. Having sampled an actual bottle of Ballantine Burton Ale from the 30s, I was already familiar with the notion that great beers were brewed back then. Cluster’s Last Stand, however, gives us a chance to relive that history.
It should be noted that Ballantine Brewing, now really only a brand, has also recently revived Ballantine IPA. I haven’t found any yet as it is not distributed here in Georgia, but I’m looking. It will be interesting to compare it to Cluster’s Last Stand. Smuttynose calls availability on this “special” but we hope it will not be a one-off brew.
Ingredients from the website:
Malt Bill: North American 2-Row, Flaked Maize, Munich 10L, C-60
Hops: Bittering: Cluster, Flavor: Brewers Gold and East Kent Goldings, Dry Hop: Bullion
Smuttynose Cluster’s Last Stand has a hefty alcohol content of 8.8% by volume with 62 IBUs. I paid $8.99 for my bottle at Bullock’s in Woodstock, Georgia, which is $3 higher than the norm for Smuttynose. Indeed, I picked up a bottle of Smuttonator Doppelbock for $5.99 the same day. But then this is a special brew. The label says this is “Best When Consumed Fresh”, and I drank well before the 3/5/15 best by date.
Smuttynose Cluster’s Last Stand pours to a bright orange color with a thick cauliflower head formation and a very earthy, herbal hoppy nose. Taking a sip, the beer has a bit of chewy caramelly malt up front followed by a wonderful hop bouquet. The floral, herbal hop aroma truly permeates the beer, both in the nose and the palate. A long dry bitter hop finish makes this linger on the tongue a while after sipping, and is very nice indeed.
Cluster’s Last Stand is bursting with hop aroma and flavor, but not over the top hops like so many beers of today. It’s not citrusy or resiny but rather revels in its flowery, herbal hop aroma and flavor. It’s perfectly balanced between malt and hops as well, and surely a beer Goldilocks would really love: it’s just right.
With the alcohol content where it is, this is really a double IPA in my book. Perfectly executed, delicious, and a noble historical experiment. I can only grant a full 5 stars for such a wonderful beer, and can’t recommend it enough.
And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.
*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.