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Sunday School: IPAs & Catawbas

The following is a part of a guest series authored by Lauren Gutshall on discovering new wines and beers. 

It’s that time of year when we all start putting away the sweaters and knit hats and look forward to that first sun-filled day when we can break out the short sleeves and sunglasses. Even with the last few bitter days of winter lingering painfully, most of us are ready to toast to spring.

photo by GK Visual

With the first days of spring officially upon us, it seems appropriate to rethink our drinks. It may not quite be time for sweet “patio” wines or light, refreshing pilsners, but it is time to break out those beers and wines that match the crispness of the season: India Pale Ales (IPAs) and Catawbas.

India pale ales are a broad category, and they can offer a variety of flavors depending on what type of hops are used in the brewing process. Some IPAs are very floral, others tend to be a little bit grassy. Most IPAs, though, are full of citrus notes: zesty lemon, bright tangerine, and bitter grapefruit. These IPAs are comparable to Catawbas because both have an earthy aroma, a mid-palate of herbs and spices, and a lovely grapefruit bite at the end.

If you don’t know much about different varieties of hops, don’t worry. I also have difficulty discerning exactly what hops were used to brew a beer just by tasting it. In general, it’s the hops that make some beers citrusy, tangy, and bitter. Since IPAs have more hops than other kinds of beer, that sharpness is even more pronounced.

IPAs have a brightness that carries throughout the beer, followed by a distinct grapefruity bitterness at the end. They pick up spice and pepper in the middle of the palate, which is sometimes overshadowed by the piquant finish. IPAs were first brewed in England in the 19th century; the story goes that the Brits loaded their pale ales with hops so that the beer could travel to India without spoiling.

Around the same time that the British were making the first IPAs, the young American states started growing the Catawba grape. Catawba is one of the first American vinifera grapes and was used to make wine starting in the 1800s. It’s primarily grown on the east coast, so it’s truly a local grape. The Catawba grape is a technically a red grape, but you can find Catawba wines that run the spectrum of color from deep red to virtually white.

Catawbas are not a very common grape varietal so you won’t find a ton of Catawba wines in the state stores. Fortunately, it’s a grape that grows well in Pennsylvania so many local wineries produce Catawbas. I recommend spending a day visiting several area wineries to try their Catawbas.

Catawba wines have a pungent, musty bouquet, just like a hoppy IPA. They are earthy and peppery. While they are often finished as semi-sweet wines and can be smooth on the tongue, they like to pack a punch. Like those citrusy IPAs, Catawbas bite back with a distinct grapefruit finish.

Catawbas and IPAs taste like the month of March: crisp, bright, and bitter. They are the perfect drinks to toast to the beginning of spring.

Lauren’s Recommendations:

“Sunday School” returns next week with another look at beer and wine. Have a question for Lauren? Submit it in the comments below or contact me

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