The red and green label of Northern Lights is very familiar to me. While I was introduced to this beer at the long gone Pizza Kitchen, it has also stood as the only logical choice during many trips through the Ronald Reagan International Airport in Washington, DC. I’ve always thought of Northern Lights as a very good IPA and would not have considered it needing a revision but tonight the old meets the new – a true face off.
We sometimes hear of brewers tweaking recipes due to a perceived imperfection, change in available materials or simply because it’s time. As the craft beer movement has grown and evolved, it never hurts to ask how can we improve? Starr Hill has done just that. Their packaging has been updated but the all familiar star remains – and they didn’t change the bottle cap, thankfully – one of my favorites. What they also took a hard look at was their flagship beer, Northern Lights. Rarely does a brewery alter their flagship but these guys have done just that. Today we’ve put them side by side in a beer face off! Let’s check it out.
Color: No substantial change here – at least not to me.
Smell: The original give off scents of pine more than anything else. The new version takes these same scents, adds some citrus and turns up the volume – so much to the point that to smell the original again elicits almost no scent at all. Nod to the new guy on this one.
Taste: The original is a little sweet, some bitterness and lingers very long on the palate finally leaving a sweet finish. I taste some biscuit more than anything else. The new version feels very full on the palate – the hop profile fills out the taste from front to back. While it doesn’t linger nearly as long as the original and isn’t nearly as bitter it still, oddly enough, seems very familiar as it pays homage to it’s predecessor. Again, nod to the new guy.
Turns out that while the original contained Columbus and Cascade hops the new version adds Falconer’s Flight, Simcoe and Centennial to the mix. These additional hops along with the utilization of a hop bursting technique explains why this beer seems to be a buffed up version of its predecessor. ABV of the new version clocks in at 6.2% and 55 IBUs while the original is 6.5% and 52 IBUs.
Final snobs: BAM! What an improvement. The new version is certainly respectful of its roots but brings itself into line with current IPAs – and perhaps ahead of a lot of IPAs. Well done Starr Hill. I’ll be looking for a full moon against a green background on future trips to DC and we should be seeing it across Knoxville shortly!