How I think about tasting new beer

Ballast Point Mango Even Keel Session IPA

One of my many beer adventures this year.

Drinking a new beer for the very first time can be a complex experience.

The brewery, branding, and season (amongst others) are elements that can shape how you perceive the beverage when tasting for the first time.

Trying a dark stout on a warm sunny day in summer will be a different experience than trying the very same beer right after skiing. A new ale from a brewery you know will have expectations to live up to. Fruity references in the naming may attract or repel you, depending on your inclination.

For these reasons, the Mango Even Keel from Ballast Point presents an interesting candidate for reflecting on how these elements influence my initial tasting of this Session IPA.

The Brewery

I was first introduced to Ballast Point while living in San Diego. I had just graduated from college, moved cross-country to California, and decided that I was now above consuming the normal array of light American beer that are mainstays of universities across the country.

My first true foray into American craft beer was Ballast Point Yellowtail Pale Ale (now just referred to as Ballast Point Pale Ale due to a lawsuit with the Australian Yellow Tail winery). It is simply one of the best Pale Ales available, embracing everything the genre strives to be — light on hops, smooth in consistency, and ridiculously easy to drink.

Yellowtail, and by proxy Ballast Point, set the bar for me. It ignited my fire within to explore the (then) budding American craft beer revolution. From that point on, I have held Ballast Point’s offerings in high regard.

And now, similarly, I expect a lot from this beer.

Another fruity beer from Ballast Point.

The Fruity Element

Traditionally, I have not been a big fan of fruit-infused beer. When done by the big breweries, it’s largely to address non-beer drinkers and allow them to feel like they’re drinking “real beer” (looking at you Sam Adam’s Cherry Wheat). They serve to create a gateway beer, a step up from the Smirnoff Ices and hard lemonades of the world.

These days it’s hard to find a good beer that simultaneously utilizes fruit in a novel pairing and while enabling the fruit to assist as a complement, instead of shining as the main attraction.

The relationship fruit (#33) should have with its beer (#23).

I know jack shit about actually brewing beer, but in talking to brewers over the years, there’s apparently a delicate balance one must strike when choosing to brew with fruit (outside of certain types such as sours). I rarely like the outcome, but some beers have surprised me in the past.

Hopefully, this will be one of them.

It’s summer, and I’m thirsty

In my previous experience, Pale Ales, IPAs, and of course Session IPAs are the type of beer that are best enjoyed in large(r) quantities while it is hot outside. Something about the hops make them a good pairing for this type of weather.

When undertaking new endeavors, I like to think that I set myself up for success.

This is why, armed with only a pair of shorts and tank top while sitting in a poorly ventilated room with no AC on a very warm NorCal afternoon, I decided to sit down and drink a few Mango Even Keels and write a review despite the fact water may have been a better choice.

Branding

Ballast Point is well known for their iconic nautical-themed branding, and this brew does not disappoint.

Back

The back of the can is fairly simple, wrapped in a light tan background with typical Ballast Point branding stretched across. In the center, there is a nautical doohicky which I am certain would have come in handy while sailing or getting drunk on a boat — I am actually unsure. Along the bottom, in eye-grabbing orange, is a focal banner reminding you that you did in fact buy a beer with mango in it.

Front, skeleton dude getting lit on the beach

The front has a stylized version of the original Even Keel skeleton getting plastered on the beach, but this time it’s sunset instead of midday. This guy has been drinking for a while.

The bottom paragraph mentions that the ABV is low, and upon checking, it is indeed only 3.8%. This would be pretty low for normal IPAs but is in fact par for the course for Session IPAs.

FUN FACT: Session IPAs by definition are low ABV since they were designed for manufacturing workers who used to drink them on the job in allotted “drinking sessions”. This required them to be light in alcohol content to avoid workers getting too drunk. Probably a good call if you’re going to be drinking this from sunrise to sunset, like ol’ Skeletor in the hammock.

Taste

My first thought was that the beer tasted a bit dry in the back of the mouth. Kind of like a very muted version of after you swallow a piece of grapefruit, and the air causes a kind of bitter sensation. The beer has a light effervescence and very light consistency which would lend to it being very drinkable in larger quantities.

In addition to a citrusy taste, there is also a good amount of hops. It is nothing like a traditional West-Coast IPA, however the hops are most noticeable at the tail end of the swallow.

Near the front of the tongue there is a slight hint of sweetness from what I barely taste as mango. I think Ballast Point has done a good job balancing the fruit, and it certainly feels like a member of the supporting cast.

Pricing

I was able to snag the beer at my local Hipster food market for $10.99 for a 6-pack, which works out to $1.83 a beer. I think that’s pretty average for a craft beer.

Would I buy again?

Did it live up to my expectations? Sure, I think it did. It’s not a Yellowtail 2.0, but it is a good, easily drinkable beer with a tinge of fruit sweetness added. I would genuinely prefer this to the OG Even Keel Session IPA if available at a bar, especially if it were a hot day. At its current price point, I think it is tough to justify making this a regular in my beer rotation, but it is worth a try and I would grab it up were it on sale in an instant. I could see it as a good beer to share at a summer barbecue, however non-beer drinkers won’t like it due to the hoppiness.

Summary

Brewery: Ballast Point

Beer: Mango Even Keel

Type: Session IPA

Rating: 🍺🍺/🍺🍺🍺

Good beer for when it’s hot, you like IPAs, and you want a modicum of sweet with your hops.