Don't Mess with Greatness, Right?

Jeffrey Wiser, February 16, 2015

We’ve all got our favorite beer. As fellow beer geeks, you probably gets asked what your “favorite beer” is all the time. Seemingly every time I mention my propensity for microbrews, the response is a question about which one rates as my personal number one. While the beer I choose to drink at any given moment is usually based on a number of factors, my response to the inquiry above has been the same for over a year: Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA.

You’ve probably heard of this beer before and, odds are, if you reside on the west coast, you’ve had Sculpin before. It’s so good that you’d assume that Ballast Point would never mess with it. But, instead, messing with it is exactly what they did when they released two variations of the Sculpin IPA a while back: Grapefruit Sculpin and Habanero Sculpin. While I’d heard tales of these two variants, I managed to miss them on a visit to the Ballast Point tasting room in San Diego a few months back and just got my hands on these two the other day.

So, the obvious course of action was to snag an original Sculpin and drink all three! Because if you can have your favorite beer and a couple more like it, well, hey, why the hell wouldn’t you? First, let’s start with the OG as a baseline.

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA

  • Appearance: light, orange-amber with a decent head of foam (4)
  • Smell: hops and citrus dominate the nose (4.25)
  • Taste: a solid malt backbone with plenty of fresh hops and a citrus finish (4.5)
  • Mouthfeel: medium-bodied, finishes relatively clean with just the right amount of bitterness (4.5)
  • Overall: finally decided that the texture of the beer may be what I love the most. The nose and citrusy-hops taste are great, but the balance of malt and hops creates the perfect IPA (4.25)

I’ve made it clear that I’m partial to this beer. I’ve written about it before and even selected it as my favorite beer of 2013, but it wasn’t until this most recent tasting that I decided the the texture of the beer is what has put me over the edge. Enough gushing, though, and let’s get on to the more exotic brothers of the Sculpin IPA.

Ballas Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA

  • Appearance: very similar to the original, perhaps a tad more amber, but maybe not (4)
  • Smell: as expected, very similar on the nose to the original, but the grapefruit essence comes through clearly (4)
  • Taste: sweeter, the grapefruit makes the malt less noticeable, distracts from the balance, but still enjoyable on your tastebuds (3.75)
  • Mouthfeel: medium-bodied, very similar to the original, perhaps ever so slightly thinner (4.25)
  • Overall: nearly as good depending on your acceptance of the sweetness. The grapefruit doesn’t overwhelm, but it’s clearly presence and creates a very refreshing, somewhat fruity IPA (4)

The grapefruit version is a winner, but it’s definitely different. If you’re open to the fruit in the beer then this is something you’ll love. If the sweetness added is something that concerns the drinker, then it might be a little off-putting. I didn’t necessarily feel like it was a deterrent, but make no mistake, this beer is clearly unique from the original Sculpin IPA. To me, it’s definitely worth trying. The Habanero Sculpin? Well, let’s just see the notes first…

Ballast Point Habanero Sculpin IPA

  • Appearance: pretty much the same as the others, nothing noticeably different (4)
  • Smell: hops at first, immediately followed by the scent of fresh peppers, which is almost scary (2.75)
  • Taste: a brief introduction by hops is immediately followed up by a rapid and intense burst of heat, completely obliterating any notes of malt (2.5)
  • Mouthfeel: it’s hard to even evaluate given the heat supplied by the habanero, but if pressed, I’d say it feels slightly thinner thanks to the disappearance of malt. And the heat lasts. And lasts. And lasts… (2)
  • Overall: just way too hot for regular drinking. Finishing 12 ounces was a chore and something I only did it to prove my toughness to the female in my presence. Not sure it was worth it. The heat is completely overwhelming and just kills the essence of what we know of as Sculpin IPA (2.5)

After three trials, I can safely say that the original Sculpin IPA is fantastic, the Grapefruit Sculpin IPA is a fun variation and that the Habanero Sculpin IPA is useful if you want to play a brutal trick on your roommate. I checked with BeerGraphs’ own Eno Sarris during his most recent FanGraphs chat and he concurred, more or less.

So give these guys a try if you get a chance. At the very worst, you’ll be drinking for a great experience, and best-case scenario, you might just find an enjoyable way to switch up your IPA habits. Those are pretty good choices, if you ask me.