Beer and Metal: Pipeworks Brewing's Citra Ninja

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I admit, it's a bit soon to be reviewing another beer from Pipeworks Brewing—their Abduction Imperial Stout occupied this space just six weeks ago. But at FOBAB I chatted briefly with Pipeworks' Beejay Oslon, and he told me that Citra Ninja, which the brewery had just released, is his favorite creation so far. That was enough to get my attention, since I'd picked the beer upon which it's based—the double IPA Ninja vs. Unicorn—for the Reader's 2012 Best of Chicago issue in June.

Besides, Pipeworks has shipped at least 26 varieties of beer since starting production in late February. On account of I need decent pictures and plenty of notes for these posts, I'm effectively restricted to beers in bottles (as opposed to on tap only) so I can review them at home, and I've got to find one worth talking about pretty much every week. An extravagant rate of innovation like that provides a lot of low-hanging fruit.

If Citra Ninja had existed when I wrote my Best of Chicago entry, it would've beaten out Ninja vs. Unicorn—that is, I'm inclined to agree with Oslon about how great it is. I've only encountered one other beer that smells so powerfully and deliciously of citrus fruit: Half Acre's lovely but sadly tap-only Vallejo IPA. Citra Ninja is made with approximately a wheelbarrow full of citra hops, and they didn't get that name by accident.

Satsuma, tangerine, and ruby grapefuit dominate the beer's aroma, with pineapple and mango in close second; I pick up a bit of raspberry and lemongrass too, plus a whiff of juniper or cedar (it's not really sharp enough to be called "pine," a favorite word for describing hops). "Juicy" seems like a silly thing to say about a smell, but inhaling over a glass of Citra Ninja literally makes my mouth water. I think I waited almost ten minutes to take my first sip, and not just because I was letting the beer warm up.

That was kind of a rough pour. The beer isnt actually so frothy.
  • That was kind of a rough pour. The beer isn't actually so frothy.

The taste is intensely fruity but not cloying, and it's not particularly sweet—mostly I get orange peel, grapefruit, and mango again, and this time there's definitely a little something I'd call pine. Those flavors, in combination with its prickly, fizzy effervescence and gentle mineral bitterness, remind me of Three Floyds' beloved Zombie Dust, which is brewed with citra hops exclusively. Despite the near total absence of malts in the nose, Citra Ninja isn't a straight-up hop bomb—it's beautifully balanced, with caramel and brioche-like breadiness underneath, which mingle with the fruit to create a subtle note of dried apricot. There's no noticeable booziness, though the beer weighs in at 9.5 percent alcohol.

If this cost half as much and were consistently available, I doubt I'd ever buy any other hoppy beer from Chicago. I'm not ready to forsake Dreadnaught, Furious, Double Jack, and Pliny the Elder just yet—hence the qualification.

I mean, 11 dollars isn't especially expensive for a 22-ounce bottle of a beer this well made, but just because the marketplace will bear it doesn't mean my finances will—price is still the main reason I only pay for this sort of thing on special occasions. If you've got a special occasion coming up, I'd suggest calling the nearest Binny's (I got my Citra Ninja in River North) or West Lakeview Liquors, or else finding another likely retailer on Pipeworks' list. I expect this one to go fast.

Citra Ninja's label looks like the title screen from an early-90s video game—and in my hunt for ninja-related metal (to satisfy the increasingly strained premise of this series), I found a lot of videos of dudes playing the Ninja Gaiden theme on electric guitar. But I also found a song called "The Ninja," by defunct San Francisco band Cacophony. It's on their 1987 album Speed Metal Symphony, and it's . . . well, the hairstyles probably tell you what you need to know.

The next tune, "Glory Seven," is from one of several metal bands called Ninja. They're from Wuppertal, Germany (also the hometown of feral free-jazz reedist Peter Brötzmann), and this track is from their final album, 1992's Liberty.

Serbian thrash band Space Eater is still active, and this is the title track from their 2012 demo, Ninja Assassin.

The lesson for today appears to be that the appearance of the word "ninja" is not necessarily the best sign when it comes to metal. Neither, I suppose, is the word "ninjer."

Philip Montoro writes about beer and metal, singly or in combination, every Monday.

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