Beer review: The Surgeon IPA (Institution Ale Company)

Institution Ale Company (Camarillo, CA) — The Surgeon IPA

Institution The Surgeon

The Surgeon operates in a rare corner of the beer world. Triple IPAs such as Pliny the Younger from Russian River Brewing Company and Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA have become craft beer-geek milestones and measuring sticks. Simply getting a taste of either is an important box checked in the beer-drinker’s bucket list.

Perhaps rightfully so, these beers receive ample amounts of hype and fans line up for hours to get a pour. The question becomes: is it worth it?

With The Surgeon available without a line in Camarillo, the short answer is: No.

The Surgeon poured at Institution Ale Company in Camarillo, Calif.
The Surgeon poured at Institution Ale Company in Camarillo, Calif.

The Surgeon is clearly brewed with Pliny the Younger in mind, as it should be. Russian River set the standard for the Triple IPA category, and The Surgeon meets and occasionally exceeds every mark.

Like Pliny the Younger, The Surgeon enters the glass as brilliantly clear golden amber nectar with a thin white head. Small bubbles stream steadily upward, pushing forward a rich hop profile in the process.

Pine, soil, orange, grapefruit and dank herbs take their turns filling your nose before a lingering pine and citrus aroma stick around for the lasting memory—as they should in an American IPA of any strength. There’s a large amount of malt used to balance out an even-more-ridiculous amount of hops used to make this beer, but little to none of the breadiness or caramel notes come through in the aroma.

Not so in the first sip, which presents itself as a remarkably dry and round beer. There is more orange, lemon and grapefruit, but only a touch of bitterness on the palate. The strong honey flavors of the malt meld with the citrus and combine to create a suggestion of mandarins — a welcome surprise in a beer landscape that often seems to embrace grapefruit flavors over everything else in hoppy beers.

There is a strong flourish of alcohol that reminds the drinker that he or she is drinking an 11% triple IPA, but not enough to be off-putting—and not out of line with the style. It’s warming, and it’s inviting.

Drinking, and standing in line for, Pliny the Younger is a beer nerd’s rite of passage. The experience of hunting down your first pour of that special whale will leave more memories than the beer itself. But once you’ve done it, and you’re ready to drink amazing beer without the fuss, then it’s time for The Surgeon.

From left: Sedation, Progress Pale Ale (Citra) and Ratched Rye Porter. Three other strong beers from Institution Ale Company.
From left: Sedation (Hoppy red ale), Progress Pale Ale (Citra) and Ratched Rye Porter. Three other impressive beers from Institution Ale Company.