First things first—there is no glitter. There are no rainbows. There are no colorful candy pieces floating in this beer. If you are looking for Skittlebrau, this ain’t it.
What we have here is a great example of one of the newer trends in brewing, the milkshake IPA. What separates a milkshake IPA from a other India pale ales, you ask? It’s lactose, a sugar found in milk that brewer’s yeast can’t convert to alcohol. Lactose adds a some sweetness and creaminess to the beer and has been added to stouts for the past couple hundred years to create milk stouts. Many brewers will also use the milkshake IPA as a platform for adding fruit flavors, which leads to concoctions like the creamsicle IPA.
The good folks at Southern Range Brewing Co. in Monroe, N.C., have kept things simple with Unicorns & Lollipops so you can really experience what makes a milkshake IPA tick. The aroma is floral, piney and grassy, and the beer fills your glass with a very hazy, deep-gold liquid, haziness and cloudiness being typical of milkshake IPA. A thin, white, foamy head crowns the beer.
Like a milk stout, Unicorns has a silky, smooth mouth feel. The beer is not flat, the carbonation is certainly there. It is just cancelled out by the effect of the lactose, which makes this a very quaffable beer. But at 7.4% alcohol by volume, quaff with caution.
We tasted only the very mildest of sweetness in this beer. The effect of the lactose seems to be to tamp down the expected bitterness from the hops. That piney flavor is still there but greatly moderated. We detected some subtle notes of citrus and stone fruit, particularly on the finish, and the beer leaves a mild resinous aftertaste that is not unpleasant.
Unicorns & Lollipops is a great introduction to what the milkshake IPA is all about. It’s a very drinkable beer with all the complex flavor and bitterness you’d expect from an IPA but moderated by the added lactose. Southern Range did everything right with this beer except perhaps giving it a name that might create unrealistic expectations.
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