Guest Review – Harpoon Leviathan is Big, Bold and Balanced

Fork You is pleased as punch to be partnering with Charleston Gazette beer columnist Rich Ireland to bring you this review of Harpoon Brewing’s Leviathan.  You can find his other reviews at his blog, “Beers To You“. 

Take it away, Rich!

Harpoon Leviathan is Big, Bold and Balanced

On July 9th, West Virginia finally broke the chains of its outdated “post prohibition” laws restricting the alcohol content of beer that can be sold in the state. The ABV (alcohol by volume) limit on beers previously had been capped at six percent. Though not a total buzz-kill, the restriction tended to limit selection for WV consumers. The new ABV limit has been raised to that closer to wine at twelve percent.  Some will say that can be a bad thing for those who tend to overindulge, but for most of us it means more World class brews and an even better selection of American craft beers to choose from.

Starting the very day the law changed, the beer watchmen were out in force to spot the first “High Gravity” beer to make it into WV retailer’s beer-coolers. The first to cross the finish-line was the Imperial India Pale ale called Leviathan from Harpoon Brewing of Massachusetts


No sooner that I heard the news, I rushed down to the Wine Shop (Beer Shop) at the Capitol Market to pick-up a couple of bottles; one to drink and the other for posterity. Then came the task of writing a review of the beer.

When reviewing a beer, I find that the reader is better served when the review is conducted by a few beer geeks and not just one. It’s also more fun than drinking alone!

My fellow beer geek and brewer Tim Lepley made the very difficult decision to help me taste the beer for review. We cracked the bottle while floating peacefully (except for some Weller on the stereo in the background) on a pontoon boat somewhere on the Kanawha River. As always, we allowed the beer to reach a reasonable temperature to allow for the flavors and aromas to come through; about 55 or 60 degrees. We poured the beer into odor free clear plastic cups. The beer pours with a slight cloudy rich deep-golden color and a decent off-white head that fades to the edges.  This beer gives off a host of hoppy and fruity aromas with pine and citrus at the forefront but then you can catch a bit of something that smells like peach cobbler, attesting to the malty- bready characteristics of the beer. 

The beer delivers a fairly chewy mouthfeel along with fairly high carbonation for this style of beer. The PNW (Pacific Northwest) Hop character comes through even more in the initial taste. There is a definite fruity character which once again tastes peachy.  Upon swallowing, the beer’s bitterness kicks in to balance out the front-end sweetness. A bit of alcohol warming and spiciness linger. The beer finishes very clean for such a “Big Beer”.  This is a well-made and balanced beer.

Big imperial-hoppy beers like this tend to do well when served with big spicy dishes, especially Indian cuisine. Beers like this also do well at dessert when served with sweet, rich treats like carrot cake. As for cheese pairing, go with big creamy blue cheeses like Stilton and let the “palate ballet” begin…

12 responses to “Guest Review – Harpoon Leviathan is Big, Bold and Balanced

  1. What is the ABV%?

  2. Sure Daniel, point out the one thing that I left out of the review… 10% ABV!

  3. demosthenes.or.locke

    Out of the various 10%+ beers I have tried in the last few weeks, this was my least favorite, which surprised me because I really enjoy Harpoon’s regular IPA. I didn’t think the flavor of the beer stood up to the increased alcohol content. Rogue’s Old Crustacean Barleywine has been my favorite high ABV I’ve tried so far. They have it at Patrick Street. It is has much stronger flavor than Leviathan, and I think that balances better with the 11.5% alcohol in the Old Crusty. The Old Crusty tasted sweeter going in and much more bitter going down.

  4. We all have our preferences, but the very definition of “balance” is a controversial one. For instance, when you describe the barley wine as “much sweeter going in”; which could be seen as an imbalance in itself by virtue of the beer being balanced toward sweet. Please take a look at an older “Beers To You” post that discusses this touchy issue… And thanks for the comments on the Barleywine!

  5. I forgot to thank you for the post. Thanks Rich.

  6. Now If they’d fix the law about mail order beers.

  7. I want to try one of these, but I’m not sure what to go with. Hoppy ales are usually my favorite, but IPA’s are just too much for me. There’s big lingering bitterness on the back end that I find unpleasant. Fore example, I really love the Rouge Juniper ale, but the Yellow Snow was too much. I didn’t care for the regular Harpoon IPA, so I’m reluctant to try the high octane variant.

    I’m curious about the Double Dead Guy. Any reports from the field?

  8. demosthenes.or.locke

    I thought double dead guy was great, but I had only one small glass and I was already pretty drunk at that point.

    Brings up a good point though: If a liquor store did a tasting event for a few of these beers it would probably result in a lot of sales. Many of my non-internet using drinking buddies didn’t even realize that higher ABV beers were illegal in WV, and didn’t realize they were now on the shelf either.

  9. HK: The Imperial Younger Special Bitter from Rogue is hoppy but not outrageously so. Good way to step into the bigger beer arena. Pricey in CRW but word is it’s cheaper at Smokers Friendly in Saint Albans.

    The new stuff just in from Great Lakes is all top notch. Oktoberfest, Eliot Ness Vienna Lager, and the Commodore Perry IPA are all available and all spectacular. If you’re in the market for a hop-bomb you won’t do better than the Perry – grapefruit-y hop wallop up front…just great. If you’re looking for balance or toned down hops, go with the EN or O-fest. And all are cheap at Drug Emporium.

  10. Pricey is putting it mildly— $15 for a bomber of Imperial Younger’s at Kroger. I still bought it because I am a big fan of Rogue and it may be a while before I am somewhere I can get it at a more reasonable price.

    I like it a lot but it is not a particularly hoppy beer by the standards of American microbrew culture. Depite the names English bitters and extra special bitters are not bitter or hoppy brews; the “Imperial” designation means more malt is used and the beer is fuller and has a higher ABV than the “standard” beer with that style name.

    Imperial Younger’s is “only” 52 IBU and that’s to balance a beer with considerably more malt character than a typical ESB. The regular Younger’s a lighter, lower ABV beer is 35 IBU so the imperial more or less maintains the balance and is just a “bigger” all around beer

    By way of comparison, Rogue’s Amber Ale is 53 IBU and it’s a lighter beer than Imperial Younger’s . Rogue’s imperial stout is 88 IBU and that’s pretty bitter but again balanced against a quite heavy, malty beer.

    Really bitter tasting beers such as double or imperial india pale ales from some American breweries can be above 90 IBUs for relatively light bodied beers– now that’s bitter.

    Personally, I prefer brewers who understand balance rather than thinking if hoppy is good then all other things being equalk twice as hoppy must be twice as good, but it’s a matter of taste.

    An analogy i like is that I like rare beef and spicy food but don’t think a raw steak and a plate of habaneros is a great meal.

  11. But maybe throw in a poached egg or two…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s