South Street Brewery Tongue Ninja Sour Double IPA

Growler of South Street Brewery Tongue Ninja Sour Double IPA, photo by Kevin Gibson
Growler of South Street Brewery Tongue Ninja Sour Double IPA, photo by Kevin Gibson

National IPA Day is Aug. 6, and we at Alcohol Professor are celebrating the days leading up to the “holiday” with posts on a few interesting IPAs, some of which may be familiar and some of which may not.

Just when you think every weird brewing hybrid must have already been tried, something else comes along. For me, it was in the form of my friend Nick texting me from a road trip to say he had a beer that would “blow [my] mind.”

That beer? Tongue Ninja, from South Street Brewery in Charlottesville, Va.  Tongue Ninja is a beast of a weird style hybrid of which I’d heard fables but had never had the occasion to try. It’s a blend of two trendy styles, a double IPA crossed with a sour beer. Yep, a sour 2XIPA.

Made with pils, mild ale, pale crystal and carmelized malts along with nine – nine! – hop varieties, right out of the gate you’re talking about a big, bold, dangerous beer. It checks in at 8.7 percent alcohol, which is definitely a big investment. And when you toss in the Simcoe, Cascade, Centennial, CTZ, Amarillo, Columbus and Pacific hop flavors, that’s something else entirely. But Tongue Ninja also includes Lemondrop and Citra hops, which amp up the citrusy profile present in many modern IPAs.

And on top of it all, the South Street brewers pitch Lactobacillus to kick-start fermentation, and the souring is under way.

Nick said he tried all the beers on draft during his visit to South Street, but it was the Tongue Ninja that stood out: “That’s the one that made me say, ‘I have to take this to Kevin.’”

I appreciate my friends, because they think of me when they taste good beer. But since Tongue Ninja isn’t bottled, Nick got a growler and fill. Since he was hundreds of miles away, the beer was a good three days in the growler, so when we poured it, we fully expected it to have flattened out, and it had somewhat.

The flavors might have dulled some, but there was still plenty there. Interestingly, though, when I poured the first hazy orange beer into a glass, I immediately got the sour in the aroma without even trying. But once the glass was full and I brought it to my nose, that had almost entirely given way to an aroma profile of a classic IPA, with a sweet blend of malts and bouquet of citrus and earth. Yes, there was a hint of sour, but for the most part I was getting a classic IPA profile.

And then I took my first drink, and literally said “wow” out loud. The tartness hits your palate up front, and as Nick said, it was as if someone had dropped super-sour Warhead candies into an IPA.

“They told me this was the third batch,” Nick said, referring to the bartenders at South Street, “and this one was the [sourest] one yet.”

I believe it.

What I found interesting was the ultimate drinkability of Tongue Ninja. While many double IPAs are an investment, and a beer best sipped, this was a drinkable, summer-accessible IPA that checked in at a drinkable 45 IBUs. The bitterness was subtle, but the citrus qualities were immense, making it a great front porch sipper. And I’m not talking about a weak little shandy either – this one packs a wallop.

As I made my way through my first glass of the stuff, I found more and more of the hop subtleties, with pine notes and just the right amount of crisp, lightly acidic bitterness. As we enjoyed our beers, we continually came back around to simply what a drinkable, enjoyable beer Tongue Ninja is – at least once you get past that first sour punch in the mouth. It’s like if a Duchesse de Bourgogne, with all its fruity, sour verve, had a love child with a Bell’s Two Hearted.

The downside to that would be that this is not a beer you’d necessarily want to drink in session quantity – two or three of these at that alcohol content could catch up to you fast, especially on a hot day when hydration is a pre-emptive challenge. And after a while, the sour leaves a lingering mouthfeel that requires a water rinse.

Unless you are on board with the sour beer movement, you’ll probably be offended by a beer like this. For the average palate, it’s probably pretty extreme. But it’s still a fine specimen, if a rather weird one. My palate loved it; some may not.

All I’ll say is, at the very least, this one is well worth a try if you’re traveling through Virginia. Prepare your palate by eating lemons for a week in advance of your visit, and you’ll be fine.