Like anything in American life, the IPA debate always gets whittled down to an East coast/West Coast thing and I won’t make a 2Pac/Biggie joke in the year 2010. But there’s more to America than the coasts, than “flyover” country as us snobs call it, and the Midwest is making some absolutely stunning IPAs as well, the Eminems of the IPA debate if you will. And why shouldn’t they be making good IPAs? They have hops just like we do. Then again, they have yeast and dough just like we do and their bagels still suck.
9% ABV canned and tap
No matter how Beer Advocate classifies it, Abrasive Ale is not the much beloved 16 Grit simply repackaged and renamed. Surly brewmaster Todd Haug told me as much. It is recipe-wise very similar to 16 Grit though–a beer I unfortunately never got to try–and it is a magnificent beer. Within a few hours I was fortunate enough to get to try batch 1 on tap, batch 1 canned, and an ever so slightly tweaked batch 2 on tap. Now while batch 1 and the first canned version I tried were both magnificent, both A level beers, batch 2, the batch that I suppose will be the recipe from now til iniquity, blew my mind and is clearly one of the best IPAs I have ever had. This is a darker than normal DIPA, a rich and gorgeous caramel with potent smells of tropical fruits and hops. The taste is as good as it gets–an over-explosion of hops with strong brunch tastes of grapefruit and sugar, a perfect combination that adds a kiss of sweetness to balance out the bite stripping the enamel from your teeth. Wow.
Tea Bagged Furious
6.2% ABV on cask
This has long been a most wanted beer of mine even though, like a dope, I didn’t even know what exactly it was. I naively assumed it was your typical delicious Furious somehow infused with some tea flavoring. Eh…I don’t know. I now feel like some idiot 10 year old that never quite understood the birds and the bees until an older kid explained them to him. Luckily, I finally did learn what the tea bagged refered to, right around the time I got to try this magnificent beer. Tea Bagged Furious is simply Furious that has been dry-hopped in a firkin cask with various hop varieties in a bag. OK, I think I get it now. Kinda like Surly’s novelty answer to Dogfish Head’s Randall I suppose. Whatever the case, this is a brilliant beer, packed full of juicy hops, made all the more interesting to enjoy on cask where that pesky carbonation doesn’t get in the way of your tongue picking up all those subtle flavors. Not that this sucker is subtle in the least.
Town Hall Mango Mama
6% ABV on tap
A tap-only selection, pretty much only available at the brewpub, Mango Mama is another beer, another IPA, I’d long wanted to try. I’m a typical “more is better and please Supersize that shit” American, so I usually skip right over IPAs and tell ‘em to make mine a double, but Town Hall’s regular 365 days a year offering, Masala Mama is a nifty little production, a no frills, incredibly drinkable and delicious effort. The slightly rarer Mango Mama blows that one away and has to be arguably the best 6% ABV or lower IPA around. I expected a sweeter IPA, but I guess I just don’t know what a mango is (most of my knowledge of fruit comes from the various Skittles packs, so that’s no surprise) because this was a shockingly citric and bitter IPA. One of the more bitter ones I’ve ever had. Seemingly no malt backbone or sweetness at all, this is just like straight fruit juice mixed with hops. And that ain’t a bad thing. Highly recommended.
Ale Asylum Bedlam!
Finally, we come to a Wisconsin IPA, and a Belgian one at that. Bedlam!–I love when names of things force you to punctuate–is my first introduction to the brewpub’s offerings and one of my first introductions to citra hops, a semi-rare hop varietal that seems to add a somewhat green onion aroma and flavoring to the beer. A not unpleasant and certainly unique sensation that makes you feel like you just got chives on your baked potato, scallion cream cheese on your bagel. As we know, Belgian IPAs are pretty de rigueur right now and there’s several new and good ones on the market (Nebraska Hop God and The Bruery Mischief most notably) and this one stacks up for sure. While not quite as good as those two, it’s certainly a unique offering as the citra hops meld with the overwhelming Trappist yeast for a nice bite and a silky finish. Obscure, but worth seeking out fo’ sho.