The Hophead Chronicles
There's some seriously good brewing going on in the Midwest, though those of us stranded on the East Coast rarely get to taste it. Perhaps that's a good thing, though: By focusing their efforts on producing small quantities of beer for local distribution, Midwest breweries are able to concentrate on quality and flavor. This week, we gathered a sample of IPAs from the Midwest to review, and a few of them are definitely top tier.
Many of these beers tend to be creamier and mellower than California or Pacific Northwest IPAs, without quite the resinous pop that's more common out west. It's a great style unto itself: The best of these beers are drinkable and balanced, rich and silky. They'll be friendly to food and they won't demolish your palate the way extremely hoppy brews will. (Be warned: there are still a handful of wildly hoppy beers in this roundup.)
What follows is a taste of some of the great IPAs of the Midwest. But we've only just begun exploring Midwestern beer. So tell us, locals: what are your favorite Midwestern brews?
Serious Beer Ratings
***** Mindblowing; a new favorite
**** Awesome, stock up on this
*** Around average for the style
** There are probably better options
* No, thanks, I'll have water.
Ratings are subject to personal taste.
Magnificent Michigan IPA
Bell's Two Hearted Ale Kalamazoo, Michigan 7% ABV
This beer smells like honey and orange, butterscotch and apricot. It has an amazingly smooth mouthfeel and no harshness (though it retains a good dry earthy bitterness). This beautifully balanced beer is accessible, drinkable, with notes of orange marmalade and mulling spices, cream soda, brown butter, toffee, and orange pekoe tea. Every beer lover should try this stellar example at some point.
Short's Huma Lupa Licious Bellaire, Michigan 6.7% ABV
This may be the most aggressively resiny of the Midwest beers we tried; with woodsy grassy notes and a highly herbal scent (mostly that herb). This beer is focused and piney with a squeeze of lemon juice, oily grapefruit peel, and a rich, almost buttery finish. Full-bodied caramelly malt supports the very big, complex hop flavor. If only these guys distributed outside Michigan...
Founder's Centennial IPA Grand Rapids, Michigan 7.2% ABV
It's hard to decide whether we prefer this one or the Two-Hearted; with beer this good, it's just a matter of personal taste. This beer is a bit more caramel-flavored than the Bell's, but a little less creamy, with a nose of oily hops and broiled grapefruit. Sweet orange and pine flavors are balanced with malty richness; we'd be happy to drink this anytime.
Three Floyds Dreadnaught Munster, Indiana 9.5% ABV
Full bodied without being too sweet, this Imperial IPA has a serious serving of hops. We tasted marmalade and pine resin, a bright bitterness that actually stands up against the high alcohol. Awesome—and we sat on our bottle longer than we should have. Get a fresh one and open it right away!
Bell's Hopslam Kalamazoo, Michigan 10% ABV
When fresh, this double IPA has a delicious aroma of candied orange peel and juniper—and you don't need to stick your nose in the glass to smell it. (Older bottles have mellowed into honeyed maltiness; not bad, but we recommend catching a fresh one as soon as it's released or seeking it out on tap.) This beer has marmalade notes and a hint of watermelon Jolly Ranchers; it's seriously tasty, but also seriously alcoholic.
Hoppin' Frog Mean Manalishi Akron, Ohio 8.2% ABV
This beer is highly drinkable for the ABV, with plentiful carbonation and refreshing bitterness. It has friendly apricot and pomelo notes, a hint of cantaloupe with a squeeze of lemon. After the pops of flavor are done, you're left with an herbal finish. We enjoyed this--it's not the most complex double IPA we've had, but it's fun and even approachable for the style.
Surly Abrasive Minneapolis, Minnesota 9.7% ABV
This beer isn't abrasive at all—it's named after the factory that once stood at the brewery's site. It's a sweet and rich double IPA with a buttery finish, sticky/resiny hops, honeyed grapefruit, and a hint of maple syrup. Some of our tasters found it more interesting than Surly's intense single IPA.
Schlafly American IPA St. Louis, Missouri 8% ABV
This is technically categorized as an American IPA, not a double, but it's just too strong for us to compare to a single IPA. We've heard this beer is awesome on tap, with hoppy brightness rising above the toffeed sweetness that you get in the bottle. The scent is rich grapefruit, but we found this beer mostly thick and boozy, with notes of cantaloupe, banana, pine, and sugar. This is not a beer for the meek; we felt the alcohol was a bit over the top.
Schlafly Export IPA St. Louis, Missouri 8% ABV
Another boozy offering from Schlafly, categorized as an English IPA (but for us, more like a double). This beer is also quite sweet, but with a burst of bitter hopping over the papaya and orange-Starburst notes. It's earthier than the American IPA, but we wished they would dry it out a little bit more.
More Solid Midwest Sips
Surly Furious Minneapolis, Minnesota 6.5% ABV
This one has a blast of floral hoppiness and fruit on the nose. It's seriously bitter and piney, with tons of caramel malt and dried-papaya-spear sweetness to balance. This ones for hopheads only; others may be overwhelmed.
Goose Island IPA Chicago, Illinois 5.9% ABV
This drinkable IPA smells like caramel and butterscotch. The flavor is rich and creamy, almost understated for an IPA, with delicate earthy hops and a dry bitterness on the finish. We were reminded of lemon-poppyseed cake and clementines, sage and spicy clove. Once again, a tasty, food-friendly beer from the folks at Goose Island.
Two Brother's Resistance Warrenville, Illinois 6.9% ABV
This is not your standard IPA—it's aged in oak barrels and tastes more like a hoppy farmhouse ale. It's balanced and food friendly, extremely dry after a fruity-sweet opening taste. We noticed bitter orange peel, lavender, and lemon.
Hoppin' Frog Hoppin' to Heaven IPA Akron, Ohio 6.8% ABV
This approachable, drinkable IPA has primarily apricot and peach flavors, with a hint of cream soda and enough bitterness to balance. The finish is clean on this food-friendly beer.
Ale Asylum Bedlam! Madison, Wisconsin
What happens when you brew with Belgian yeast and Citra Hops? Rich tropical-fruit aromas (with a hint of spicy cinnamon scent) and vibrant flavors. It's fruity (like a peach crossed with a pineapple) without being overly sweet, tarted up a bit by the hops. Beer nerds may find it fascinating, though some of our tasters believed it wasn't quite coherent.
Lakefront IPA Milwaukee, Wisconsin 6.9% ABV
This beer is nothing like the creamy IPAs we often find in the Midwest—there's an eyepopping amount of hopping, and it'll make you pucker Atomic Warhead-style. We tasted tongue-coating lemon, thyme, eucalyptus, and grapefruit from Cascade and Chinook hops. Prepare your palate—while it's not super complex and it could use a little fuller body to balance the hoppiness, this beer will take you for quite a ride.
Michigan Brewing Company High Seas IPA Webberville, Micigan, 7.2% ABV
This bright and flavorful IPA has a good orange-peel scent and some slightly-astringent bitterness on the finish. Grapefruit pith flavor isn't for everyone, though we enjoyed this.
Tallgrass IPA Manhattan, Kansas 6.3% ABV
Caramels and orange hard candy dominate the scent of this beer, which has a nice rich body and graham-crackery malt. This drinkable beer has a delicate bitterness and orangey hops. Fans of copper ales will love this one, though it might leave hardcore hopheads wanting more.
Copper Canyon Devil's Peak IPA Southfield, Michigan 6.8% ABV
This beer has a big aroma of orange candy and pine, and the taste follows through with very fruity and sweet grapefruit notes up front, and thyme on the finish. We tasted brown sugar and meyer lemon, candied grapefruit, with good crisp bitterness (which it needs) on the finish. Tasty stuff, though not quite as focused as the best in the category.
Boulevard Single-Wide IPA Kansas City, Missouri 5.7% ABV
This crisp and tart IPA has floral notes and a hint of apricot and lemon. It's on the bitter side, grassy and refreshing, if not life changing. The finish reminded us of black tea.
Not Really Our Thing
Great Lakes Commodore Perry Cleveland, Ohio 7.5% ABV
Remember Tang? This beer smells a bit like that. It's fruity-tasting but with a sharply bitter earthy/herbal finish and hints of prune and brown sugar. This spicy beer includes traditional English Fuggle hops. We felt that the alcohol in this beer wasn't quite integrated.
Summit India Pale Ale St. Paul, Minnesota 6.4% ABV
A reddish pour with apricot and sour cherry notes, this beer is malty with earthy hop notes and a dry finish. The toasted grain flavor is balanced with minty hops in this fine but not exceptional Minnesota brew.
Arbor Brewing Sacred Cow IPA Ann Arbor, Michigan, 6% ABV
This earthy IPA has toasted bread flavors and a hint of Grand Marnier—some tasters found it slightly funky and discombobulated, though others liked the spicy herbal notes.
Disclosure: All of these beers except those from Bell's, Goose Island, Lakefront, and Michigan Brewing Company were review samples.
The Updated Serious Beer Best IPA List
This isn't quite a national list yet, just our favorites so far. All of the beers listed below are super-excellent; at this point of deliciousness, the order is a matter personal preference and what side of the bed you woke up on.
Our Favorite IPAs of 2010
- Laurelwood Workhorse IPA (Oregon)
- Bell's Two Hearted (Michigan)
- Short's Huma Lupa Licious (Michigan)
- Founder's Centennial (Michigan)
- Speakeasy Big Daddy IPA (California)
- Odell India Pale Ale (Colorado)
- Firestone Walker Union Jack (California)
- Boundary Bay IPA (Washington)
- Green Flash West Coast IPA (California)
- Rogue Brutal IPA (Oregon)
- Stone Ruination IPA (California)
- Port Brewing Wipeout IPA (California)
- Coronado Island IPA (California)
- Ballast Point Sculpin (California)
- Surly Furious (Minnesota)
- Goose Island IPA (Illinois)
- Bristol Brewing Compass IPA (Colorado)
Double and Imperial IPA Favorites
- Russian River Pliny the Elder (California)
- Three Floyd's Dreadnaught (Indiana)
- Hopworks Ace of Spades Imperial IPA (Oregon)
- Anderson Valley Anniversary Imperial IPA (California)
- Avery DuganA (Colorado)
- Bell's Hopslam (Michigan)
- Marin Brewing White Knuckle (California)
- Moylander Double IPA (California)
- Hoppin' Frog Mean Manalishi (Ohio)
- Surly Abrasive (Minnesota)
- Bend Brewing Hop Head Imperial (Oregon)
- New Old Lompoc C-Note (Oregon)
- Ninkasi Tricerahops (Oregon)