Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

January 9, 2008

Beer Diary:

A Tale Of Two Cs

Getting to know the Centennial hop through two great Midwest IPAs.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
Although most craft brewers tend to thumb their noses, if not outright ignore, anything smacking of “mainstream,” they are by no means above following trends when it comes to the world of real beer. One of those big trends that you see throughout the industry almost without exception is the use of the four Cs: Cascade, Chinook, Columbus, and—the hero of today’s story—Centennial hops.

Virtually any craft beer today with a hop profile to speak of is probably going to carry at least one of those four. And there’s good reason these varieties became so popular among both brewers and drinkers: taste. Like a lot of the newer American hops, the Cs are literally bursting with exuberant citrusy aromas and flavors, while imparting a wide range of hop bitterness. A skilled brewer can use them to create anything from a real throat gasher like the Alpha King, or a beer packed with fruity, tangy flavor without tons of stinging acerbity such as Bell’s Hopslam.

The most easily recognizable of the four is Cascade, and unless you’ve been living the teetotalling life the last ten years—or you’ve been drinking nothing but shit beer—you almost certainly have imbibed a good share of it. The absolute classic example of Cascade hops would be Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but you don’t have to go west, young man, to find other specimens utilizing it generously. Goose Island’s recent introduction, Harvest Ale, is a beautiful example of Cascade, and you can find it in New Holland Mad Hatter, Founders Pale Ale, Great Lakes Burning River, and (gulp!) Point Cascade Pale Ale. But what we’re interested in today is Cascade’s big brother, Centennial, and how two great breweries made two similar but different IPAs using it.

Centennial hops get their name from the Washington State Centennial Celebration, and there’s a bit of irony in the fact that macrobrewers so disdained this hop that growers at one time had planned to destroy it. It is now one of the more popular hop varieties among craft brewers, mainly because it imparts loads of bittering goodness (somewhere between nine and 12 percent alpha acid units, compared to Cascade’s 4-8 percent) without as much of that grapefruit and flowers you get from Cascade. Think of Cascade as the littler, ballet-dancing sibling whose older brother, Centennial, won state wrestling three years in a row. And yet the bitterness from Centennial is still a bit restrained and floral compared to Chinook or (grrrr) Columbus. These qualities make it both an ideal bittering and aroma hop, especially for bigger beers, like the IPA.

And two brewers who use Centennial to great effect are Founders with their Centennial IPA, and Bell’s with the Two Hearted. In both beers the hops are front and center: mild citrusy aroma, similar but less flowery than Cascade. The taste is sharp and pungent, even, at times, a bit harsh on the tongue, with orange and grapefruit notes lingering around the edges.

Two Hearted’s use of hops is subtler, with a soft body and generous malt profile along the back to create a very balanced, drinkable IPA. That maltiness mutes the bitterness and lets the citrus qualities of the hops really pop, making you almost swear there’s a shot of orange juice lurking around some of those sips. Founders, on the other hand, puts the pedal to the metal when it comes to the hops: the bittering qualities of the Centennial dominate through and through. There is some malt in there to keep things from getting too crazy, but it’s plainly evident why Founders chose to name their IPA what they did: it’s all about the Centennial, baby. Big, bold, bitter flavors tear through your mouth, leaving only scraps of fruit along the edges of your tongue.

Both are undeniably great beers, but very different—when tasted side by side, at least—despite being the same distinct style. Picking one over the other is purely about personal preference: if you like your IPAs bolder and harsher, the Centennial is for you. For those who like a more balanced, citrusy, quenching brew, Two Hearted is tough to beat. It would be impossible for me to choose one over the other; I guess it’d all depend on how bitter of a mood I’m in at the time.

I highly recommend going out and grabbing a sixer (or singleton, if you can find ’em) of each and giving them a one-on-one taste test to get great examples of Centennial hops at work, as well as to see two different but still fabulous takes on the Midwest IPA. And if you run across any other great Midwest examples of the Centennial hop in action, let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

Beer Dorks News

Want to know how healthy the craft beer industry is? As always, look to Portland. Craft pioneer Bridgeport announces sudden closure, adding to a growing list of PDX casualties.
Did Anheuser-Busch Chicago offer their shit beer to Cody Parkey before his missed field goal? Because that may explain why he "accidentally" biffed it.
Chicago now has the most breweries of any city in the country. Other things Chicago has the most of: murders, mobsters, and Ditkas.
Trying to spin it positive, BA releases end of year graphic. Only 5% growth in the craft sector when nearly 1000 new breweries opened? That's a collapse waiting to happen.
R.I.P. Tallgrass... another casualty as the regional/national craft beer market continues to get squeezed.
Wait... Constellation Brands cut all of the Ballast Point and Funky Buddha sales staff? They merged it with their Corona/Modelo staff?? We're SHOCKED!!!
Pizza Beer founder crying about failure of company, blames everyone else. Reminder, the beer tasted like vomit. Try having better ideas or making better products so you're not a failure.
It's Bud Light so doesn't really matter, but we expect this beer to be sitting around for awhile.
Indiana brewery to open with controversial beer names to "get the conversation going". Translation: taking advantage of serious issues for free publicity.
Hundreds of amazing beers in Wisconsin and the Cubs took back the one everyone drinks just because it exists and people have heard of it. How fitting...