Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

June 2, 2008

Beer Diary:

The Bitter Billboard

Nigel and Eddie spout their bloated opinions on the best IPAs to be found in the Midwest.
by Nigel Tanner and Eddie Glick

"It takes beer to make thirst worthwhile."
Contact Nigel»
So no sooner do I get done writing an article deriding lists and Nigel and I put our two noggins together and come up with a list of the best IPAs in the Midwest. You can call us hypocrites, but not hippopatumi. You can call Nigel a hiphoppotamus. Not me, though. I don’t listen to that newfangled crap.

Before we get started, I’d just like to point out that trying to narrow down the best IPAs was damn near impossible. We almost had to put guns to each others’ heads to make us choose between the top three or four. It’s tempting to say it comes down purely to academics, but that’d be wrong—and a little pretentious. What it boils down to is personal preference. Ask us to rank ‘em again three months from now and the order of our top three could very easily be flipped.

[Editor’s note: You’ll notice we didn’t include Three Floyd’s Alpha King in our lists. That’s because it is, after all, a pale ale, at least according to its brewers.]

Nigel’s Top 10

1. Two Hearted Ale
Bell’s Brewery, Inc., Galesburg, MI
I debated long and hard and decided to go with Two Hearted for the simple fact that it’s probably the most distinctive selection on the list. While other Midwestern IPAs are more overpowering in terms of hops and have a stronger malt backbone, this brew is just too damn fine to leave out of the top spot. Along with Oberon, this is Larry Bell’s finest—and most popular—creation.

2. Centennial IPA
Founders Brewing Co., Grand Rapids, MI
It was close, but I can’t quite put Founders ahead of Two Hearted, even though Centennial is stronger in both alcohol and malt profile.

3. Furious
Surly Brewing Co., Brooklyn Center, MN
Like most things Surly, this is an IPA to the extreme. One of the highest standard IPAs in terms of IBUs, Furious blows you away from the crack of the can to the last sip. I put it third simply because it’s so difficult to locate; in terms of being a hophead’s dream, this is right up there with Two Hearted and Centennial.

4. Great Lakes Commodore Perry
Great Lakes Brewing Co., Cleveland, OH
This is both powerful (8 percent ABV) and well-rounded, with a nice malt profile that helps ease the sting of the hops. I enjoy most of Great Lakes offerings, and this is easily my favorite.

5. Hop Hearty
New Glarus Brewing Company, New Glarus, WI
Let’s call this 5A, as it’s neck and neck with Dark Horse. I give New Glarus a slight edge, as it was the IPA Nigel was weaned on and will forever hold a special place in my heart. A solid offering that is just a tad lighter than some others on this list, but is still loaded with hoppy gold and a nice, sweet backbone.

6. Crooked Tree
Dark Horse Brewing Co., Marshall, MI
5B actually. One of the maltier offerings available, but does a great job of maintaining its overall IPA characteristics. As a bonus, the Double Crooked Tree imperial version will burn your tongue into submission.

7. Bitter Woman
Tyranena Brewing Company, Lake Mills, WI
Another classic that helped develop young Nigel. A bit stronger than New Glarus both in terms of hops and malt, and proof that Tyranena is far and away the hop king of Wisconsin.

8. IPA
Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee, WI
A new favorite that is quickly moving up my list, especially since it’s available in bottles now. This is Lakefront’s only really hoppy offering, but it is a great brew that is well balanced and a bit lighter than other IPAs. Great selection for those who aren’t into more “extreme” IPAs.

9. Heavy Handed
Two Brothers Brewing Company, Warrenville, IL
Interchangeable with number 10; it’s a very good IPA that is boosted by the use of fresh hops. Like most things Two Brothers, while solid, it doesn’t do enough to leave a lasting impression.

10. Wild Ride
Sand Creek Brewing Co., Black River Falls, WI
Sand Creek’s flagship brew, and to date, easily their best standard offering. As I stated in one of my first reviews, this is very tasty, but not on the level of the top 6 or 8 on this list. It’s a textbook IPA, as it’s exactly what you’d expect for the style: no more, no less.

Honorable Mention:
Kiss The Lips (Lake Louie Brewing, Arena, WI), India Pale Ale (Goose Island Beer Co., Chicago, IL)

Eddie’s Top 10

1. Centennial IPA
Founders Brewing Co., Grand Rapids, MI
I absolutely love this beer. Founders 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.

2. Furious
Surly Brewing Co., Brooklyn Center, MN
Let’s be honest: virtually every other IPA tasted alongside Surly’s hop-and-malt beast will taste like water. The bill on this thing is huge, with nearly 100 IBUs with a malt backbone plenty big enough to balance it. The only problem is if this were a notch higher in ABV it’d be an imperial. Obviously, this doesn’t change the taste any, but I’m docking the Surlys for being a bit deceptive.

3. Two Hearted Ale
Bell’s Brewery, Inc., Galesburg, MI
I admit it. This is a better beer than my number-one ranked Centennial IPA. A perfect balance of hops and malt paired with that fruity Bell’s house yeast, and you’ve got a damn great beer here. But, although it’s a better beer, it isn’t, necessarily a better IPA. Make sense? Didn’t think so.

4. Crooked Tree IPA
Dark Horse Brewing Co., Marshall, MI
Bright and sharp bitterness is the highlight of the Crooked Tree. This ain’t for people who demand balance in their IPAs; it’s even more hop-heavy than Founders Centennial. With a little more flavor to the hops, this very well could be sitting atop my list.

5. Commodore Perry
Great Lakes Brewing Co., Cleveland, OH
Like all of Great Lakes’ stuff, clean, straightforward, and no-nonsense. Not as distinctive as the top four, but an otherwise fantastic IPA.

6. Hop Hearty Ale
New Glarus Brewing Company, New Glarus, WI
Hops aren’t New Glarus brewer Dan Carey’s forte, but Hop Hearty is a pretty damn good IPA. Not as bitter as most of the brews on this list, but plenty enjoyable for hopheads nonetheless.

7. Wild Ride India Pale Ale
Sand Creek Brewing Co., Black River Falls, WI
This beer is aptly named. Gashing, harsh hops over a firm malt body. Definitely for those who like their hops to do a little rip-and-tear. I had this side-by-side Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute and it blew the Delaware brewery’s IPA out of the water. No pun int- eh, whatever.

8. Kiss The Lips
Lake Louie Brewing, Arena, WI
This one takes a little bit to get going. It starts lighter and softer than your typical quality IPA, but once the beer warms a bit, both the fruit-tinged bitterness and subdued malt counterweight to create an interesting IPA experience.

9. Bitter Woman IPA
Tyranena Brewing Company, Lake Mills, WI
A solid but standard take on the style. Ample citrusy/piney hop bitterness on top of a slightly thick malt base.

10. IPA
Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee, WI
A different take on the style, with earthier hops taking the fore instead of the piney, citrusy bitterness you typically find in American IPAs.

Honorable Mention: India Pale Ale (Goose Island Beer Co., Chicago, IL), Mad Hatter (New Holland Brewing Co., Holland, MI).

And thats the lists! Feel free to post your own top 10 using the comment box below.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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