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Lilja’s Argosy IPA

Pangaea Beer Company
Wisconsin Rapids, WI
USA

Style: India Pale Ale (IPA)

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Drinkable, but flawed)


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As a Senior Beer Review Correspondent here at BeerDorks.com, Nigel is required to keep up with all things in the world of craft beer, particularly when it involves Midwestern breweries. This task requires a sharp mind both in times of sobriety and during all 36 levels of drunkenness, as many reviews are started early in the evening prior to first sip and end at two in the morning with Nigel hunched over his keyboard, his desk chair soiled, and the iTunes blaring.

As a Wisconsin-based Beer Dork, Badger State and Upper Midwest brews tend to be my forte. Every now and then a new or obscure brewery from the region crosses my path, and I need to do some investigation into its origins. Once I do said research and learn more, I become familiar enough with the brewer that I can accurately describe them to any passer-by who may inquire (this has happened exactly … well, it’s never happened).

Black River Falls-based Sand Creek is no exception, but it may be the only one that still confuses Nigel somewhat. Yes, I know of Sand Creek brews, many of which are of good quality, and yes, I’m fully aware that they are the “Kings O’ Contract Brewing.” However, there is plenty that I still don’t understand, and the subject of my latest review perfectly illustrates that. Lilja’s Argosy IPA is brewed at Sand Creek, but, technically speaking, isn’t a Sand Creek brew.

Here’s what I know: Sand Creek has a number of brews under their name, many of which are decent. They also contract brew for a number of other brewers, many of whom are new and don’t have their own brewing capabilities (Spring Green’s Furthermore, Port Washington’s Harbor City, and Chicago’s Half Acre are examples of this). From there, things get more confusing. To begin with, there are a number of brews under the Pioneer label, the first craft brewer to occupy the old Oderbolz brewery in Black River Falls (the original Oderbolz brewery operated from the 1850s until 1920). Pioneer rekindled a brewing tradition after a 75 year hiatus, and for nearly a decade ran one of northern Wisconsin’s first craft breweries. In 2002, Pioneer bought Wauwatosa’s Wisconsin Brewing Co., and merged those brews into their lineup In the meantime, Sand Creek began brewing beer in a small barn near Menomonie, about an hour or so northwest of Black River Falls, in 1999. With the owners of Sand Creek hoping to expand their operations and remain in northwestern Wisconsin, their problem was solved when they learned that the Black River Falls brewery was up for sale. While my impression is that the owners of Sand Creek bought the brewery from Pioneer, their web site describes it as a “merger” between the two, thus allowing the Sand Creek label to join the Pioneer and Wisconsin labels (the Sand Creek line has since grown, while Pioneer and Wisconsin continue to brew the same brews they did prior to the merger). On top of that, there’s BluCreek, a line of five brews that are brewed and bottled at Sand Creek, but apparently are done so under contract and are actually owned by a little-known Madison company. FINALLY, there are three brews that fall under the Lilja’s label, which again are brewed and bottled exclusively at Sand Creek, but claim to be done so for a mysterious business called Pangaea Beer Company in nearby Wisconsin Rapids.

Got it? Needless to say, it’s hard keeping up with Sand Creek, or Pioneer, or Wisconsin, or whatever the hell they’re called. Of this group of brews (excluding the Furthermore, Harbor City, and Half Acre contracted brews), the Sand Creek line is far and away the best, with Pioneer coming in second. The Wisconsin brews failed to leave an impression on me, though they weren’t awful. As for the BluCreek brews, well … the two I’ve had were absolutely atrocious. I’ve tried two of the three Lilja’s brews (this one and the Pulling Boat Pale Ale), as they seem to randomly pop up in various restaurants throughout the state, but I haven’t been terribly impressed. Lilja’s is widely available in six-pack form at many Badger State retailers, so it’s about time it got the Nigel treatment. (Note: again, BluCreek and Lilja’s aren’t technically Sand Creek brews, but who the heck can keep track of this?)

Described as an English IPA, Lilja’s Argosy IPA is a bit misrepresented, in my opinion. There is nothing about it that pushes it into the typically more powerful and distinctive IPA category, so I’d personally label it as just your standard pale ale. As a pale ale, it’s decidedly average; as an IPA, I’d classify it as flat-out bad.

Lilja’s Argosy IPA pours well for the style, with a lively head of an inch or so that slowly dissipates, leaving a noticeable creamy lace at the top throughout the drink and some stickiness on the sides. In the glass sits a coppery brew with a tad bit more carbonation than you would expect from an IPA and a decent amount of sedimentation. It’s quite lively, but otherwise looks exactly like an IPA should.

The aroma is bad for a beer in general, and awful for an IPA. As an English version of the IPA, you’d expect more biscuity malt in the aroma and less in the way of hops, but the malt aroma here isn’t distinctive; it’s just a stale, generic graininess. There is a hint of yeasty breadiness, a hint of sugary caramel, and a hint of what appears to be European hops, but all in all, it’s a just stale, non-descript, and blah aroma for a beer that SHOULD be pleasantly aromatic.

The taste replicates the aroma: stale, non-descript, and hugely disappointing for any lover of IPAs. Nothing really changes as far as sensation from the first sip to the last sip, as a noticeable grainy overtone dominates throughout, with secondary flavors of citrus—grapefruit, orange zest, and a touch of lemon. The dominant malt flavors could use a touch of light sugar, as they are blatantly grassy and boring, with only the occasional hint of light caramel sugar. I’d love to be more descriptive, but you work with what you’re given, and I was given a brew that is horribly bland and lacks any character. Medium bodied and smooth on the palate, Argosy IPA goes down smooth with a noticeable aftertaste that unfortunately lingers for all too long.

Whatever Pangaea Beer Co. plans to become, they should perhaps reevaluate because contract brewing crappy beer isn’t exactly a road to profitability. On the plus side, when sorting through the myriad of beer brewed at Sand Creek, you can add Pangaea to BluCreek as labels you should just flat-out avoid. Argosy IPA is a plain, boring beer overall, and as far as IPAs go, it’s terrible. Avoid it should you see it; if you want a quality IPA brewed by Sand Creek, try their Wild Ride IPA.

Cheers!

Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on August 15, 2008.
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