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Dankenstein IIPA

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Pearl Street Brewery
La Crosse, WI
USA
http://www.pearlstreetbrewery.com

Style: Imperial/Double IPA
ABV: 9.5%

Nigel’s Rating:
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Some of you may remember the good ol’ days, way back in late ’06 when Nigel first began reviewing craft beer on Eddie Glick’s latest web venture, beerdorks.com. My initial reviews were short, sweet, and to the point. This quickly changed and creative license, likely aided by drinking extremely strong beer, took over. My reviews became sagas, with over half of the write-up being taken up by drivel that I found witty at the time. (In my defense, I still find some of it witty and I was simply trying to entertain  … plus, I don’t do Facebook.)

Well, times have changed for Sir Nigel. My love of craft beer has not waned in the least; on the contrary, it continues to grow and my palate continues to evolve. Rarely an evening goes by without Nigel enjoying one of the hundreds of craft beer options available at his fingertips. However, those evenings now typically follow an 11 hour work day, as a promotion last spring led to the demise of punching a time clock and entering the salaried corporate world. While I do love my job despite the long hours, it has led to many an evening quietly unwinding at home or trying to squeeze in my favorite activity, spending time with my favorite girl.

Thus, there have been plenty of craft brews that I’ve sampled in the past months that I formulated an opinion of, but did not find the time to put pen to paper, or, more accurately, finger to keyboard. I could recap a number of brews that I’d have loved to have shared my opinion of, but I feel it best to start fresh and get my hophead ass back into the review game with a new focus that will generally be shorter and less fluffy than my past reviews. In the distance, I can hear faint shouts of joy from the rest of the Beer Dorks. Ungrateful bastards.

While defrosting the ol’ beer fridge a couple of nights ago, I stumbled upon a couple of leftover bottles of Pearl Street Brewery’s Dankenstein IIPA, a double IPA (the two “Is” are not a typo) that I picked up on a Labor Day weekend visit to Madison. I thought this the perfect choice for Nigel to get back on the review horse, as it helps update the beer fridge, is an imperial IPA (still my favorite style), and is from my home state.

History plays a key role in Pearl Street’s story. La Crosse was the home to an old-school mega brewery, G. Heileman, perhaps best know for the Old Style brand. The Heileman brewery finally went under in 1996, after being bought out by Stroh’s. Today the old Heileman brands have joined Pabst, Blatz, Schlitz, etc. by being resurrected as hipster brews, contract brewed largely by MillerCoors and owned by faceless corporate parents with fancy offices but no brewing facilities. The remnants of the Heileman brewery remain in La Crosse, with City Brewing contract brewing for a number of companies, as well as having a small line of craft brews (not the best of quality, in my opinion). City Brewing also has continued a traditional Wisconsin brew, La Crosse Lager.

Pearl Street began in the basement of a La Crosse building back in 1999, with very limited production and distribution. A few years back they shifted production into a vacant portion of the old La Crosse Footwear plant, left vacant since their acquisition by Portland, OR-based Danner a few years back. The increased space more than tripled production, and Pearl Street brews are slowly but surely filtering their way throughout Wisconsin. I located mine at the HyVee supermarket on Madison’s east side.

Dankenstein IIPA is a hop monster for sure, lending credence to the otherwise unusual name. The key to brewing a fine imperial IPA is complexity rather than numbing the drinkers tongue with American hops, but unfortunately Pearl Street falls more in the tongue-numbing range than the complex range. A forceful pour reveals little in the way of head, quickly dissipating into a lifeless brew with a deep copper hue. Aromas end up being more complex than the flavor, with sweet, dark sugary tones of caramel and molasses melding perfectly with the strong aroma of Northwest hops. I can’t pinpoint the primary culprit, but there’s a strong grainy, earthy profile to the aroma that leads me to believe it may be Centennial  … Pearl Street’s website refers to them as “the stinkiest hops we could find.”

The flavor is very good for a hophead like yours truly, but as I alluded to earlier, it is sorely lacking in balance and complexity. The second the beer hits your palate, the bitter, floral, piney hops take over and they dominate to the very end. The sweet sugars, grainy barley notes, and everything else that was present in the aroma are squashed into submission by the overwhelming flavor of hops. As the beer warms, some of the hop domination briefly fades into the background, allowing for glimpses of sugary, grainy malt, but it’s not long before the bitter punch hits you upside the head again. It’s like fighting Mike Tyson in the ’80s  … just when you think you’re making progress, your ass gets knocked back on the canvas. The overwhelming hop profile in the flavor isn’t helped by the general thickness of the brew; lighter hop monsters are more tolerable, but this is a double-edged sword with both huge bitter notes and a thickness that can be tough to navigate. A powerful aftertaste never lets you forget the experience, making Dankenstein extremely challenging, if not as complex as it should be.

Overall, Dankenstien IIPA is a brew that hopheads should give a try, but not expect to be blown away by. There are plenty of elements that are right where they should be for the style, but ultimately what drags this down to the three mug range is its one-track mind, the fact that it lacks the balance and complexity necessary to push it to the four or five mug range. While Dankenstein didn’t knock my socks off, it’s still an excellent brew that was very enjoyable for Nigel as he got his review groove back on.

Cheers!

Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on November 29, 2010.
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