Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Cluster Single Hop IPA


Style: India Pale Ale (IPA)
ABV: 6.9%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

It’s International Beer Month at and Nigel is super excited to get all foreign-y. Shit, I MUST be excited if I’m actually going to take time to write a review, considering the last one came during the Carter administration (I believe it was for Billy Beer).

Typically, Nigel celebrates International Beer Month by desperately scouring the shelves of a local purveyor of fine suds, hoping something strikes his fancy. However, since I can’t decipher what 90 percent of the shit is, I typically get stumped, grab something rather random, and then head towards the comfort of the American craft section. It’s not that I’m afraid to try new things (I once tried adding salt AND pepper to my fish and chips … it was pretty intense … ), but rather the fact that there are so many quality American brews to choose from that I tend to fall into my comfort zone.

So, when it came to 2012’s International selections, I tried to plan ahead and explore my options in advance. One option I debated was heading north of the border, to a country that actually exists north of North Dakota. Since I was able to spend two weeks abroad in this exotic land last summer (this of course being Canada, home of Canadians and soft rock), I figured I could choose something from that unique country. After all, Canadians are NOTHING like Americans, what with their solid economy, low unemployment, and educated accents. However, no amount of Alexander Keith’s or Molson sold at eight dollars a pint could convince me that Canucks had ANY type of taste in beer. Canada of the 2010s is much like the U.S. of the 1980s. In fact, I’m pretty sure I saw Spuds McKenzie and Bob Uecker plugging the “cool, crisp, flavor” of Molson Canadian. Great taste, less filling, or just pure shit? Go with option number three.

With Canada eliminated, I thought about heading to a region of the world in which we have not explored here at Africa? Well … no. Unfortunately, African brews are few and far between and the ones I did find all had a catch. Somali-Ale came with a free starving orphan with the purchase of a six pack, and Liberia’s Freedom Ale was a bit pricey at $30 a six-pack, though all proceeds did go to local charities of the warlord’s choice. I’d mention South African beer, but I live in Milwaukee so that’s actually brewed right down the street, recycling whatever beer I pissed down the sewer last night.

What about Asia? I know the Japanese have the one I always see with the owl on the bottle, but I’m never quite sure if it’s beer or owl piss. You never know with the Japanese. Chinese beer is controlled by the state, with watered-down, mass-produced shit forced upon the one billion-plus citizens of an otherwise fine land. Gosh … I didn’t even realize the Busch family had moved overseas. I tried buying beer in Singapore, but the cashier tried to cane me as I checked out, so I ditched it and ran.

Australia? Um … see above, re: Canada.

Honestly, after North America and Europe, I’m pretty sure Antarctica is the continent with the third-best beer. That’s not good considering they have no breweries, though they are plentiful when it comes to ice, making them a great cocktail continent.

Thus, I’m heading back to Europe with a beer brewed by one of the few nationalities one can really trust: the Gypsies.

Mikkeller Brewing is based in Denmark but, much like Copenhagen Snuff, is rarely actually made there. Mikkeller is known as the “gypsy brewer,” though sadly he doesn’t appear to be a real Gypsy. Mikkeller was founded in 2006 by two Danish home brewers, and since 2007 has been run solely by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø. Mikkel has brewed over 100 different beers in his five-plus years in the business, including a number made in conjunction with American breweries (most notable to Midwestern dorks would be his collaborations with Three Floyds). The vibe is all about experimentation, pushing the envelope, and creating unique ales that appeal to a wide swath of craft beer lovers, all while avoiding the dreaded “selling out” label.

The beer I’m touching on is part of a series of single-hop IPAs Mikkeller has brewed for the past few years. Many of the selections in the Single Hop Series are American-focused, with Cascade, Amarillo, and Centennial being the most popular. I’ve been chipping away at the Single Hop Series since 2010, hoping to sample most of them. Thus far, I’ve had all three listed above, as well as the Nugget, Simcoe, Tomahawk, and Warrior. All have been solid takes on American IPAs with Tomahawk, Centennial, and Simcoe being my favorites thus far.

The Single Hop Series has been consistent in the overall profile of the beer, the only difference of course being the type of hop used. All are in the high six percent ABV range, but the overall body is still dependent on the hop. For example, Cascade was very light and effervescent despite the solid, malty backbone found in every other brew in the Series. Tomahawk was phenomenal in large part due to the way the hop balanced and played off that same malty profile, something the Cascade actually lacked (thus far, surprisingly, Cascade has been my least favorite).

Cluster is different from the “newer” hop versions I’ve tried thus far. Cluster hops are sort of the “grandfather” of hops in the U.S., as they are the ancestors of some of the earliest hops cultivated by English and German settlers in the earliest days of American brewing. Cluster hops are a bit more timid, rather bland when compared to some of the newer hybrids in American hops and the hop varieties of the Pacific Northwest. Or … to be less “PC” … Cluster hops were the hops typically used by shit American brewers. Yes, Cluster hops were responsible for that nasty “kiss” that Schlitz always advertised. We’ll see what Mikkeller can do to make these typically blah hops into a decent IPA.

Cluster Single Hop IPA pours with a nice frothy head of about an inch that slowly dissipates, leaving a creamy pillowy lace for the rest of the session. A deep coppery hue with mild sediment and good carbonation, it’s a great looking beer in the glass. Off to a good start.’

The first aroma is … damn. It’s Schlitz. It’s Miller. It’s any old-school American macro lager/pilsner that you can imagine. Granted, the aromas are much more advanced than you would find in the old macro swill, but the initial sweet, bready notes with a touch of stale bitterness are strongly reminiscent of old school American beer. The aroma isn’t horrible, it just has the uncanny ability to keep reminding me of college house parties. Cluster hops don’t share some of the uniquely brash characteristics of their more contemporary relatives, and that fact is obvious here.

The flavor is similar to the aroma in the fact that it reminds me of old-school American beer, though it’s definitely amped up a notch or two. Rather than the crisp, floral notes that many beer drinkers have come to expect from American hops, Cluster Single Hop is muted in the bitterness department, with a dominant stale, earthy, bready backbone. Sure, there are a number of flavors present that make it clear this is far better than pretty much any beer made with Cluster hops has been, but alas … it’s still a beer made with Cluster hops. Initial flavors are bready, earthy malt with a hint of citrus, more a muted, navel orange-like citrus rather than overpowering zest. Instead of hoppy bitterness on the backside, I actually taste some alcohol, not the bite I was expecting. Only a minor hint of bitterness comes through at the very end, and you need to search for it behind the overwhelming sweet malt and tinges of alcohol. Overall, it’s a balanced selection, but not too exciting in terms of an IPA. There is a strong aftertaste that is nothing like what you’d get from an IPA.

I’d have to rate Cluster Single Hop IPA the weakest of the Single Hop Series from Mikkeller thus far. Despite that, I’m rating it a three out of five, which is solid. In my opinion, Mikkeller did the best they could with a relatively weak ingredient, a testament to the brewing prowess of this cutting edge Danish brewer.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on February 23, 2012.
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