Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Hop Juice Double IPA

Madison River Brewing Company
Belgrade, MT

Style: Imperial/Double IPA
ABV: 9.0%

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

Pair With:
Hop Juice.

For Nigel, Hophead extraordinaire, it doesn’t get any better than that. Take the finest ingredient in the world, squeeze, and drink: hop juice. Imagine the crisp, pure flavor of citrus and evergreen, with an aroma so effervescent it’s sure to please even the most clogged of sinuses. Hop juice makes orange juice look like a pile of poo.

While sitting in a pizzeria in remote West Yellowstone, MT, I was completely caught off guard when I asked the waitress what was on tap and Hop Juice rolled off her tongue. For a brief moment, I couldn’t recall the dozen other fine offerings she mentioned, all I could think of was Hop Juice. Briefly regaining my composure, I ordered the Hop Juice and spent the next half hour in a euphoric state of hop-induced bliss, complete with a side of mozzarella and pepperoni. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think I may have left her a $1,500 tip.

As American craft beer continues to grow and brewers push the envelope with bigger, bolder beers, coming up with unique names is clearly becoming a challenge. Hop Juice is a fantastic name for an imperial IPA. However, the Hop Juice I sampled that night in West Yellowstone is not to be confused with the Hop Juice I’ve had previously in the Midwest (that being Warrenville, IL-based Two Brothers Hop Juice) or the Southwest (that being San Clemente, CA-based Left Coast Hop Juice). This Hop Juice was from Madison River Brewing Co. in Belgrade, Montana. Note that Belgrade, Montana is NOT the Belgrade that was bombed into submission in the 1990s. Also note that if you are under the age of 30, you will need to Google “Belgrade” to understand that reference.

The handle of Madison River Hop Juice at Wild West Pizzeria was a key moment in the craft beer discoveries that marked our vacation out West in April 2012, recounted in painstaking detail on this very website many, many months, and many, many words later. Belgrade, Montana is a town of about 7,000 people 10 miles northwest of Bozeman. Madison River’s distribution consists mostly of southwest Montana, though it can be found on a limited basis in parts of Idaho, Wyoming, and North Dakota, as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. A day after sampling Hop Juice on tap at the pizzeria, I discovered a six pack at the tiny grocery store described in Part II, which I purchased and packed home to review.

Hop Juice is the strongest offering in a very limited lineup from Madison River. Copper John Scotch Ale, which I sampled that same night in West Yellowstone, is the only other Madison River brew that is somewhat bold, and it proved to be a so-so attempt at the style. The other brews available from Madison River outside of the brewpub are Salmon Fly Honey Rye, Hopper Pale Ale, and Irresistible Amber Ale. Madison River is one of a number of small- to medium-sized breweries that has made Montana, large in size but small in population, a surprising force in the American craft beer scene.

Hop juice makes orange juice look like a pile of poo.

Hop Juice pours with a creamy white foam that dissipates into a mild lace with some stickiness clinging to the sides of the glass. A coppery, cloudy hue with some sediment sinking to the bottom, there are no surprises in terms of pour for an imperial IPA.

The official description provided by Madison River helps explain the remainder of the session. Though Hop Juice checks in at a solid 101 IBUs thanks to heavy doses of Simcoe and Amarillo hops, it’s also loaded with malt and there is a strong earthiness present throughout. The aroma is sorely lacking in terms of crisp hops and is instead heavy on bready, grainy notes that are at times bombarded by strong notes of grapefruit and some hints of astringent alcohol. Overall, it’s not the best aroma for a double IPA, though not surprisingly the Hop Juice I had on tap in Montana had a cleaner, crisper aroma than the bottled version I had in Wisconsin some weeks later.

The flavor is good, but Madison River’s version of Hop Juice doesn’t do nearly enough to classify it as anything but average in terms of an imperial IPA. The muted hop profile leads me to deduct points in the rating, as it is sorely lacking in some areas one expects an imperial IPA to thrive in. As with the aroma, an earthy, somewhat sugary malt profile takes hold first, with sweet notes of caramel quickly followed by that same strong grapefruit profile mentioned earlier. While the sweet notes of sugar and light effervescence of citrus can play well together, the lack of bitter, piney notes one expects in an imperial IPA is disappointing. Every so often the tongue catches a glimpse of some Simcoe and Amarillo, but not nearly enough to overcome the grainy, sugary backbone. Unfortunately, the occasional bite of alcohol makes itself known more often than the hops do, making me wonder where the 101 IBUs is hiding. Hop Juice is medium bodied and despite lacking the profile I was expecting for the style, it’s surprisingly drinkable for a 9 percent ABV brew.

Ultimately, Madison River Hop Juice is a decidedly average attempt at the style, though one could argue that a different interpretation of any style is always welcome. Perhaps it’s the fact that Madison River is a relatively small operation and that local ales are always better when drank, well … locally, but the Hop Juice I had on tap in West Yellowstone was far superior to the bottled version I drank in Wisconsin. This qualifies as a brew that will garner a variety of opinions depending on the Dork, but ultimately I was somewhat disappointed. Any Dork traveling West that stumbles upon Hop Juice should give it a shot, as I’m curious as to what others may think.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on December 20, 2012.
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