It is the time of year when I find myself (due to my northern latitude locale) yearning to get outside and enjoy some warm, bright, fresh air, and equally bright, refreshing beers. Fortunately, breweries in the Upper Midwest must feel accordingly because we are gifted (speaking of the Twin Cities market in particular) with a respite from the winter doldrums in the form of bright, pungent and bold double IPAs (a hop forward, highly bitter and high alcohol style of beer created by using a large amount of grains and huge amounts of hops added throughout the brewing process). Three in particular are available at the same moment in time, though each for only a limited run. It is my pleasure (and good fortune) to provide you with my thoughts on these very highly touted and equally highly sought after beers. In a part of the country where palates change so directly in response to the weather, this blast of hops bridges the gap between rich, malt focused, high alcohol winter beers and light bodied, refreshing, lower alcohol spring beers.
The three beers that I have chosen to focus on are unique in the world of double IPAs due to their limited release schedules as well as their limited distribution; each is available for 4 months or less and in less than half of U.S. states. But, enough leading you on, let’s get to know these hoppy beauties.
Founders “Double Trouble” 9.4% ABV (100 “perfect” rating on Ratebeer.com)
Background: Founders Brewery is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The brewery produces an outstanding lineup of beers (recently ranked as the #2 brewery in the world by Ratebeer.com) including their seasonal double IPA, “Double Trouble”. They produce between 30,000 and 50,000 barrels of beer annually (couldn’t find a recently updated number) which are distributed to 18 states as well as Washington D.C. This beer is available from January/February to May.
Aroma: Passion fruit, pine undertones, slight tomato leaf, apricot, hop resin, some grainy character and a bit of fresh bread
Flavor: Cane sugar, light caramel, candied apricot, some pine sap, quite bitter and astringent lingering dryness, alcohol is well hidden
Mouthfeel: Very soft, rich carbonation, medium body with a lightly tongue coating presence
Surly “Abrasive” 8.8% ABV (100 “perfect” rating on Ratebeer.com)
Background: I think I’ve given enough background on Surly in the past, so reference previous posts if necessary. Abrasive was first brewed in 2008 to commemorate Surly outgrowing their ability (by law) to continue selling growlers. It was originally called “16 Grit” and later changed to “Abrasive” in honor of the abrasives factory that used to be housed in Surly’s facility. This beer is available only in Minnesota and from December to March.
Aroma: Tangerine, apricot, a pungent and juicy quality to the fruit aromas, ripe raspberry, with a grassy and musty slightly mineral finish
Flavor: Bright citrus (tangerine and grapefruit mostly), peach, resinous and floral hops, biscuit and toast provide balance for the huge hop profile, not overly bitter and only mildly lingering
Mouthfeel: Light spritzy carbonation, fairly light body, clean finishing with minimal tongue coating
Bells “Hopslam” 10% ABV (100 “perfect” rating on Ratebeer.com)
Background: A classic American craft brewery and Michigan beer landmark. Originated in Kalamazoo, Michigan with an additional production brewery and packaging facility in Comstock. Their current annual brewing capacity is 180,000 barrels with plans for continued expansion. Bells is distributed in 18 states as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. Hopslam is unique among this group because it is brewed with honey, giving it the highest ABV. Hopslam is listed as being available from January to May on the Bells website, but due to its (fanatical!) following, in the Twin Cities market it sells out at many retail outlets long before that. Note: This year’s batch was released on February 13th and has already sold out in some beer/liquor stores, so get some while you can.
Aroma: Fresh cut grass, pineapple, resinous pine, citrus undertones, subtle sweet honey and a small amount of toast
Flavor: Grassy, lemony citric hops that are a bit sticky, some caramel and honey blend with the sappy pine flavors, a brisk bitter finish
Mouthfeel: A bit prickly carbonation, moderately chewy body, with a mild mouth coating feel
Well there you have it, a lineup of some of the best double IPAs in the world (Ratebeer.com lists Hopslam as #1, Abrasive as #6, and I’m sure Double Trouble is not far from the top 10), and Minnesota is the only place that you can get all 3. With beers of this caliber, I refuse to pick a favorite, they are all treats. So while the west coast may get most of the attention for making some of the best hoppy beers, we’ve got some real gems here in the Midwest too. Go out and support these amazing breweries and the delicious beers they make for us.
(Note: I used Ratebeer.com as a reference for this post because they provide one of the most comprehensive lists of annual beer and brewery ratings. This is only one source of ratings and is by no means definitive.)
I have several cards up my sleeve for my next post (homebrewing, an interview, beer news updates) so stay tuned!