A couple of my friends recently went to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, and they stayed out there for at least a week afterward to tour the local breweries, which made me jealous and depressed. Jealous for the obvious reason, and depressed because it forced me to realize that I'll never pull off my book dream.
I've been harboring this half-assed plan to take next summer off to travel the country from brewery to brewery and then charge you all $24.95 to read about my wacky misadventures (Oh, the Places I'll Puke!), but if it takes an entire week of scurrying just to cover Colorado, there's no way I could pull off anything resembling a comprehensive guide to America's breweries. I realize Colorado's a big state with a lot of big names, but it would take several days to get anywhere near the bottom of even comparatively dinky Massachusetts: We've got breweries on islands here!
As every beer writer reminds you every day, there are now more than 3,000 breweries in America, which makes it awfully tough to be a completist, but awfully easy to drink excellent local beer. Boston isn't renowned for having a particularly strong beer culture—it can't hold a candle to, say, Madison, to say nothing of other, larger cities—yet I'd still have to pass a half-dozen new little brewers to get to my town's iconic beer-makers, Harpoon and Sam Adams, both of which are within 10 miles of my house.
Combine this overabundance of beer with the byzantine laws and customs that determine which brews get shipped to which markets, and it's nearly impossible to stay on top of the game. To wit, Bell's, based in Kalamazoo, Mich., is the seventh-largest craft brewery in the country, but I still had to beg them to send me review samples, because their stuff is not sold in Massachusetts.
I hear from Bell's loyalists every time I do a ranking listicle, and this prejudiced me against the brewery, because I do not hear pleasant things. Fans of Pacific Northwest beer are often hurt and confused by their relative underrepresentation on Drunkspin, but they're usually not aggressive about it. The Bell's folks, though—a lot of them are dicks. I ranked a couple dozen pilsners in April, and half of the comment section was devoted to calling my mother a whore on account of "This list is invalid because it doesn't include Bell's Oberon, you are an idiot, I hate you." Never mind that Oberon is not a pilsner; I'm not here to tell you how dumb Bell's fans are, just how nasty they can get.
So I wanted to call Bell's Two-Hearted IPA overrated. The headline would have been so much fun to write! And I could have told all sorts of irrelevant jokes about how Detroit's a hellhole and Michigan football sucks and tried to pass them off as having anything at all to do with a beer from Kalamazoo. But alas, the Bell'sholes are right about this one. Two-Hearted is fucking spectacular.
It's a nice light bronze color with a good head and lively carbonation. The aroma begins with standard caramel malt that's quickly followed by grapefruit, pine, and light pineapple. That's an interesting departure from most other 100-point IPAs, where the hops grab you by the ears right out of the gate. Two-Hearted is definitely better balanced than its peers. The flavor is perfectly harmonious, with the malt present throughout, as the strong hops stop just short of over-asserting themselves. There are other great IPAs out there that respect the malt, though: Firestone Walker Union Jack, Great Divide Titan, Goose Island. What really sets Two-Hearted apart is a distinct strawberry note creeping in among the citrus and pine.
There's a ton going on in this beer, and I regret to inform you that the Bell's fanatics are correct. Two-Hearted is among a small handful of the very finest IPAs in the world. Shit.
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Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter@WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.
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