I'm really enjoying the trend of lighter hoppy beers. Brewers are showing that hop-forward beers can be flavorful without high alcohol levels.
Central Waters brews a Double IPA named Illumination that's widely recognized for its bold bitterness and big character at 9% ABV. Even co-owner and brewmaster Paul Graham likes to call it a "palate wrecker." He explains: "You want to drink a lot of it, but you can't." For one of his newer creations, Hop Rise, Graham says his brewing staff wanted to come up with a beer that "mimics Illumination but with half the alcohol." The result is a more palatable, but still bitter, brew that comes in like a session beer at around 4.5% ABV.
What is it? Hop Rise Session Ale from Central Waters Brewing Company of Amherst, Wisconsin.
Style: The India Pale Ale (IPA) emphasizes the bitterness of hops, which provide herbal, citrus and piney character to both aroma and flavor. IPAs are medium-bodied and often golden to copper-colored. They do have a maltiness that contributes some body and background flavors, but the emphasis is clearly on bitterness. IPAs usually range from 5.5% to 7.5% ABV. When all or at least the majority of the hops used to make an IPA are varieties grown in the United States, as with Hop Rise, it's given the American IPA distinction.
Hop Rise is one of several Wisconsin beers released over the last year that fits into the emerging trend of IPAs brewed with a lower alcohol content than is typically found in the style. Others released this year include White Cap White India Pale Ale from Hinterland Brewery and Square Pig from Vintage Brewing.
Background: Hop Rise is a new year-round beer for Central Waters. It replaces Happy Heron Pale Ale. Graham released Hop Rise to select draught accounts in the summer of 2012 as he worked on the recipe, and it was released generally back in May.
The beer is made with Simcoe and Centennial hops, but it's also heavily dry-hopped with the Simcoe, which lends assertive aromatics. Graham uses mostly brewers' base-malt with a little caramel and Munich for added color and to help provide a long-lasting tan head. His approach is to allow the hops to come through, while holding the malts and fermentable sugar in check to reduce the final alcohol.
"I definitely wouldn't call it a balanced beer, but it's not a hoppy alcoholic punch in your face either," says Graham. Hop Rise ends up at around 30 IBUs and 4.5% ABV, and it sells in six-packs for around $8-$9.
- Aroma: Bright, assertive hoppiness.
- Appearance: Deep orange-copper color, and clear. A soft, long-lasting, white-to-tan head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied, with roundness to the overall texture and mouthfeel.
- Taste: Crisp, citrus hoppiness that is solid throughout.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Really nice, solid, hoppy bitterness with a mild but firm dryness that lingers well beyond the finish.
Glassware: The Willi Becher is a great glass to focus the hoppy aroma under the nose while showing off the bright-orange copper color.
Pairs well with: Hop Rise offers a firm hoppiness, but not so much as to overshadow food. It goes with a range of dishes, from spicy barbecue to pizza. It pairs well with aged cheeses, especially sharp cheddar.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Hop Rise offers solid bitter flavor with assertive hop aroma. Its bitterness falls in the range of most IPAs, or what many might consider an aggressively hopped American pale ale. For the hop heads and/or those looking for how it fits explicitly within the judged IPA style, it's light in strength. However, I like it a lot for that reason -- it surpasses my opinion of many other IPAs because while the hops are there, Hop Rise leaves the drinker wanting another without feeling full or drowsy. It's a beer that hoppy beer fans should like, and respect, for its sessionable qualities.