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Monday, July 19, 2010

IPAs and More IPAs: Bell's Two-Hearted Ale

I must be living right, because across the street from me resides a beer fairy. Periodically, he'll leave a bottle on the porch--generally of something unavailable in Portland. Last week, he left me a beer I've been trying to track down for weeks: Bell's Two Hearted Ale.

Two Hearted Ale is a legitimately legendary beer--though like all the early IPAs, the light of its fame shines a little less brightly amid all the newer ones. As far as I know, it's never been distributed out west; all these years people have spoken about it the way kids arriving back from Disneyland used to describe it to us lost souls who had never been. The beer is named for a famous story by Hemingway in the Nick Adams series. Returning from WWII first world war, Nick takes refuge in the Two Hearted River as a way to heal his wounded psyche. One couldn't help but wonder whether Bell's thought the beer contained similar properties--the legend seemed to suggest it. Naturally, I expected it to fall short of expectations--no beer could meet them--but I was still hoping to find a great beer.

Tasting Notes
I had an interesting experience with the aroma. When the beer was freshly-poured, it let off a spritzy, effervescent citrus smell, but it was volatile. Moments later, the aroma softened as it warmed and caramel malt emerged. It has the classic West Coast appearance--cloudy yellow with a sticky off-white head.

The flavor deviates from West Coast beers thanks to the hopping--peppery and sharp, with an herbal/medicinal quality. The body is creamy and the malts are pure caramel--a nice balance for the hops. There's a minerally sharp note whose source I can't identify, but which provides a bit of interest. Of course, as with any IPA, it's the hops that make the beer. In Two Hearted Ale, they're robust but slightly indistinct--stewed rather than bristling with, pardon the pun, bell-like clarity.

I've generally been disappointed with Midwest and East Coast IPAs. It's not that they're less assertive or bitter, but they seem to be less lively, less vital. Two-hearted Ale concedes nothing in this respect, though its character is quite a bit different. The hopping gives it a completely different quality. This is good--regional character is something to celebrate. I wouldn't call it the best IPA I've ever had, nor did I notice any appreciable healing (my sciatica was still there). But it deserves its reputation and is perhaps the best IPA East of the Mississippi. As my dad would say, that's better than a poke in the ass with a broken beer bottle.

15 comments:

Kelly said...

I'd say, try to get your hands on some Surly IPA's. It may change your mind about Midwest beer/IPA's

Jim said...

I'm surprised you didn't mention the really distinct sugary/fruit notes. Several of my friends here in the Midwest (I live in Indianapolis) think Two-Hearted has hints of Fruit Loops (or Fruity Pebbles depending on the quality of their youth/parents) and they mean that in a good way. I wonder if something got lost on its way to you or if that's a flavor so common in Beervana that you needn't bother to mention it to your readers.

Also, if have the desire to get a hold of Midwest beers, I'm happy to oblige when I can. I'm sure there's some OR beers that would be worth getting a hold of.

Ep said...

When I moved to Seattle from the Midwest, Two Hearted was one of my favorite beers. I thought it couldn't be beaten. Bell's got me in to craft. The person who suggest Two Hearted said it would change my life. It did. Now, with exposure to all the IPAs on the West Coast, my tune has changed. Ironically, the beer that beat Two Hearted — Green Flash West Coast IPA — is now my favorite. Two Hearted is really great, and will forever hold a place in my heart. So, really, it's all about what you've been exposed to. If you're from Michigan, it could easily be the best IPA you've ever had, second to Founders Centennial and maybe Crooked Tree. But if you're out West, you might think it's just another wannabe.

John said...

I'm definitely a fan of the Two Hearted, but like you said - it's definitely not the best IPA I've ever had. And as far as Michigan brews go, I think I too would have to vote in favor of Crooked Tree. I still live out East, although no longer near Michigan, and have yet to make the rounds trying the ridiculous amount of beers (IPAs) available from the west coast. I'm working on it!

Ben said...

I have to agree with Ep - Bell's was one of the first crafts I started with (Virginia didn't have a whole hell of a lot to choose from) and Two-Hearted was an eye-opener.

I haven't tried one in at least four years - would be somewhat curious on how heavy exposure to the West Coast Style might adjust my feelings on it now.

Paul said...

I think i agree that it's the best IPA east of the Mississippi, but that's only because Town Hall - brewer of the spectacular Masala Mama IPA - is 3 blocks *west* of the river. Glad you enjoyed it!

Jeff Alworth said...

Jim, to me it came across as caramel--quite strongly so. If there were Fruity Pebbles in there, seems like the caramel would have overwhelmed them.

As for best IPA east of the Mississip, well, I have to admit I'm not the guy to make the call. And which side is Surly brewed on? We get precious little of it out here, either, and I know it has its legions of fans.

Randy Byers said...

Regarding the Hemingway story that gave this beer its name, it was first published in 1925, so I believe the war that Nick Adams returned from was the First World War, not the Second.

Jeff Alworth said...

Randy, you are totally right--what a gaffe. I'll correct it.

Jim said...

I can't remember the exact year, but Bell's actually brought Two-Hearted on cask to the OBF one year. It was sometime in the late '90s when I was working for the Brewers Association. I've been a fan ever since.

Jack R. said...

Shipyard [Portland . . . Maine, that is] Export Ale is available in Salem, Ore. I have not seen their Tremont [English style] IPA.

Both are noteworthy [interesting] because of the buttery, apple peel, diacetyl tastes [notes] resulting from the breweries use of ringwood yeast.

I will post you a couple of bottles next winter from SW Fla.

Paul said...

For what it's worth, Surly is a whole 2 MILES West of the Mississippi :)

Anonymous said...

Short's Huma Lupa Licious is a fantastic IPA from Michigan. Founder's Centennial IPA is quite nice, too.

Coincidentally, MI is having their summer beer fest the same weekend as OBF. Quite a list of beers:

http://www.mbgmash.org/

Generik420 said...

Living in Indianapolis myself, and I am not sure if I could easily pick which beer is the best IPA of the region. Bell's Two-Hearted is certainly a heavyweight in that conversation though. Crooked Tree may be a dark horse contender for the title (see what I did there?) and I would say Three Floyd's Blackheart English style IPA is pretty incredible too.

I would agree with Jim's thought that maybe the bottle you sampled may have lost a bit of it's original luster. Out of curiosity, if you still have said bottle, you can look up the batch number printed on the back on their website and see when it was brewed / bottled. That may shed some light to it as well.

Brian said...

I just returned from a Michigan vacation. Two Hearted has always been one in my top 3 (if not all-time favorite), but I must agree with a previous post that Short's BrewCo from Elk Rapids, MI has something pretty special going on with its Huma Lupa Licious. I had had 1 6-pack that a local mart came across about a year ago, but I had much more ready accesss to it a few weeks ago...definitely my hop highlight of the week! Reporting from St. Louis...

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