Peruse the leaderboards here on our beer directory (or nearly anywhere else on the beer web), and you’ll find beers of a similar style occupying many of the top spots.
It certainly feels like we are living in the time of the New England IPA. These hazy, fruity, grassy juice bombs are popping up on tap lists well outside the Northeast, and people love giving them five star reviews. But unless you go to their namesake region, odds are you’ll end up with something that pales in comparison to the opaque bright orange pint you saw on Instagram.
Lucky for you, NEIPAs are not the end all and be all that beer traders would have you believe they are. There are equally excellent hop forward brews available from breweries you don’t have to travel to taste. In the world of craft beer, sometimes we focus too much on what’s new or different and bypass what’s familiar yet elite. I know I’m certainly guilty. I’m much more likely to ask for a pour of the newest local offering while turning my nose up at the widely distributed craft beer pillars on the menu.
But those beers are pillars of the beer world for a reason – they are great beers! Sure, you’ve probably had a Lagunitas IPA, but if the goal is to drink well and not just new shouldn’t we sometimes opt for the familiar?
I think the answer is a resounding yes. That is why when I see it on a tap list, or I can’t make up my mind at the beer store, I go with Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. I know it has been around for years, and less in tune publications frequently name it one of the best IPAs in America. I get that it is widely distributed – found in grocery stores and gas stations – and not exclusively available in an on-site crowler. It’s a craft beer staple, a true behemoth in the industry. It is also a nearly perfect beer.
This is a brew you can drink cold on a hot summer day or bring to a fall tailgate.”
Two Hearted pours a hazy dark orange or amber with a slowly dissipating inch of foamy head that pumps aroma and lingers on the glass. The nose is heavy citrus with strong lemon, orange, and grapefruit while a hint of pine sneaks in as well. Like the IPAs of New England, Bell’s Two Hearted is an unfiltered, unpasteurized, hop-forward American IPA. Unlike those beers, it did not neglect to bring a substantial malt backbone and the bitterness to balance it out.
The first taste washes bold grapefruit and sweet mango flavors over the palate. Malt sweetness gives way to piney bitterness before finishing slightly dry with lingering pepper notes. This is a beer with a lot of nuance coaxed out of a single hop bill. Bell’s uses copious additions of Centennial hops from the Pacific Northwest throughout the brewing process to create this medium-bodied masterpiece. Each sip brings a new flavor to the surface. Peach. Berry. At times even floral and herby.
Though it clocks in at 7.0% alcohol by volume, with full flavor and body, Two Hearted is not a heavy beer. This is a brew you can drink cold on a hot summer day or bring to a fall tailgate. Let it warm a little before you crack it open, and it can fill in admirably for a barrel aged stout on a colder night. It’s balanced and versatile. And no, scoring a six pack won’t impress your beer friends or bring back anything in a trade, but it doesn’t make it any less exciting to drink.
Next time you see an old favorite on a shelf or menu, consider going for it. That now classic was just as new and different when it first came out as any obsessed-over brew today. The fact that it remains relevant in the ever changing craft landscape tells you plenty.
Sometimes the best beer to drink is the one everyone has had before.