Ah, nothing like the feeling of finally getting to try one of the U.S.' most beloved ales for the first time. Tonight I'm gulping down Bell's famous Two-Hearted Ale, a classic Midwestern IPA that I got while vacationing in S.C. Famed for being very well balanced and nicely drinkable despite "enormous hop additions" as the label puts it, Two-Hearted is definitely one of the highest rated IPAs in the country.
A great IPA pour is always about several things; head retention, lacing, color and clarity are the main components of appearance, but with IPAs it's very easy to tell its pedigree by how these elements interact with the flavor. A hazier one, for instance, will almost always contain a chewier malt approach with notes of biscuit and toasted bread among the copious floral and/or pine-y hop presence, and great lacing is indicative of big residual hop oil presence, giving the style its characteristic pungent bitterness. This beer has just about the perfect IPA pour. A towering sudsy head gives way to solid cobweb lacing after several minutes of dying down to a two-finger ring on the surface and the color is a translucent golden-yellow with deep honeyed hues. The scent can only be described as juicy, with fair amounts of tropical fruits, floral notes and some light bready malts interacting favorably to produce a rich bouquet. Pineapple, mango, lemon, grass, faint peach and orange combine with light botanicals, and the beer features an almost hay-like rusticness to bring it all together. The flavor is thick and layered with a coating mouthfeel that teams up with a prickly but not overbearing carbonation to bring flavors of grapefruit, pine resin, pineapple and pale, crackery malt to the palate. Lacing as this drinks is quite nice and thick, with a cascade of shimmering suds popping up after each sip, clinging lazily to the glass. There are light spice notes including ginger, and a slight earthiness that really comes through in the transition to finish. Big punch of resinous hops on the tongue, though there is a definite amount of "balance" to make sure it doesn't quite reach hop bomb territory; the rather soft wheat-like malt approach tends to rein in what could easily be a brutally bitter IPA. Great body -- it's refreshing but not "light" with an excellent variety of flavors, and every sip feels a little bit different than the last. Sticky resin definitely lingers after a rather zippy, dry finish; one that whets the palate and leaves it wanting more. This is one solid, well-crafted classic ale. The worst thing about it is probably the label, which has been oft-derided as a bit hokey (used to be an overhead view of two fish and now it's just a profile of one!), though Bell's in general seems to have pretty amusingly-lame label art, so maybe it's just their thing.
This is really, really nice; refreshing, challenging and interesting with a lot of normally-competitive palate space being occupied by exactly the right flavors at the right time. A very nice exercise in IPA excellence. There is enough here to sink your teeth into, but not too much that it is haranguing or palate-wrecking. In addition, the seven percent ABV is undetectable; this actually tastes like a session IPA with its enjoyably-average mouthfeel, light carbonation and slightly creamy yet simultaneously sharp approach. Remaining yeast presence is delightfully-chewy with a dignified and appropriately dusty presence that, when combined with the vibrant hop oil flavor, is subtly brilliant. I'm really glad I picked one of these up to see what all the hype was about; this is a great beer with as much hoppiness as you could expect out of a "single IPA" loved by many a hophead the country (and possibly world) round. Cheers!
The official breakdown:
- Style: American IPA
- ABV: 7%
- Appearance: High marks; perfectly-cloudy golden-yellow with some deeper tones when not held to light; retentive one/two-finger head that leaves some sticky lace
- Scent: Bright citrus and tropical hops; pineapple, lemon and grapefruit; slightly botanical with a bit of ginger spice and a balancing note of biscuit-y lighter malt
- Taste: Pine, grapefruit rind, lemongrass, ginger, floral/botanical notes from more delicate hops; some orange and a bit of dusty yeast; nice biscuit-y malt backbone
- Mouthfeel: Carbonation is exactly as it should be: unobtrusive but coaxing; slick palate until a dry, hoppy, earthy finish that encourages sipping
- Drinkability: Pretty high, especially considering the ABV (very well hidden, by the way); enough interest to keep you guessing but easy to enjoy and savor