Name: Heady Topper
Style: Double/Imperial IPA
Numbers: 8% ABV, 75 IBUs
My dad (on the phone): This bed & breakfast in Burlington is very quaint. A little…odd, but really lovely. They do have some strange stuff here.
Me: That’s great, glad you like it. People in Burlington are a little quirky. What kind of strange stuff?
My Dad: Well, there’s a vinyl record player in every room. And a chalk board to write notes on taking up most of a wall in our room. And red plastic furniture. And a fridge full of this local beer called…Heady Topper. Apparently it’s quite popular.
Me: BRING ME A FOUR PACK PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!
Serendipitous fortune! So it was I came to have a fresh four pack of one of America’s most rated beers chilling in my refrigerator. (Which is as well: who wants their first online review to be of less than a classic?)
The following Sunday, with the Jets beating the Steelers in the background, I sat on my couch and reverentially placed a can and a glass in front of me. (The brewery, indeed the can, recommends you drink it from the can, as explained here, but if you want to experience the aroma fully that’s just ridiculous. Beers I really want to taste I pour into a large tulip wine glass, with very thin glass.)
The beer is unpasteurized, made quite “roughly”, and its appearance shows this. It looks raw. It has the color of ageing straw, and is cloudy. Its head is clean, off-white and voluminous, with bubbles of mixed size, adding to the rough and ready look. It’s psychosomatic I’m sure, but the beer looks like it was made by a farmer up the road.
The smell of the beer is stunning. It’s not aggressive or overwhelming, but pungent nonetheless. It rewards you on your second, third and fourth sniff with new layers. The dominant aromas are of course citrus and pine, but there’s a lot more there beneath the surface. A summery dried grass/straw smell, some tropical fruit, and a zesty freshness that stimulates rather than numbs your nose. If you go looking for them you might find the wood varnish, roasting nuts and pleasant moldy aromas I got.
What’s remarkable is the balance – this is the IPA that most firmly quashes the “Any fool can throw a sackful of hops into a beer” view of the European beer snob.
It’s a full-bodied beer, and quite strong at 8%, but it’s surprisingly gentle to drink. Another quality that sets it apart from many (most?) IPAs is its mouthfeel. It’s thick, almost creamy, and a little bit sweet. Once you’ve tasted and exhaled you get watermelon & pineapple.
You’re supposed to drink from the can because the beer does die a little in the glass. Its carbonation is pretty low, so the fizzing and the fragrance drop off after five or 10 minutes. Perhaps the best thing about the beer is that when you’ve made your way through 16oz you’re not hop’d to death. I actually quite wanted another.
(Of course I resisted and marked the other three cans as “drink only when you really want to, but soon, ‘cos it’s not gonna last long!”.)
There’s no such thing as a perfect beer, but as I watched the clock tick down in the fourth quarter, and the Jets were by some miracle staying ahead of Pittsburgh, and I sipped toward the end of my Heady Topper I struggled to think of a time I’d enjoyed a beer more.