Name: Two Hearted Ale
Style: American IPA
Numbers: 7% ABV, IBUs unknown
I’m from England. My favorite sport is rugby union. I don’t really like soccer that much, but I love football. As in American football, or Gridiron. It’s like rugby (descended from it not so long ago) with a few – pretty major – rule changes; it’s physical, exciting; and a great way to connect to American culture. I first saw the New Orleans Saints play the then LA Raiders at the 1990 American Bowl at Wembley Stadium in London, and I’ve been into it ever since.
When I moved to New York I went to see the Giants and the Jets play at MetLife Stadium, and, some might say unfortunately, fell in love with the gritty, ne’er do well and ragtag attitude and style of the Jets. So, back in October 2010, I became a life-long Jets fan.
In 2010 that turned out to be pretty sweet. After a slow start to the season the Jets scraped into the postseason as a wild card and, in an incredible run, made it to the AFC Championship game where they lost to Pittsburgh. (And in so doing inspired a general dislike of the Steelers ever since, though I recently went to Pittsburgh and found it to be a most agreeable town.)
But over the past three years being a Jets fan has been tough going. The playoffs have been an increasingly distant dream, there have been high-profile car-wreck games, no strategic presence at quarter back, the tough-as-nails defense has disintegrated and the roster has been as steady as a dinghy in a hurricane on the high seas. At the start of the 2013 season I was finding it more and more difficult to be invested in the NFL, knowing my team had a snowball in hell’s chance of finding glory.
In September 2013 I visited Seattle for the first time, and fell completely in love with it. I had always had a fascination with it from afar, and when my father brought me a Gary “The Glove” Payton vest back from a work visit there at the peak of the Supersonics heyday I became a fan (until their untimely demise). Their football team, the Seahawks were in the ascendant and were passionately supported by the city. I decided, while my allegiance to the Jets will never waver, that I needed an official second favorite team to support, and that Seattle would be it. (Turned out well too as they got their first Super Bowl that year.) And given the conferences the two teams play in, clashes between the Jets and Seahawks will be few and far between.
Yesterday, the nearest thing to a clash between the Jets and Seahawks came about as Seattle visited Philadelphia to play the Eagles. The Eagles are currently playing with ex-Jet Mark Sanchez as starting quarter back, which has led me to root for them in their last few games. For the first time in a long time, it was hard to support the Seahawks with all my heart. I was explaining this to my wife (who incidentally thinks it’s ridiculous to support more than one team, and often accuses me of a sordid combination of band wagon-jumping and selling out) and said something along the lines of “It’s like supporting the teams with a heart each – imagine having two hearts”. Suddenly the beer I needed to have in my hand while watching this game became crystal clear, and I ran to the nearest drugstore to get a six-pack of Bell’s Brewery’s lauded Two Hearted Ale, which to my shame I had not tasted.
The beer is actually named after the Two Hearted River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which is why its attractive basket and label is decorated with water-painted fish and an underwater look. But the symbolism was working for me, and it felt like the perfect time to approach this so-called near-perfect IPA. (It is officially Ratebeer.com’s best IPA for 2014 according to the aggregate scores its reviewers provide.)
As mentioned, the packaging for the beer is stylish and the label art (two?) heart-warming. Also on the label is something which all breweries should provide (along with ABV, a bugbear of mine): the date of packaging, ie the starting gun for the beer’s shelf life. My beer was bottled on the 18th November, so was a mere 10% into its six month shelf life, which is great to know before tasting it.
I poured the chilled beer into a large wine glass and appreciated the cloudy (it’s unfiltered) amber color. The carbonation looked low and the head that formed was thin and bright white.
When sniffing at a beer with a 95% rating on Beer Advocate one has a real sense of anticipation, which can be a problem as vaunted expectations are seldom met. So my first feeling was “Huh, smells like a regular IPA.” That is of course no bad thing, and upon going back at it a few times to pick it apart I realized it has the bouquet of a very good IPA. I was sitting about 10 feet away from my brand new Christmas tree, but boy does this beer do pine! Pine needles, fresh pine wood, even a concentrated pine resin kind of smell. (Don’t worry, I did walk away from the tree to make sure it wasn’t interfering.) The hops are 100% Centennial which explains why I found almost non-existent citrus notes (they are there but are very muted), instead getting an abundance of pine as well as straw, grass and lighter floral aromas. As I let the beer breathe and warm up a little I got some apricot and even a little Swiss cheese (which is a very good aroma in my book). A clarion-clear IPA with good complexity and sophistication.
Drinking the beer was very pleasant. It has 7% ABV but tastes light, and gently bitter. Its real strength is an untypical maltiness (for an IPA) which really balances it out. It has sweetness to counter the bitterness which makes it drinkable.
Is this a knockout beer that will intrigue and provoke? No. What it is is a definitive American IPA with a few interesting (and beneficial) twists. It’s not quite going to unseat Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute as my go-to for the style, but it is at least level with Stone IPA for second place. An excellent brew, and I was more than happy to reach for a second bottle as I watched my second favorite team play. I will maintain that having two hearts for two teams is eminently feasible.