One of the most recent additions to Wisconsin beer coolers arrives from Southern California with quite a feather in its cap.
Six- and four-packs of Coronado Brewing Co. beer began selling in Madison last month just days before Coronado was named mid-size brewery of the year at the World Beer Cup in Denver.
I usually don’t put a whole lot of stock in awards because there’s a dimension of self-selection in play. Breweries usually pick their spots in contest entries, and the level of competition can vary greatly both by contest and by style.
But if you’re going to pick a beer award to believe in, the every-other-year WBC is probably the one. The recently concluded competition had more than 4,700 beers entered from more than 1,400 breweries from 58 countries. American brewers made 71.5 percent of the beers entered and won 73 percent of the awards in 94 styles.
Because the WBC includes every brewery — even the giant ones not generally written about in this space, the “mid-size” category is limited to breweries that made from 15,001 to 6 million barrels of beer in 2013. For context, Madison-based Ale Asylum made about about 17,000 barrels last year, while the largest U.S. craft brewer, Boston Beer, made about 3.4 million barrels.
Coronado wrested the prize from Firestone Walker Brewing, the esteemed California-based brewery that’s won the mid-sized honor at four of the past five World Beer Cups. So its haul at the WBC is a pretty big deal.
The brewery started out in 1996 as a brewpub in the city of the same name, an island city on the ocean side of San Diego Bay. Coronado opened a production brewery in San Diego in 2012, and it was just above the WBC’s 15,000-barrel “mid-size” production floor in 2013. Wisconsin becomes the 17th state to receive Coronado beer.
So, the beer itself, yes? Coronado’s portfolio, like a lot of West Coast brewers, tends toward the hop. It’s starting out with four of its beers in Wisconsin.
Idiot IPA, the lone four-pack so far, is an imperial India pale ale that’s full-bodied but refreshingly light, thanks to modest malt presence and potent bitterness with a citrusy/piney hop character. The Mermaid Red amber ale features a caramel-toffee malt character that’s obliterated by a long, bitter finish. The non-hop outlier is Orange Avenue Wit, named after Coronado’s main drag and the address of the brewery’s original brewpub, a solid Belgian-style wheat beer that combines bready malts with a dash of orange citrus.
But the beer we’re taking a closer look at this week is one that won gold at last month’s WBC. It has IPA in the name, but it was entered in the “American-style strong pale ale” category. I can’t say I understand the nuance that differentiates that from an American IPA, which is its own WBC style, the most competitive category with 224 entries. Really, I’d say there is no difference. But American strong pale ale was no slouch either, with a healthy 97 entries, nearly double the average of 50 entries per style.
Style: American IPA
Brewed by: Coronado Brewing Co., Coronado, Calif.
What it’s like: While “West Coast IPA” evokes a pretty specific hop profile, Coronado’s light, minimal-malt take is distinct from the IPAs from Green Flash, Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada, Bear Republic and Stone, which told me recently that it has no plans to re-enter the Wisconsin market it left a few years ago. (Please reconsider!)
Where, how much: Six-packs of Coronado’s beers, including Islander, will run you $10-$11 at the area’s better bottle shops. Idiot IPA comes in a four-pack for the same price. I got my six-pack of Islander at Trixie’s Liquor, and it’s worth noting that last week Riley’s Wines of the World was selling all four of Coronado’s beers in its singles section.
The beer: Islander pours a pale, slightly hazy gold that matches its WBC medal, and its aroma has a crisp, citrus-floral snap overlaying a nice, bready malt backbone. It has the classic West Coast IPA hop profile — piney bitterness laced with tropical, citrusy fruit — that outshines a modest malt presence. It drinks easy if you don’t mind bitterness that lasts from one drink well into the next.
Booze factor: Islander’s ABV is 7 percent, near the high end of the style’s range.
Buzz factor: It seems there’s another brewery from outside Wisconsin selling beer here almost every month lately, which is great if you’re interested in playing the field. To be honest I hadn’t heard about Coronado before it opened up here, and 17,000-some barrels spread between 17 states, including a mammoth home market, suggests its sales expectations for Wisconsin are pretty modest.
While I’m not sure how Mermaid and Orange Avenue will play here, I do see a niche for Islander and Idiot among hopheads looking for light and hop-potent IPAs. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Islander, and Coronado at large, come in riding a wave of golden World Beer Cup buzz.
Bottom line: 3½ stars (out of five)