The Vikings were legendary hedonists, and the party really got started when a Viking died.
“Intoxicating drinks” are prominently featured in historical accounts of Viking death rites, along with plenty of practices that are less acceptable by today’s cultural standards. The funerals culminated in the deceased being set adrift in a burning ship.
That waterborne pyre is the namesake of Floating Fire, the latest offering from Furthermore Beer. It’s an extension of the Viking theme begun this spring with Viking Afternoon, a session India pale ale made with smoked malt.
Furthermore founder Aran Madden said he initially wanted to name that beer Viking Funeral, but it didn’t really fit with a session IPA intended to be a light but zippy easy drinker for warm weather. So Viking Afternoon it was, and that beer would go on to become a big success for Furthermore, rivaling its bestseller, Fatty Boombalatty, even with only a warm-weather run.
But that darker original idea of the Viking funeral persisted, and Madden believed there was another beer to be had in that theme: smoky, rowdy and fun.
“We really liked the idea of doing a lighter beer and coming back with a bigger, bolder brother,” Madden said. “If you were going to have one beer for the party of a lifetime, what would that be?”
Like many Furthermore beers, that beer is one that defies easy categorization. Its core is an India pale ale, made with smoked malt like its smaller sibling, but Floating Fire also brings rye and hibiscus to the glass. That bears repeating: Floating Fire is a hibiscus rye smoked IPA.
That sounds like a mouthful, but all that novelty comes together in a very approachable way. Let’s take a closer look.
Style: India pale ale
Brewed by: Furthermore Beer, Spring Green, at Sand Creek Brewing in Black River Falls
What it’s like: Nothing I’m aware of. You might find a parallel in “red IPAs” like Sierra Nevada Flipside or Lakefront Fixed Gear, which was recently rebranded from an American amber to a red IPA. But, really, Floating Fire is an original.
Where, how much: Floating Fire joins Furthermore’s lineup as a year-round beer that will replace Full Thicket, the double IPA introduced in spring 2013. Six-packs usually run from $9 to $10; I got mine at the great beer department at Jenifer Street Market.
The beer: Madden said the hibiscus was used in Floating Fire primarily for color, and the beer’s striking crimson does evoke a fire at night. But the hibiscus runs the aroma, too, with a heady sweet floral-citrusy tang that pushes the hops and a hint of smoke far into the background. There’s a lot going on in the flavor. The smoke is distinctive but subtle; its intensity was about a 4 out of 10 on my first glass but felt more like a 2 on subsequent tastings. The rye brings a dry, spicy tang that complements those hibiscus notes. And the hops — locally sourced from Gorst Valley Hops — do a lot of work, though even at a sky-high 102 IBU (international bittering units) I wouldn’t call Floating Fire an overly hoppy IPA. There’s a long, bitter finish that’s just about the only IPA-like thing about this beer, and even that has a touch of smoke that twists out of convention. With a smooth body, the smoked character and those other secondary flavors softening the sharpness of the hops, Floating Fire ends up quite drinkable.
Booze factor: Madden called Floating Fire’s 7 percent ABV a “happy place” for a hoppy beer; I agree.
The buzz: I have this little hierarchy of Wisconsin breweries in my head, sorted by my perception of their importance and influence. I’d like to think production numbers — an absolute measure of a brewery’s popularity — usually align with that. But that’s not always so, as I was reminded of when Madden told me Furthermore made a jarringly low 2,000 barrels of beer last year. Furthermore doesn’t make much beer that has big crossover potential, certainly, but the growing numbers of craft beer drinkers are seeking the out-there beers embodied by Floating Fire — and the rest of Furthermore’s portfolio.
Madden noted many other craft brewers are making beer that explores the unusual territory that was mostly Furthermore’s alone when the first Furthermore six-pack hit shelves just in time for the 2006 American Players Theatre season. Madden said the two new IPAs of 2014 could help bring the Furthermore innovation ethos into a realm with a very high sales ceiling. “I’m very interested in giving hopheads beers that aren’t the same as every other hoppy beer they get,” he said.
Floating Fire is that, no doubt.
Bottom line: 4 stars (out of five)