If you’re an established brewer introducing a new India pale ale these days, you’d better have a good answer for one key question: Why?
The world has thousands of iterations of craft beer’s most popular style, and even with the variations that have developed in the past few years, a lot of them are very similar.
Capital Brewery has a very good answer to why on earth it would want to add another IPA, Grateful Red, to that crowded, hop-crazy field: This is a unique beer.
Grateful Red is a red IPA, a loosely defined variant that applies darker and sometimes more robust malts to the American IPA profile of piney, citrusy bitterness. It joins Capital’s stable of year-round IPAs: Mutiny, Capital’s first IPA introduced two years ago; Dark Voyage, a black IPA that debuted in winter 2013; and Ghost Ship, a white IPA rolled out last spring. (Capsized, the occasionally brewed imperial IPA, is on hiatus.)
To say that Grateful Red takes the Capital IPA portfolio — to a beer, introductory and easy-drinking — in a new direction is an understatement. This is a brash, aggressive beer likely to trigger an awesome gross-face from a drinker expecting the usual Capital approach to the styles.
Grateful Red embraces the dank, nasty side of hops, a sharp digression from the recent trend toward IPAs that accentuate sweet tropical fruit character.
“I wanted to come away from that really sweet-fruity IPA trend that’s been happening, and I thought this was another awesome direction,” said Ashley Kinart, who took over as Capital’s brewmaster late last year and said she’s heard Grateful Red described as tasting like gym socks — in a good way. “It’s like really awesome cheese. The stinkier and nastier it is, it’s that much more delicious.”
The key player in this stinky nastiness is a hop variety so new that it doesn’t have a regular name yet. Kinart discovered experimental hop No. 07270 at Craft Brewers Conference last spring, and when Capital set out to make a red IPA last fall, she immediately knew 07270 had to be part of the mix.
It’s used as a dry hop, added during aging and after the beer is fermented, so it imparts much more aromatic qualities than those added during the boil. Grateful Red also uses a blend of somewhat standard-for-IPA hops that includes Simcoe, a variety that brings dankness of its own, including a cat pee character.
All of these qualities combine in a sensory package that is, well, let’s just say it: Grateful Red kinda smells and tastes like marijuana. Which makes that name, with the distinctive spelling, and the beer’s tagline “Peace, love and beer” all the more eyebrow raising, right? Kinart said the branding and recipe were developed on separate tracks that happened to align serendipitously at the finish line.
Amid a prickly trademark climate for brewers — O’so Brewing recently announced it would change the name of its Night Train porter for trademark reasons — hewing so close to the Grateful Dead or UW-Madison, via the student section that gathers in its Kohl Center — seems a bit like dancing with the devil. But Kinart said the name was vetted and trademarked, and as long as Capital doesn’t associate too closely with the band or the university, “we should be good.”
Retailers and bars have no such concerns, and since Grateful Red’s mid-March launch they have positioned it as the beer of choice for true fans to toast the Badgers’ unprecedented run in the NCAA Tournament. That, along with the usual excitement over a new beer, has had Grateful Red flying off the shelves, Kinart said.
So without further adieu, let’s dig into this gym socks-y, cat pee-y creation.
Style: Red IPA
Brewed by: Capital Brewery, Middleton
What it’s like: Grateful Red’s signature grassy dankness is somewhat in the vein of Lake Louie’s Bunny Green Toe IPA, though the latter is a more conventional IPA color, more bitter and quite a bit boozier. If you drink Grateful Red you’ll immediately recognize it’s singular in the Wisconsin beer scene.
Where, how much: Six-packs of Grateful Red bottles are widely available and $7-$8 most places. Cans, better suited to outdoor drinking, are coming this month. Also coming soon from Capital are the returns of Lake House, a seasonal Helles lager, later this month; and Kinart’s first creation, Fishin’ in the Dark imperial schwarzbier, in June.
The beer: Grateful Red pours its name, a brilliant, clear garnet shade. The intrigue begins in the aroma, which is all hops and potent with grassy, onion-garlic and resin characters. All that, and a hint of that cattiness, adds up to that pot-like dank stickiness. The flavor follows, with the cat character growing and a bready malt note emerging in a support role. Despite the aggressive hop characteristics, it’s only moderately bitter, though the bitterness rises in the finish, along with those dank weed notes.
Booze factor: I was surprised to find all of this weirdness in a beer that’s just 5.3 percent ABV — about the same as Capital Wisconsin Amber. It drinks like a bigger beer.
The buzz: OK, there it is. If Grateful Red sounds like something you want to never, ever, put near your face, you’re probably right. If it sounds intriguing, you’re probably in the set of beer fans that has carried a grudge against Capital for years and rebuffed their previous IPAs as boring. This beer is definitely not boring, and while I enjoyed getting weird with it, it’s definitely not one I would suggest for someone without knowing their beer preferences.
This makes the beer’s fortuitous alignment with the Badgers’ historic run somewhat double-edged. Capital has an early hit on its hands, but I could see a lot of UW fans who are more casual beer drinkers buying Grateful Red not caring what’s inside and making an epic gross-out face on the first pull from the bottle. Early reception on Untappd is a so-so 3.22 (out of five), a number I expect to rise after the beer drinkers Grateful Red wasn’t intended for stop buying it.
Bottom line: 4 stars (out of five)