The peak of summer sure seems like a good time to have a Wisconsin IPL explosion.
The upstart India pale lager is perfectly suited to warm weather: crisp and quenching without sacrificing big-time flavor.
While it’s not recognized as a style by the Beer Judge Certification Program, the most closely watched arbiter of what is and isn’t an official kind of beer, brewers have embraced the hoppy IPL. There are a handful of year-round IPLs on Wisconsin shelves, but for such a lager-loving bunch the state’s brewers had been slower adopters — with the notable exception of Leinenkugel’s, which debuted a draft-only IPL in Madison and Milwaukee last fall that will make its six-pack debut this August.
Central Waters Brewing, one of the state’s most respected brewers, broke the drought last month with a new seasonal IPL around the same time Wisconsin Brewing began rolling out a new IPL-witbier hybrid on draft.
That beer, Blister in the Sun, is hitting shelves around now as Wisconsin Brewing’s first four-pack. It’s the creation of brewer Clint Lohman, who has been refining it since it was one of my highlights at last year’s Great Taste of the Midwest.
Part of the reason it took so long to get Blister in the Sun made on a large scale is it relies heavily on Nelson Sauvin hops, a variety grown only in New Zealand that has become a popular choice with brewers for its unique tropical fruit and white wine aromas. During a visit to the Verona brewery this spring, brewmaster Kirby Nelson was excited about the beer but also smirkingly exasperated with his young brewer for choosing a hop in such tight supply.
Far from a true IPL, Blister in the Sun also incorporates elements of a Belgian wit: wheat malt, coriander, orange peel. The result is bright, fruity and refreshing, a beer that drinks much lighter than its 7 percent ABV. It’s a beer that’ll be in my fridge as the summer heat sets in.
Central Waters’ plunge into the IPL style, Summarillo, is perhaps more unexpected. While Wisconsin Brewing’s portfolio is peppered with lagers, Central Waters made its name on ales; Octoberfest is the only lager it currently makes.
Summarillo is a far more straightforward IPL, and it’s also a single-hop showcase for the Amarillo variety, which incidentally is an accent hop in Blister in the Sun.
The use of this single hop variety lets us see exactly what this American variety alone brings to the glass; most beers have several different hops contributing to the overall hop character. And Amarillo is a really nice hop, replete with citrus and floral character and modest bitterness — a perfect choice for a summer beer.
Style: India pale lager
What it’s like: They’re very different beers, but the single-hop Amarillo aspect of Summarillo has a parallel on the ale side of the aisle in Ale Asylum’s just-released seasonal Ballistic IPA. I’m looking forward to geeking out and trying them side-by-side. IPLs you may have seen around here include Samuel Adams Double Agent and Ballast Point Fathom.
Where, how much: Summarillo is a six-pack priced alongside Central Waters’ other beers, around the $8-$9 range. Every Madison bottle shop worth its salt should have it.
The beer: Summarillo pours like what your grandfather thought beer looked like: pale gold, with a prodigious, fluffy, white head. The aroma speaks of grass, oranges and lemons, sweetened by just the right amount of malt. There’s also a delicate floral hop character that reminds me of some gold lagers from the other side of the Atlantic. With a sip that orangey Amarillo character takes off, moderately bitter with an unexpected spiciness. Summarillo finishes very dry, and both its bitterness and its fruity, floral aromatics linger long into the next quaff. It’s crisp, refreshing and fantastic ice-cold.
Booze factor: It’s a good thing that a beer this drinkable has just a 5.2 percent ABV, just outside session territory.
The buzz: Central Waters has been on a roll with new beers this year.
Just before Summarillo came HHG, a 5.3 percent ABV American pale ale that uses Mosaic and Citra hops for an intense aroma of grapefruit, pineapple and other tropical fruit. It’s the kind of flavor and aroma profile that has made APAs like Toppling Goliath PseudoSue and Three Floyds Zombie Dust some of the most sought-after beers in the country. HHG is right there with them.
HHG was first brewed in March to celebrate the latest album from Stevens Point-based Americana band Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, and it was bouncing around in limited fashion at Madison Craft Beer Week events in early May. The response was so positive that it was brewed again on much larger scale; those 22-ounce bombers hit in mid-June. Those bombers are all we’ll see of HHG for now, but given the thirst for APAs of this flavor and aroma profile, it’ll certainly be back. My hope is it’ll be a six-pack beer at some point.
Both HHG and Summarillo are a nice departure from what is — and, in the big picture, remains — Central Waters’ greatest strength: its barrel-aging program. And it’s good to see a promising style get some love from Wisconsin brewers.
Bottom line: 4 stars (out of five)