Bell’s Two Hearted Ale is a beer of mystery. Why two hearted? It has a picture of a trout on the bottle label, and as far as I know they come standard with one heart. And gramatically, shouldn’t there be a hyphen in the name, as in ‘two-hearted’? Then there’s the issue of the brewer itself. Bell’s was founded by Larry Bell as Kalamazoo Brewing Company and, while moving the brewery just outside the Michigan town, it still maintains a strong presence in the municipality. The song “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” was written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the 1942 Glenn Miller film vehicle “Orchestra Wives” starring, among others, George Montgomery and Cesar Romero (and Glenn Miller, of course). Anyway, the song has this line in it: “Hiya Mister Jackson everythng is A-O-K-A-L-A-M-A-Z-O / oh what a gal …”, yet, according to IMDb, there is no character in the movie with the last name Jackson. Who is Mister Jackson and what is he doing in the song?
What’s not a mystery is why Bell’s Two Hearted Ale has developed such a following. It’s an IPA that shows a little restraint. Hey, I enjoy the IBU arms race as much as the next hophead, but sometimes it seems as if the focus on hops has a “these go to 11” vibe to it. Apparently I’m not the only one. I’ve mentioned this New Yorker profile of Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione before where the issue is touched upon:
“We are trying to explore the outer edges of what beer can be,” Calagione says. But the idea makes even some craft brewers nervous. “I find the term ‘extreme beer’ irredeemably pejorative,” Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, told me recently. “When a brewer says, ‘This has more hops in it than anything you’ve had in your life—are you man enough to drink it?,’ it’s sort of like a chef saying, ‘This stew has more salt in it than anything you’ve ever had—are you man enough to eat it?’ ”
I don’t think I’m being pejorative if I say that Two Hearted Ale is not an extreme beer. I certainly don’t mean it to be perjorative in any way. It has the assertive floral hops aroma and tongue-tingling finish that a good IPA should have, but there is nothing overpowering about them. They’re distinct, but there’s a nice transition from the subtle sweetness of the malt to the pleasing bitterness at the finish. The color is clear and golden with readily visible carbonation and a finger’s width of head that laces nicely on the side of the glass. Carla made special note of the pleasing mouthfeel. There’s nothing about this beer that gets in the way of savoring it.
If I were trying to explain to someone what an IPA was supposed to taste like, I’d hand them one of these. Is it my favorite of all time? I don’t know. I haven’t tried them all. But I like this one.
Bell’s Two Hearted Ale: A
(Yeah, another beer not from Budweiser gets an ‘A.’ Full disclosure: we’ve bootstrapped the reviews with stuff we already tend to drink, and — surprise — we like what we tend to buy. We’ve stocked up on things that aren’t the usual suspects for us recently, however, and I strongly suspect we’re going to be seeing some variability in the ratings real soon now)
UPDATE: You owe it to yourself to go to the comments and read the one from … wait for it … Glenn Miller III about who “Mister Jackson” is. Hours after the comment came in, I’m still walking on air. Thank you, Mr. Miller.