I had myself a birthday a few weeks ago. Actually, it was one of those milestone birthdays that really make you scratch your head and contemplate both the road behind and the ever-shortening road ahead. Such rumination is clearly best done with an adult beverage, and when I began considering my options for the evening, it was probably somewhat inevitable that my thinking about both life and beer would overlap.
What sage epiphanies did I have then, you might ask?
I realized that, sweet baby snorkeling jeebus, I'm old. My knees hurt for no reason some days. Last weekend I tweaked a muscle in my back reaching over my lazy Great Pyrenees mutt while attempting to unload the dishwasher. I could go on, but the list is long and no one wants to hear an aging Gen X-er complain.
The cool thing about aging, though, is that while, sure, a lot of water has passed under the bridge, it also brought some experience (and experiences) with it. What's any of that got to do with beverages? Simply this: I've been drinking craft beer for a long time, longer than I can almost imagine. Over all that time, I've got a lot of craft beer-related memories.
I remember drinking a Moerlein winter ale in the mid-90s, before Moerlein was sold out of town in 1999.
I remember a time when drinking Sam Adams was effectively ones only option for a draft beer of anything that wasn't pale yellow.
I remember my first sip of Arrogant Bastard Ale, somewhere in Arizona, long before Stone made its way to Cincinnati.
I remember the first craft beer boom in town in the mid to late 90's, that fizzled somewhat before the whole local industry rose like a really pissed off phoenix from it's not-quite-yet cold ashes.
I remember quite a bit. There's probably even more more I don't remember. Admittedly, it's quite possible that some of my memories aren't representative of what really happened. That's a fun part of getting older, too.
I definitely do remember when India Pale Ales first started gaining in popularity, though, and that is not a subject I recall clouded by the fuzziness -- or fizziness -- of passing years.
Interestingly, I don't actually remember what I thought of my first sip of IPA, which almost had to be Stone. I can't recall if I was appalled, as so many people tend to be when they first try the hop-forward, bitter style, or whether it was love at first sight. Regardless, IPAs found their way into my heart, and it has been my go-to style for years.
And what years they've been! I would be hard-pressed to name one single style of beer that's been through so many different innovations and interpretations (hell, there were a few actual fads mixed in there, too) in the past 15 or so years. West Coast IPA! Juicy IPA! Double IPA! New England IPA! Imperial IPA! Dark IPA (Mmmmm, dark IPA)! Hazy IPA! Cold IPA! I'm half expecting some clever brewer to find a way to kill yeast and then revive it somehow so we can have a true Zombie IPA.
And let's not forget the endless litany of different hop that have, from time to time, taken center stage in the IPA world. I've had IPAs proudly boasting everything from the humble Cascade to Simcoe, Mosaic, Citra, Centennial, Galaxy, etc. I honestly stopped paying attention to hop varieties around 2015, I think. There's probably a hop named "Your Mom" out there by now, and it wouldn't surprise me to learn I tried it in a pint last week.
The point, Gentle Reader, is that over the years, I have been up and down India Pale Avenue countless times, and often even crossed from one side to the other. And after all this time, and all those brews, there's one IPA I keep coming back to, Bell's Two-Hearted IPA.
Why that particular one, you might ask? Why do I repeatedly fall back on a beer brewed in Michigan when I live in a city with dozens and dozens of excellent local breweries, nearly all of which produce one (usually more) IPA offering? Well, because it's very nearly my platonic ideal of what an IPA should be.
Bell's Two-Hearted is clean, bright, a beautiful color, sharp but not mouth-assaultingly bitter, and is incredibly well-balanced. At least, that's how it hits my palate, anyway. I'll allow that taste is obviously a very subjective thing, and if you disagree with me here, I'm happy to allow you to go your merry way continuing to be wrong. Heh.
Two-Hearted is also readily available year-round at pretty much any beer, liquor, or grocery store I might stop in. Oh, and did I mentioned that it's frakking cheap? I can typically buy a 4-pack of 16oz cans for $8.99. And, no, I swear I'm not writing this under that influence of the four pack I recently bought as, um, research for this article.
See? Eight dollars and ninety-cents, in a world where I can't even get a burrito for that anymore. For an IPA sporting a impressive 7% ABV that is absolutely delicious, it's a modern day marvel, and I will continue to occasionally pick some up for as long as it continues to be available.
Oh, and there's another thing you begin to realize as you turn 50 years old and round the corner towards "wondering how long until your kids pack you up for Shady Acres". One day you'll notice that everything costs more than it did when you were 20. Too damn much more, you'll say, shaking your fist at the passing clouds.
With all that in mind, seeing that familiar cube of Bell's Two-Hearted on the shelf in the beer case typically brings a little smile to my face, and reminds me that the more things change (come on, Zombie IPA!), the more they sometimes stay the same.
Cheers and happy hops!