EACH YEAR (or month, it seems nowadays) a new American IPA swoops in from nowhere to be deemed the new king of the hill. With a thousand new breweries in planning across the nation competition is bound to be fierce, and the enthusiasm of hometown crowds makes impartial voting a remote prospect. Sometimes these challengers fizzle once removed from the ambiance of their local taproom; sometimes they endure broader scrutiny and raise the bar for everyone. Throughout it all a few names have endured as icons and drivers of the industry at large, inspiring new brewers and minting new craft fans. Supply and demand pushed along hand in hand. Fewer still have toiled so consistently and successfully as Bell’s Two Hearted Ale.
First introduced in 2000, Two Hearted confidently bestrides the grey zone between American IPAs and their stronger Imperial brethren. Coming in at 7% ABV, it’s potently flavored but not deliberately strident and dry- and single-hopped with Centennial, second only to Cascade as the nation’s most popular cultivar. Much as Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale introduced legions of fans to Cascade (and now Citra, via Torpedo), Bell’s Two Hearted was the early champion of Centennial.
The beer pours an entirely transparent topaz with some remaining carbonation bubbling up from the bottom and a copious head, extremely light in appearance but with sticky gobs of foam and largely bubbles like frog’s eggs (yet considerably more appetizing). The aroma is a bit stemmy–leafy and piney–with citric notes as well that come through stronger on the palate. The first flavor impression, though, is surprisingly dextrinous, especially while that head is still in its prime. Eventually the grapefruit flavors become more concentrated, with a little honey towards the back where some resin also slips into an otherwise rather light finish. A pleasant package.
And yet something seems to be missing, as if around the midpalate there’s a slight hollow where the malt bottom can’t bear up the hop top. Based on its OG of 1.064, Two Hearted’s FG should be around 1.012, which is on the lighter side for a beer this strong. A little fuller body would have helped anchor its second half and made a more lasting impression. Then again, part of Bell’s goals with Two Hearted was to brew a more approachable (and repeatable) IPA than the aggressive West Coast offerings. And in that sense Bell’s has succeeded handily: it still enjoys a grand reputation from coast to coast, and clones of it are hugely popular amongst homebrewers. Along with Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale, Two Hearted is a pillar that holds up the vaulted heavens of those who came after.
Served: 12 oz bottled 8/5/13