THE TASK WAS formidable—for a Michigan brewery to make a strong, American-style IPA with Centennial hops that didn’t make drinkers pine instead for a Bell’s Two Hearted. Standing tallest among Michigan’s oldest craft producers, Bell’s has been brewing in Kalamazoo since 1983 and their Two Hearted set the standard for Centennial IPAs across the entire nation. 14 years later Founders launched in Grand Rapids, virtually in Bell’s shadow not an hour south, and have since grown to be Michigan’s second-largest brewer. Indeed, if any Midwest concern were up to this challenge it would be Founders. And yes, that includes Three Floyds.
Released in 2000 and unabashedly called Centennial IPA, the beer’s label features two angels bearing up its title like pillars of supplication. It is indeed a thing of beauty. Glowing a robust amber from a dense malt bill, bubbles churning up to form a generous and sticky head while the aroma busts with grapefruit, resin, pine, and a bracing bit of cattiness (though less harsh than Simcoe). At first there is fairly little of malt aside from a bit of vanilla and caramel, but overall the aroma still bespeaks a well-proportioned and sturdy beer.
The malt makes its first real impression in the creaminess of the mouthfeel—the recipe is jammed with nearly 20% crystal/caramel malts, according to some sources, though it remains medium light with excellent carbonation. After a few sips the hop harvest begins to settle, allowing the malt to make more inroads on the palate. They respond with enthusiasm, leaving a little residue on the lips and a marmalade sweetness that’s essential to keeping those 65 IBUs from running rampant. Instead, they undulate and swirl about, interacting with new facets in each sip: the touch of alcohol heat (7.2% ABV), that splendid carbonation, and a drop of minerals in the finish.
This is still quite an aggressively bittered beer overall, though, and a residual stemmy tang does grow on the palate. But its placement is forward instead of back in the throat and retains enough tingle to be dynamic. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Centennial is not single-hopped, as Two Hearted is, and this is not hard to believe. So perhaps the two do not vie for the exact same crown. Lucky for Bell’s that they do not. Centennial has become Founder’s best-selling beer and deservedly so—it is a resplendent effort and as fine a year-round IPA as one will find in the States.
Served: 12 oz bottled 9/11/13