IT’S UNLIKELY that any brewery will ever surpass Oskar Blues as the Coloradoan champion of craft canning. They were the first, after all, to put craft beer in a can back in 2002. But not far behind them was Ska Brewing from Durango, who started canning their Modus Hoperandi IPA in 2003. Ska was actually founded before Oskar Blues, in 1995, and their playful blend of pulp cartoon branding and powerful flavors has helped them stand out in the state’s crowded field. Today, Ska’s Modus Hoperandi is one of craft’s most recognizable labels and a standout American IPA in its own right.
While that eye-catching artwork displays Ska’s corporatist villains, the liquid inside is anything but threatening. In fact, it’s one of the smoothest drinking craft IPAs west of the Mississippi despite coming in at 68 IBUs and 6.8% ABV. The beer’s color is golden and faintly cloudy, capped with a very generous and durable clump of head. Aromas comes in several clear waves, each presaging a flavor and giving a fair outline out the beer’s structure: first an array of piney, herbal, and grapefruity hops; then a sweeter malt underpinning of honey and a little clementine; finally, a rather pronounced alkalinity from Ska’s water treatment that leaves a clean and soft texture on the palate to counter its assertive bitterness.
This smooth second half is reinforced by carbonation somewhat lower than expected for the style—by no means suppressed to English standards, but still low enough not to pop prickly acids into the roof of the mouth. The hop selection is classic C-cultivars, but instead of merely hammering on Centennial’s signature citrus, for instance, they’re also herbaceous and a little floral. Alcohol is slightly noticeable before a particularly herbal twinge suppresses it in time for a smooth finish.
Some paler grains give the medium body a little crispness, though overall the beer’s mouthfeel is on the rounder side, abetted by minerals revealed in the aroma (chloride?). Malts contribute hints of honey, melon (or berry), and coax out a touch of toffee as well. About 5% of the grain bill is reportedly red wheat malt, which gives the beer’s malt portion a beguiling twist in addition to helping head retention.
A reasonably thick caramel core endures throughout, developing a firmer body over time and becoming increasingly present in the finish. This reflects Ska’s intent to brew a robustly-flavored but still approachable beer, easygoing enough to enjoy from the can yet still complex enough to merit closer study. Modus’ first impression is not its best, which is unusual for an IPA, but given time it can become quite seductive.
Served: 12 oz can best by 3/29/14