Lake Louie Brewing embarked on a wild ride this summer, dusting off its beer lineup, releasing new brews, and reshaping its image. "We've spent years adding maybe one new beer a year just to keep the beer geeks off my back," says owner and brewmaster Tom Porter. "I've gotten a little sick of hearing, 'what do you have that's new?'"
Well, Porter has certainly stepped up to that challenge by introducing five new beers in as many months. His latest creation, Grade 10 India Pale Ale, pushes the boundaries of innovation so far that the hops showcased in it have never been used by anyone before to make beer. In fact, the variety doesn't even have a name yet. With this IPA, Lake Louie makes the grade again in a crowded and competitive hoppy beer market.
What is it? Grade 10 India Pale Ale from Lake Louie Brewing of Arena, Wisconsin.
Style: The India Pale Ale (IPA) emphasizes the bitterness of hops, which can provide herbal, citrus and piney character to aroma and flavor. IPAs are medium-bodied and often golden- to copper-colored. They range from 5.5% to 7.5% ABV. The style evolved from beers made by British brewers in the 18th century. When all or at least the majority of the hops used to make an India Pale Ale are varieties grown in the United States, it's given the "American" IPA distinction.
Background: Grade 10 India Pale Ale is unique thanks to the experimental hops used to make it. It's brewed with four different varieties Lake Louie obtained through suppliers in Washington and Oregon.
"We were able to secure some hops that are somewhere between the test plot and getting a name," says Tom Porter. "We got them because we have relationships with these growers. They wanted to know what kind of beer their hops will make, so I'm like, 'I'm all in,'" he adds.
Acquiring hops can be quite challenging for small breweries. For most of his beers, Porter must contract with hop suppliers years in advance of when he'll actually receive and use them. One of Lake Louie's best sellers, Kiss the Lips IPA, is made with trademarked Simcoe hops that are so sought-after by U.S. craft breweries that the quest to purchase them is pressuring growers to develop other varieties with similar bittering qualities.
"It's us little guy brewers and little guy growers that are coming up with new hops," Porter explains. And while he's interested in local-Wisconsin grown hops, Porter says it's difficult to get the type and amount he needs on a long-term and consistent basis.
Because the hops in Grade 10 have not been used commercially before, Porter was a bit skeptical of exactly how bitter they might be. "We were really unsure of developmental hops because you don't get a lot of insight as to what they will do and taste like. You don't get a page of numbers describing their alpha acids like you do when you buy regular hops," he explains.
"We were just as curious as anybody else to see what they were going to taste like," quips Porter. "It was one of those I-wonder-what-they-will-do-in-a-beer things."
The hops that go into Grade 10 India Pale Ale will likely be named and offered more broadly for sale by fall 2015. Porter plans to make the beer again next year; however, there's no guarantee he will be able to acquire the same varieties or that they'll have similar bittering qualities. Therefore, this beer's flavor profile could change in the future.
In addition to the experimental hops, Grade 10 has a small amount of Magnum hops for added bitterness. While brewing it, Porter used about three pounds of the hops per barrel. The result is what he describes as a "soft" IPA, with bitterness that comes in waves, and without the bitter burn of bigger and more aggressive hop-monster brews. It finishes at 6% ABV.
Porter also strives for some balance in Grade 10 via a background of biscuit and caramel flavors from specialty malts. These malts include Victory, Caramel, Carapils and Harrington. Lake Louie and Great Lakes Brewing Company of Cleveland are among a small number of breweries to use the Canadian-grown and processed Harrington malt.
The beer's name is a tribute to Porter's fondness of the Canadian mockumentary television series Trailer Park Boys, in which one of the main characters is constantly hoping to get his "Grade 10," which translates to a high school equivalency degree. "We are all Trailer Park freaks here in the brewery," laughs Porter. "I own every single episode and all three movie DVDs, and we constantly quote the lines from the show while we're bottling." A few years ago when the stars of the show were appearing at the Barrymore Theatre in Madison, Porter had Mike Smith (who plays Bubbles on the show) sign his guitar.
Lake Louie only made one 30-barrel batch of Grade 10 because the hops were in such limited supply. However, Porter says he does have enough on hand to make a second batch if sales support it. Grade 10 is packaged in 12-ounce bottles and is sold for $8-$9 per six-pack. It is also available on tap at a few of Madison's better-known beer hangouts and tap houses.
For those counting, of Lake Louie's five new beers released this summer, three have been IPAs presented in the brewery's new Hop-A-Louie series. Grade 10 was preceded by a session IPA called 10-81 and an American IPA named Bunny Green Toe. "This is the time of IPAs," says Porter. "Nearly 40% of craft sales in America are that style, and it's only going up." Bunny Green Toe sold out quickly in its initial runs this spring, but Porter plans to make another batch this fall.
While Grade 10 will likely be the last new brew for Lake Louie in 2014, more are on the way. "We're going to have at least three new beers next year," says Porter. While he isn't tipping his hand as to exactly what they'll be, he hints there maybe another IPA and possibly a helles lager on the way.
- Aroma: Light malty and floral.
- Appearance: Orange-copper color with a slight haze. Thick, soft, light tan head.
- Texture: Medium- to full-bodied, soft and bubbly.
- Taste: A spicy-hoppiness with a firm biscuit and malty backbone.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Medium, firm, spiciness; with some dryness. The blended hoppiness and biscuit tones of the malt make for a complex ending.
Glassware: The Willi Becher works well for Grade 10 because it focuses the light malt and hop aroma under the nose while showing off the beer's orange-copper color.
Pairs well with: Grade 10 is a good beer for mildly spicy entrees. It doesn't offer huge hoppiness, but enough to go well with dishes with some modest heat, especially Thai cuisine. When pairing with cheese, try it with a mild blue or well-aged cheddar.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Tom Porter has created a nice drinkable IPA in Grade 10. It's firmly bitter, while soft on the palate, and is interesting in the way it merges hop and malt flavors. The hoppiness may come off as understated, especially if you're looking for loud and bold bitterness. But this beer is most intriguing for its blend of experimental new hop varieties. I admit, I'm guilty of asking to the point of pestering Tom Porter (and other brewers too) about what's new, and what does he have that I haven't tasted before? So, I was naturally drawn to Grade 10 when Porter started talking-up how he was planning to use test-plot hops so new they don't even have names.
Grade 10 is simply a pleasant hoppy India Pale Ale, and a memorable addition to Lake Louie's Hop-A-Louie series of bitter brews. This beer's bitterness isn't in-your-face, and while its strength needs some respect at 6% ABV, it's not overwhelming like some IPAs. It is more reserved than Bunny Green Toe and Kiss the Lips, and is made with more sensitivity to how hops can linger and stain the palate for anything that follows. Rather, Grade 10 offers an interesting complex blend of spicy hops with the firm biscuit-bready and caramel tones of the Canadian Harrington malt. Altogether, it makes for a slightly milder yet still very flavorful IPA.