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Monday, March 2, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 25.0° F  Overcast
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Beer Here: Furious River IPA from the Great Dane

Credit:Kristian Knutsen

If you like hoppy beers, this is your time of year. From now through October is when hops are harvested, so you can expect an onslaught of bitter pale ales and IPAs. Some brewers will go to great lengths to use fresh and whole leaf hops while making beer. The Great Dane is out with an early entry, an IPA named Furious River. Brewer Michael Fay took the season seriously and used whole-leaf hops to achieve an assertive level of bitterness.

What is it? Furious River IPA from the Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company of Madison, Wisconsin.

Style: The India Pale Ale (IPA) emphasizes the bitterness of hops, which provide herbal, citrus and piney character to both aroma and flavor. IPAs are medium-bodied and often golden- to copper-colored. They range from 5.5% to 7.5% ABV.

The flowers, or cones, are the part of the hop plant that is used when brewing to lend aroma and bitter flavor to beer. Brewers typically use hops that have been ground and then pelletized. In that form, they are more stable and predictable in their level of bitterness. But beer can also be made with fresh hops, picked directly from the field and used in the brewing process as soon as possible thereafter. The product of this approach is known as a wet hop beer, and has its own distinct type of flavor. Additionally, dried whole-leaf hops can be used while brewing, which give the beer another twist on bitterness. Furious River is made with whole-leaf hops, but is not of the "wet" variety, a subtle but important distinction.

Background: "It's a furious river of hop flavor going down your throat," says Fay about how he came up with the beer's name. Furious River is made with Amarillo and Cascade hops. Almost all of the hops that go into this beer are whole leaf, with nearly 32 pounds going into just one 10-barrel batch. That's twice the amount of hops used in the brewpub's hoppy Texas Speedbump IPA (a well-known beer among local hopheads).

"We don't get enough chance to use whole-leaf hops, so this was a fun beer to make," says Fay, who also used a process that involved a hopback, which is used as an infuser. He placed whole leaf hops in the hopback cylinder, then passed warm wort from the brew kettle through it, before it cooling and transferring the liquid to a fermenter. "It's a hot extraction of the hops, so you get more out of them," Fay explains. The result is more aroma and flavor from the hops.

Furious River IPA is a new beer for the Great Dane. While it was made and is still available at the downtown brewpub, over the last week it was also served at the the Dane's Hilldale and Fitchburg locations. This beer ferments for about 2-1/2 weeks and finishes at 6.5% ABV. It sells for $5/pint over the bar and $10/growler (refill).

On a side note, the Great Dane's Oktoberfest lager is scheduled to be released within a couple of weeks, and the brewpub's various locations will be offering a variety of German-inspired food specials for the occasion.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Assertive hops with just a light biscuit maltiness in the background.
  • Appearance: Hazy, copper color; with a medium, soft, tan head that becomes marbled.
  • Texture: Medium to full. There is a mild, firm, biscusty-maltiness in the background.
  • Taste: A solid hoppiness with a fresh, sharp, citrus bitterness.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Bitter and lingering dryness.

Glassware: The Willi Becher is the overall favorite glass for the IPA because its taper near the lip focuses the nose, and the tall glass shows off the color. However, the Great Dane serves Furious River in an English pint, which still works well since this beer has a lot of hop aroma to appreciate.

Pairs well with: Spicy dishes with heat make a nice companion to the sharp orange-citrus bitterness of the Amarillo hops in Furious River. This beer goes well with the Great Dane's spicy Buffalo Mac and Cheese, or its Pub Wings prepared the Asian BBQ or 3-alarm sauces.

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: Great Dane Furious River IPA has not received enough ratings to be evaluated at Beer Advocate or RateBeer.

The Verdict: Furious River IPA is a beer that has a hoppy bite without being too far over the top in bitterness. It allows you to appreciate what hops offer. More specifically, the beer has an assertive citrus bitterness, with strong orange and grapefruit tones that linger well beyond the average finish of most hoppy brews. There's also a nice touch of biscuit-maltiness in the background from the Maris Otter malt used in its recipe. The malty-bread and caramel tones give Furious River a unique character, something that is often missing in outright aggressive IPAs. But you might want to get to the downtown Great Dane soon. With only a single 10-barrel batch, this beer won't be around for long.

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