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Monday, March 2, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Overcast
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Beer Here: Woodshed Oaked IPA from Vintage Brewing

Credit:Robin Shepard

There are quite a few good IPAs to be found around Madison. The best ones are distinguished by more than just intensity in their bitterness, as the style can be so much more than just in-your-face hops. Vintage brewmaster Scott Manning has been making Woodshed since he opened the west-side brewpub in 2010. It's an India Pale Ale with elements of the traditional English approach but brewed with assertive U.S. hops. A touch of oak gives the beer depth, and separates it from the pack of merely bitter IPAs. Now Woodshed is lending its name to Vintage's new satellite tavern in Sauk City.

What is it? Woodshed Oaked IPA from Vintage Brewing Company of Madison, Wisconsin.

Style: The India Pale Ale emphasizes the bitterness of hops, which provide herbal, citrus and piney character to both aroma and flavor. English renditions often emphasize the herbal and floral hoppiness associated with U.K.-grown hop varieties. When all, or at least the majority, of the hops are U.S.-grown, the style often gets the "American IPA" distinction. The bold, assertive American hops often give these IPAs strong citrus and resiny bitterness.

Overall, IPAs are medium-bodied, and golden- to copper-colored. They may range from 5.5% to 7.5% ABV. Their level of bitterness commonly falls between 40-70 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). In contrast, standard big-brewery American Pilsners are 25-40 IBUs.

Background: Woodshed IPA is considered Vintage's flagship beer and is its best-selling brew. It's somewhat of a hybrid IPA, falling between the English and American variants due to its diversity of hops, which include the England-native First Goldings and Fuggles along with Centennial and Columbus from this side of the pond. The beer's light woody accent comes from oak chips that are added to the kettle during the brewing process, which also lend hints of vanilla. The practice of using wood chips is something Manning developed while he was regional brewmaster for BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse, a brewpub chain located primarily in the western U.S.

Vintage Woodshed finishes at 6.5% ABV with an estimated 65 IBUs. At the west-side brewpub it sells for $4.50/glass, and $10/growler (refill). It is also served by the pint at the downtown Vintage Spirits & Grill at 529 University Ave.

Manning chose the name "Woodshed" because he liked the multiple meanings of the term. In the world of music it means to practice intensively, in private, and to hone your skills. On the other hand, "taken to the woodshed" has a completely different meaning.

Manning and many of the same partners who are involved in Vintage Brewing are getting ready to open Woodshed Ale House. Located at 101 Jackson St. in Sauk City, it's at the site of a tavern locals had known as Jimmy's for over 20 years. Manning and his partners signed a lease for the building a few months ago. They've been busy this fall remodeling and updating the interior, and are hoping to open later this fall. But Woodshed Ale House is not intended to be another Vintage Brewing, says Manning. "It'll have its own rustic, casual, approachable feel," he says.

As for the beers to be served the Woodshed Ale House, Manning's Woodshed IPA will be an obvious signature brew. The Sauk City tavern will not have its own brewing operation, but Manning will use his Vintage brewhouse to make special brews for its taps. He'll also serve a wide range of craft beers and a few Vintage brewing standards that include a golden lager, coffee stout and rye pale ale. "It'll be interesting to see what people want from us and what we can develop just for them," says Manning.

Manning is currently brewing the first house beer for Woodshed Ale House. Named "Sauk Hop," it's an American pale ale and features all locally harvested hops (Cascade, Nugget and Mount Hood) grown on a farm just outside Sauk City.

Located just across the Wisconsin River from the northwest corner of Dane County, Sauk City is also the location of a new facility for Capital Brewery. This new operation, currently under construction, is expected to have an initial capacity of around 100,000 barrels, and is scheduled to open next summer.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Light floral hoppiness.
  • Appearance: Rich copper color. Slightly hazy. A thick bubbly, tan head.
  • Texture: Medium bodied, with a round mouthfeel.
  • Taste: There's a solid bitterness from the American (Centennial and Columbus) hops, which also give a sharp, crisp citrus flavor.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: The English First Goldings and Fuggle hops offer mild spicy bitterness. There's also a light dryness, which goes well with hints of oakiness.

Glassware: Vintage serves Woodshed in the basic bar pint glass. When taking it home, serve it in the Willi Becher -- its inward flare to the lip offers a little more attention to the hoppy aromatics of the brew.

Pairs well with: From the Vintage menu, look for dishes with a little spice. One of the brewpub's wraps, such as its crispy buffalo chicken, or the buffalo chicken sandwich are good picks. Both have enough heat to complement the bitterness of the hops. However, a lot of spicy heat will distract from the hints of oak in the finish.

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: 81 (good) at BeerAdvocate and 87/71 (overall/style) at RateBeer.

The Verdict: Woodshed IPA is a firmly hopped beer with layers of bitterness that reflect both English and assertive American hops. It's a departure from just strongly bitter beers, those that leave little room for hoppy imagination. Woodshed also has a solid background from caramel and Maris Otter malts. And, just when you think it's done, along come the floral-spicy tones of the English hops that blend with the lightly dry, oaky-vanilla flavor of the wood chips, making for a memorable finish.

I like to think this is what those early traditional English IPAs, made for long sea voyages and shipped in oak barrels, may have tasted like. Woodshed isn't a beer dripping with the hoppy resins that some look for in an assertive IPA; it's more approachable and much more interesting because of its bitter, spicy and woody arrays of flavor.

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