The Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co. in Fitchburg is just a hop, skip and a jump away for most in Madison and Dane County. So it'll be easy to check out a beer called Hopscotch. Pat Keller, brewer at the Fitchburg location, put this beer on tap in early October. Hopscotch offers some big malty flavor, much like the current offering of fall Oktoberfests, only it has an assertive, bitter personality, making for a taste that you shouldn't, well, skip.
What is it? Hopscotch from the Great Dane-Fitchburg.
Style: Hopscotch is a hoppy version of the Great Dane's popular Stone of Scone Scotch Ale. The Scotch Ale style is a strong ale also known as the "Wee Heavy." It is characterized by deep malty aroma and taste. Peaty, earthy or smoky tones are not uncommon in the aroma and finish. Traditionally this style featured malt that had be roasted or dried by burning peat, which imparts a smoky quality to the grain. The alcohol content can be quite high, ranging from 6.5% to 10% by volume.
Background: Pat Keller says Hopscotch features about a pound of cascade hops per barrel of beer. By comparison, the Stone of Scone Scotch Ale, which makes up the base beer, takes only about a fifth that amount. Cascade hops are commonly used for their versatility in producing both bitter flavor and hop aroma. Hopscotch also gets a lingering dry finish from a dry-hopping, where hops are added directly to the fermenter. This beer is only available at the Great Dane's Fitchburg brewpub, where it sells for $5/pint and $10/growler (refill). The beer ends up at around 6.8% ABV.
- Aroma: A firm malty nose, with a light aromatic hint of hops.
- Appearance: Clear, rich bronze color and a thick marbled tan head.
- Texture: Full-bodied and soft.
- Taste: There is an initial caramel maltiness upfront, with a resiny hoppy background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The dry bitterness builds over the course of a pint.
Glassware: The Great Dane will serve Hopscotch in the common British pint glass. However, for a beer like this, I'm a fan of a dimpled mug with thick glass and a large handle. Such a mug will add to the big-beer perception by accentuating the beer's deep bronze color, thick head and, eventually, the overall taste experience.
Pairs well with: The upfront caramel maltiness of Hopscotch really cries out for a burger. On a recent trip to the Dane to try this beer, I found the San Antonio Sirloin Burger a worthy companion. The beer's caramel tones blended nicely with the burger's grilled onion and cheddar cheese, while the hoppy finish cut through the bacon and spicy jalapeño mayo.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Hopscotch seems to have multiple personalities, because there are phases to its flavor profile. It begins with a solid maltiness, but transitions to a dry finish that lingers and builds over the enjoyment of a pint. There's certainly no fault in that, because it's what Pat Keller set out to achieve. It makes for an interesting and tasty beer. I do think that a little more conditioning time might soften and round out the light graininess that seems to be part of the malty body of flavor. However, that punctuated dry finish left me with a smile as I reminisced about the starts and stops of skipping, jumping and balancing required in my youthful days of playing hopscotch on the sidewalk -- obviously, not a game for anyone actually drinking Hopscotch.