Beer drinkers with a taste for seasonals might want to give attention to the increasing number of brews that turn up along with the fall harvest of hops and barley. Hops are commonly picked in late summer and early fall, so that means beers referred to as "fresh hopped" are arriving in brewpubs and on store shelves. One beer worth trying right now is Freedom Forward from the Grumpy Troll in Mount Horeb.
What is it? Freedom Forward from Grumpy Troll Restaurant and Brewery of Mount Horeb, Wis.
Style: Freedom Forward is an American India Pale Ale (IPA). The style is characterized by the use of American hops, and is often intensely bitter, with hints of fruity, floral and citrus tones to the hoppiness that are especially evident in the initial aroma and aftertaste of the beer. The American IPA is golden to deep copper colored, with medium-bodied mouthfeel. The style ranges from 6.3-7.5% ABV.
Background: Freedom Forward is made with Centennial Hops that are grown on Grump Troll brewmaster Mark Duchow's Little Wolf Hop farm in Green County. His American IPA's name is in tribute to the brewpub's primary IPA known as "Freedom" -- "Forward" is, of course, the state motto of Wisconsin. The name also seems appropriate given its upfront hoppiness.
The beer is also made with about 10% unmalted wheat from Door County. Freedom Forward takes about four weeks to age before it's ready to serve. Its alcohol content is 6% ABV, and it sells for $4.25/pint or $12/growler (refill). Duchow expects Freedom Forward to remain on tap at the Grumpy Troll into early December.
Duchow adds about 12-15 pounds of dried hops to each ten-barrel batch of beer. Earlier this fall, he put out a call to his friends for harvesting help. "The key to keeping people happy while picking hops is a delicate balance of beer [and] labor," he says. As a reward, the brewmaster is making a few special batches of his own home brew just for this season's pickers.
Duchow hopes that within a year or two, his Little Wolf Hop farm will produce enough hops for other Grumpy Troll brews. He's has also created a spin-off business that uses the hops he grows for more than just beer. Duchow created Edward & Parry, with business partner Barbra Jones, to make hop-based products. So far they've released two different versions of hop-based soaps that you'll find in a number of gift shops and at The Soap Opera on State Street.
- Aroma: An assertive floral hoppiness.
- Appearance: Copper color with a medium, bubbly, tan head.
- Texture: Medium bodied and round mouthfeel.
- Taste: Firm hoppy presence upfront; a bitter resiny background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Hoppiness lingers with a distinctive earthy, grassy bitterness.
Glassware: The Grumpy Troll serves this in a common bar pint. There is enough hoppy nose to Freedom Forward that it'll stand up okay in such a glass. If you take home a growler, serve it in a glass with a slight inward flare to the lip so to focus the hoppy aroma under your nose.
Pairs well with: Freedom Forward goes well with moderately spicy entrees. Pair a pint with the brewpub's meatball sandwich, or take it a step further by adding a few jalapeno slices for some heat that will accentuate the distinctive dry bitterness of the beer.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Freedom Forward has a distinctive hoppy personality. The Centennial Hops offer an expected floral and citrus bitterness, while the home-grown and self-processed hops seem to lend a light grassy, if not woody, dryness to the beer. That earthy bitterness might be considered off-flavor for the style; however, since the hops are locally grown, it gives a unique charm to Freedom Forward. The beer isn't as sharp and as intensely bitter as IPA lovers crave, but this is one that will grow on you if you give it a chance.
Brewing with locally grown hops can be challenging. Mark Duchow had to construct a special dryer for them. In the future, he hopes he'll be able to pelletize them, which would add stability and more consistency in following recipes. But Freedom Forward is a good beer just as it is. I really like its aromatic qualities and the commitment to using locally grown ingredients. As Duchow gains further experience and confidence in his using his own home-grown hops, this beer will likely become even better.