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Beer Here: Hop Happy IPA from Milwaukee Brewing

Credit:Robin Shepard

Every now and then my first impressions of a beer make me wonder if the purchase was a good idea. But I'm too frugal to waste five bottles. And doesn't everyone deserve a second chance?

What is it? Hop Happy IPA from Milwaukee Brewing Company of Milwaukee, 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 do have a maltiness that contributes some body and background flavors, but the emphasis is clearly on bitterness. IPAs range from 5.5% to 7.5% ABV.

The IPA beer style emerged in the 1700s when British brewers found that using a large amount of hops would help preserve beer, especially during long sea voyages. When all or at least the majority of the hops used to make an IPA are varieties grown in the United States, as with Hop Happy, it's given the American IPA distinction.

Background: Hop Happy IPA from Milwaukee Brewing is a year-round beer. It's made with Columbus, Cascade and Fuggle hops that combine for a spicy citrus aroma. The malts include Munich and Caramel with a light addition of oats that give it more mouthfeel and body. Hop Happy finishes with 51 IBUs and 7.7 % ABV. It sells in six-packs for $8-$9.

For those who get into beer artwork, the various Milwaukee Brewing six-pack cartons often tell a story about the city's places and history. At first glance you might look past the cartoon-like depictions and crude yet colorful drawings. With the case of Hop Happy, the face of former two-term Milwaukee mayor George Walker is atop a roly-poly, muffler-wearing ice skater. Walker served as mayor in 1851 and 1853, and is considered one of the city's founding fathers. His name is associated with today's Walker's Point, a neighborhood that lies just south of the downtown in the eastern part of the Menomonee River Valley. He was an early promoter of Milwaukee's railroads and behind the building of the city's first street car line. Walker was known for his jovial nature, and was an avid ice skater. And, at some 350 pounds, portly. On the end of carton is the face of Christine "Boo" Wisniewski, the brewer who created Hop Happy IPA.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Spicy and citrusy.
  • Appearance: Cloudy copper-amber body with a thick, bubbly, tan head.
  • Texture: Full-bodied and bubbly.
  • Taste: A spicy and resiny bitterness with a mild but firm malty background.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: The maltiness turns a little earthy, with a light fruity accent and just a hint of burntness or over-roastedness. However, the spicy bitterness is really what the finish is all about.

Glassware: The basic bar pint or a narrow clear mug will show off the color and the thick tan head.

Pairs well with: The spicy and citrus notes from the hops match well with modestly spicy-hot dishes and well-aged cheeses. It is very nice with Sartori Reserve Black Peppered Bellavitano.

Rating: Two Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: Not enough rankings to be evaluated at BeerAdvocate and 64/33 (overall/style) at RateBeer. Draft Magazine gives it an 89 (very good).

The Verdict: I wasn't a fan of Hop Happy IPA the first time I drank it, because it came off weak, thin and sour. That could have been for a number of reasons, if you think about what bottled beer goes through before it finds its way to the home refrigerator. I found the second bottle to be much more flavorful, and the beer grew on me... some. I'm glad I gave it another chance.

Hop Happy is a respectable IPA. However, it doesn't have the level of bitterness I was expecting with the brewery's description of 51 IBUs. There is also a distracting sour fruitiness in the background, different from the citrus type of fruitiness from hops. On the more positive side, I like its hazy copper color and the full-bodied mouthfeel from the addition of oats. And there's a lingering resiny-bitterness that blends with the warmth of its 7%-plus alcohol, giving it a spicy, zesty and distinctive personality for a beer.

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