Have you made your holiday plans yet? August 1 is the third annual IPA Day, as recognized by various beer enthusiast groups, including the Brewers Association. It started in 2011 as a day to unify hop-heads in their universal pursuit of better bitters. While there are certainly many good Wisconsin-made IPAs to choose from, I'm planning to celebrate with Really Cool Waterslides, the flagship brew from 3 Sheeps.
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 style emerged in the 1700s when British brewers found that using a large amount of hops would help preserve beer during long sea voyages.
Background: After years of homebrewing, Grant Pauly opened 3 Sheeps Brewing Company in April 2012. Since then he's been offering draft products and started sending bottled beers to Madison earlier this year. Really Cool Waterslides was the first to be offered in six-packs, and it has since become the brewery's best-selling bottled beer.
The name Really Cool Waterslides might seem a little odd. As you might suspect, however, there's a story behind it. When he was younger, Pauly's favorite T-shirt showed a small gnome-like character looking at a signpost with the options of fame and fortune or "really cool waterslides." In 2011, when he left the family concrete business in Kiel, Wisconsin, to launch his brewery, Pauly faced his own crossroads -- and the path he chose inspired the name of his first commercial brew.
Really Cool Waterlides shows off Columbus, Cascades and Zythos hops. Both Columbus and Cascades are well-known for their bitter flavor citrus-like qualities. Zythos is a blended hop that brewers especially like for its assertive aroma. All three are used in the main brewing stages, and again in dry hopping, which punches up the aromatics even more.
"This is the only beer that transitioned with me from my homebrewing recipes," says Pauly. The IPA style, which can be intensely bitter, has a tremendous following among craft beer aficionados. At last year's Great American Beer Festival, it was the most-entered category in competitively judged beers. "I wanted to make sure people know they are drinking an IPA with this beer, but my one parameter for an IPA is that I don't want to overdo it," says Pauly. "I don't want to taste the bitterness after I brush my teeth." Really Cool Waterslides finishes at 6.2% ABV and 60 IBUs. It sells for around $9-$10 per six-pack.
Also coming up next month, 3 Sheeps will introduce the first of its limited seasonal release beers in four-packs. Pauly is planning an Imperial IPA named First Kiss that's strong, with over 8% ABV and an estimated bitterness at 110 IBUs. It's likely a few Madison tap houses will offer it on draught before bottles appear on local store shelves; it's already available at the Malt House.
Despite operating for such a short time, 3 Sheeps is already involved in a major expansion of its brewhouse. The brewery just added new fermentation and bright tanks, which could increase its annual barrelage to 8,000 barrels, four times larger than its present capacity. Earlier this week, the building that houses 3 Sheeps had part of its roof removed so the six tanks could be lowered into place using a crane. One of Sheboygan's busiest streets, North 14th, had to be blocked off while the tanks were hoisted nearly four stories into the air.
- Aroma: Firm, assertive citrus-hoppiness.
- Appearance: Clear, orange-copper color. A medium, soft, light-tan head.
- Texture: Medium bodied and bubbly.
- Taste: Firm citrus tones throughout. A malty background adds some caramel tones and body, but the hops remain the beer's signature.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The hops linger, with a light grapefruit type of bitter dryness.
Glassware: The Willi Becher is a nice glass for Really Cool Waterslides. Even though this IPA has a strong hoppy nose, this type of glass always works well when you want to focus the hoppy aroma under the nose while showing off the bright orange-copper color.
Pairs well with: The IPA is a style that goes great with spicy foods, so find an entrée with some heat to compete with its bitterness. If you enjoy cheese pairings, try it with one that's semi-hard with assertive flavor. Sharp cheddar and mild blue cheese should go well.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Really Cool Waterslides has the assertive bitterness you expect from Cascades and Columbus hops. IPA fans will find it above average, but perhaps a little reserved. I was looking for more sharp-crispness to the citrus and grapefruit tones, which seem tempered by the malty-caramel flavors in the background. However, the bitterness still wins in the end. It's a very nice hoppy beer, one I plan to have around for IPA Day on Thursday, August 1. Follow along the celebrations at #IPAday!