Now that Madison Craft Beer Week has wrapped up, it's a good time to reflect on some of the beers that really stood out. There were a lot of collaborative brews this year, with Madison brewmasters teaming up with each other and out-of-town breweries, and there's bound to be more next time around. The 10-day festival was an incredible showcase for new beers. Lakefront Brewery and its new double IPA named Johnson was one that left a mark on my hop-centric taste buds.
What is it? My Turn #008 Johnson Double India Pale Ale from Lakefront Brewery of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Style: The double IPA is also called an Imperial India Pale Ale, or IIPA. The style is an American creation, evolving from hop lovers' quest for bitterness and strength. These beers are most often medium- to full-bodied, and deep golden to reddish-amber in color. The style is known for a strong hop profile that features resiny, piney and/or citrus tones, depending upon the type of hops in the recipe. There should be some maltiness, which adds a spicy and warm complexity to a flavor profile, but it should be clean and not dominate the overall flavor. The finish will often have alcoholic warmth attributed to an ABV that ranges from 7.5-10%.
Background: Johnson is the first double IPA brewed by Lakefront. It's the eighth release in the brewery's My Turn series, for which employees are given the opportunity to design a beer. This one was created by and named for Chris Johnson, Lakefront's director of business development.
The recipe for Johnson Double India Pale Ale features six different hops: Galaxy, Mosaic, Citra, Simcoe, Centennial and a new variety from New Zealand called Rakau, which has apricot and pine notes. "I was going for big tropical fruit flavor that is nice and clean," says Johnson.
Altogether, the beer is made with about 300 pounds of hops in a 100-barrel batch. The beer finishes at 70 IBUs and 8% ABV. "I want this beer to be drinkable, he explains. "I didn't what to shoot too much stronger than that."
Lakefront has only made one batch of Johnson so far, in part because hops like Galaxy and Mosaic are difficult to acquire. That's created a problem for the brewery because accounts wanted to purchase more of the beer than was available. "I've always wanted Lakefront to do a double IPA. It's the Holy Grail for the hopheads," Johnson adds.
This My Turn release marks Johnson's first turn designing and making beer. He's had plenty of experience in the craft beer industry, though. In the mid-1990s, he and his father owned the Treasure Coast Brewing Company in Stuart, Florida. For Madison Craft Beer Week, Johnson participated in a Lakefront Brewery tap takeover at Dexter's Pub last Saturday, and poured pints of his eponymous brew.
Johnson Double IPA is available in four-packs of 12-ounce bottles, which marks a change in packaging for the My Turn series. These releases were previously offered in single 22-ounce bomber bottles. Johnson says the change was a difficult decision for Lakefront because it had been packaging bombers for My Turn brews since 2011.
"Some of our beers are getting lost in the masses, so we decided to go to four-packs, which may get better shelf space," he says, but notes the 22-ounce format may return in the future. Four-packs of Johnson Double IPA sell for $8-$9.
Lakefront also just released another new beer, this one in six-packs. Its Extended Play India-Style Session Ale. It features five different hops and ends up with an estimated 38 IBUs and 4.2% ABV. Extended Play is the first new year-round six-pack from Lakefront in more than three years.
To keep up with demand for its beers, Lakefront has also announced plans to double its cold storage space, with $1.4 million of additions to its existing warehouse facilities. In 2013, the brewery increased production by 21% to nearly 40,500 barrels. Lakefront also continues to evaluate its options for building a second production brewery in the Menomonee Valley, located just south of downtown Milwaukee.
- Aroma: Assertive citrus.
- Appearance: Hazy, deep golden color with a medium, soft, white-to-tan head.
- Texture: Medium-to-full bodied.
- Taste: Firm tropical, grapefruit bitterness. A spicy-maltiness in the background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Grapefruit bitterness and a firm. dry finish.
Glassware: A heavy clear glass mug is great for any well-made double IPA. The thick handle allows the beer to slowly warm, and it is also a great way to show off the color.
Pairs well with: The bitterness of a double IPA is great for spicy dishes, especially Cajun or Indian cuisine. Don't be shy about hot entrees that will compete with the hops. It'll also go well with bleu cheeses and strong, well-aged cheddars.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Johnson Double IPA is all about the hops. Its nose is assertive, with a citrus aroma that hopheads will find inviting. The bitterness is solid, and it finishes dry with a hint of alcoholic warmth. This beer is not a huge hop-bomb, nor does it have the hot-astringency sensation from a high ABV like many double IPAs. Yet Johnson is strong at 8% ABV. I consider it among the more intriguing Wisconsin IIPAs to turn up in at at least the last couple of years. Johnson is a double IPA that made me want another.
I tasted Johnson Double India Pale on tap at Dexter's Pub during the Lakefront tap takeover on May 10, and then purchased a four-pack to enjoy at home. It is a limited release, so pick some up soon. It's best to appreciate this beer fresh, for the bright bitterness of its hop character. I really liked the tropical accents of grapefruit and orange, and I even got that light touch of apricot-fruitiness from the Rakau hops. And there's a malty backbone that lends a spicy sweetness in the middle part of the flavor.
Everthing comes together very well with bitterness, spicy-complexity and subtle warmth. Johnson is an exemplar of the double IPA style.