Central Waters is lighting up the summer scene with a new brew made especially for those who enjoy extreme bitterness in their beer. Illumination is the latest from the Amherst-based brewery, offering a forceful bitterness that lives up to the title of "hop bomb." It'll challenge beer drinkers who love brews with resiny and piney flavors that completely take over and don't let go of the taste buds.
What is it? Illumination Double IPA from Central Waters Brewing Company of Amherst, Wis.
Style: The Double IPA, or Imperial IPA, has the bitterness of the India Pale Ale and more. While the Double IPA emphasizes bitterness, there should still be some malty sweetness that adds spicy complexity to the flavor. That's because these are big beers in flavor and alcohol from all the malt and hops that go into making them. The finish should indeed have warmth from that high alcohol level, which often ranges above 6% ABV. The Double IPA is an American spin on the British IPA, and it's a style that has evolved to satisfy those who enjoy an intense bitterness.
Background: Illumination is made with four different types of hops, and large amounts get added during a dry hopping process, giving it a distinctive aroma and a bitter finish. Central Waters co-owner and brewmaster Anello Mollica calls this the hoppiest beer his brewery has made to date, coming in at 108 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). In contrast, most beer styles are less than 35 IBUs.
"Madison is a pretty big hop town," Mollica says. With the beer's introduction this summer, its popularity has taken Mollica and brewery staff a little by surprise, with more pre-orders than they could fill from the 90 barrels of Illumination they started releasing a few weeks ago. The beer is expected to be available through July, but once it's gone, it won't be back in local stores until next summer. Illumination joins the rest of the seasonal four-pack series made by Central Waters. It sells for $11-$12. The beer finishes at about 9% ABV.
Central Waters is planning to release more small-batch brews in the months ahead. Look for a hoppy wheat ale that's still in development to arrive in August. "Special releases make it fun for us because we're not brewing the same beer all the time, and it's interesting for customers who are always looking for something new," says Mollica.
- Aroma: Aggressive resiny-piney nose.
- Appearance: Clear, golden-copper with a thick, soft, tan head.
- Texture: Full-bodied. Warmth comes in early and doesn't leave.
- Taste: Strong; hoppiness from beginning to end.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The bitterness continues to linger; some spicy qualities, but a strong piney flavor dominates.
Glassware: With such a strong hop-based personality, Illumination is best sipped. It's not a guzzling type of brew. A thick, glass "schooner" style of mug with a heavy handle seems ideally suited to accentuate its hearty, if not raw, bitterness while showing off the color and keeping the beer cold -- so it can be slowly appreciated.
Pairs well with: Illumination is a difficult beer to match with food because it's so hoppy. Find a favorite food with spicy heat like a pizza or an Asian cuisine that has lots of hot curry. Try cutting up bite-sized nibbles of pepper jack or a well-aged and very sharp cheddar to match Illumination.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Central Waters has made an intensely hoppy beer with Illumination. While I found the beer distinctive for its eye-opening bitterness, it was a bit over-the-top, without the complexity of malty spiciness that I was expecting in the Double IPA style. For those who enjoy Double IPAs, Illumination is strong with a clean, hoppy intensity. In comparison, other local beers like Ale Asylum's Satisfaction Jacksin and O'so's Lupulin Maximus seem to have more complexity with more malty underpinnings. That doesn't make Central Waters a bad beer, just different in those respects. If you are one of those who really like alpha acids from hops, pick up a four-pack and do your own comparison.
You'll want to taste Illumination as fresh as possible to get the full effect of the hops. It is most assertive immediately from the store, so drink it as soon as you buy it, and don't think about aging it. I, however, have tucked a couple bottles back in my fridge in hopes that it'll mellow and I'll find touches of spicy complexity.