One Barrel Brewing Company
One Barrel Brewing opened in the summer of 2012.
"A little beer would suit me better, if it's all the same to you my good sir."
- Balin to Bilbo Baggins in "An Unexpected Party," chapter 1 of The Hobbit.
The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien has undoubtedly captured the imaginations of many readers, particularly as they grow older after spending hours with the classic novel and its companion volumes. It was a childhood favorite for One Barrel Brewing owner Peter Gentry and brewer Dan Sherman, and is the inspiration for one of their most popular beers, Bilbo Baggins Black IPA.
Bilbo Baggins is the title character of the fantasy tale, a hobbit who embarks on an epic quest in the company of the wizard Gandalf and 13 dwarves. Their adventures set the stage for the immensely popular The Lord of the Rings saga and serve as gateway to the broader Tolkien legendarium. Both Gentry and Sherman are huge fans of the books and their cinematic adaptations.
"We are all movie fans, and have a lot of subtle nods to different films in our beer names," says Gentry. "Plus we're big fans of The Lord of The Rings. And, the beer is as black as what you'd imagine the bottom of a hobbit's foot to be."
Bilbo Baggins, the beer, happens to be among the most popular brews served at One Barrel. A dark and hoppy ale, it's a natural for both Middle-earth and Madison.
What is it? Bilbo Baggins Black IPA from One Barrel Brewing of Madison, Wisconsin.
Style: The American black ale is also called an India black ale or black India pale ale (or BIPA), as well as a Cascadian dark ale when most of the hops are American-grown Cascades. Some brewers resist calling these beers black IPAs, though, because of the contradiction in using both "black" and "pale" as descriptors. While the hops remain at the forefront, its color is that of a porter or stout, yet with a slightly lighter body. Known for medium to high hoppy bitterness in flavor and aroma, these beers have a moderate degree of caramel maltiness and a roasted but not burnt character. They commonly range from 6-7.5% ABV.
Background: Bilbo Baggins Black IPA debuted on tap at One Barrel in the autumn of 2012, and has since been a regular offering. "When it's not on tap, people ask about it -- a lot," says Dan Sherman, who figures he brews a batch about every other week.
As a BIPA -- the style name Sherman prefers because he says "bip-pa" is simply fun to utter -- Bilbo Baggins is a showcase for Citra hops, which are known for their musky-tropical and citrus bitterness. "I thought a citrusy, tropic flavor would be cool and different because it's not something you get very often in a dark beer," the brewer explains.
About one pound of Citra hops is used for every single barrel of the beer that's produced. The malts that Sherman selects are central to keeping the bitterness focused on the tropical flavors, as opposed to a burnt character that can come from highly roasted barleys. Specifically, he combines a de-bittered black malt with caramel and American two-row malts to make for a rich, deep black color without the roasted astringency found in some examples of the style.
While Bilbo Baggins is a hoppy beer, the unique malt bill really works to keep the tropical flavors of Citra hops as a central element of the flavor profile. "It's as if you close your eyes not knowing what to expect," says Sherman, "it becomes a crazy-flavored beer.”
The black IPA is an emerging style. It has risen to prominence over the last few years, riding the wave of hoppy beer appreciation among craft beer enthusiasts. These brews are a favorite for Sherman.
"I like that you can have the IPA characteristics with more complex and interesting maltiness than you get with traditional IPAs that are pale-golden," he says. "I especially like them in winter; they do the same things that a porter or stout does with warming from malt, then you get a lot more hop character."
Sherman says that he and Gentry started planning this beer a few years back. "It was when black IPAs first started hitting the scene. I tasted Black Top from New Glarus, and I basically said I have to try my hand at one of these," notes Sherman.
While many of the house beers at One Barrel began as a small home-brewed batches developed by Sherman or Gentry, Bilbo Baggins did not come about that way. It was an original recipe created and made in the brew house at 2001 Atwood Ave, and hasn't really changed since it was first created.
Bilbo Baggins finishes at 6.2% ABV and 69 IBUs. It sells over the bar at One Barrel Brewing for $5 per pint or $16 per growler refill. It's also often available on tap at the Star Bar and the Coopers Tavern.
One Barrel has released another brew with a Tolkien-inspired moniker: Brandywine Bridge, named for an important landmark on the eastern border of the Shire, the home of most hobbits. It's a barley wine aged in brandy barrels from Old Sugar Distillery.
J.R.R. Tolkien's tales of Middle-earth have come to the forefront of popular culture since the turn of the century due to the epic films created by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, starting with their Lord of the Rings trilogy in 2001-03, followed a decade later by another three films based on The Hobbit, with the concluding segment The Battle of the Five Armies released this month. For those curious about how Tolkien might feel about Bilbo Baggins Black IPA or any beer inspired by his tales, he was rather famously known for enjoying the drink. Perhaps that's why the hobbits he created have a love of ale, at home in their smials and at taverns like the Green Dragon in Bywater and the Prancing Pony in Bree.
- Aroma: A light hoppy-floral nose with light citrus tones.
- Appearance: Very dark, with a thick chocolate-brown soft head.
- Texture: Medium- to full-bodied, and round mouthfeel.
- Taste: A presence of chocolate-roasted maltiness in the beginning turns to a citrus-bitterness and eventually becomes dry.
Glassware: One Barrel serves Bilbo Baggins in a standard American pint glass. I prefer it in the Willi Becher to show off the beer's color while focusing the hoppy aromatics under the nose. For passionate Tolkien fans, in Middle-earth tradition, I suggest a dimpled mug with a copy of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings or even The Silmarillion in hand.
Pairs well with: The sharp roasted and bitter tones of Bilbo Baggins go well with grilled steaks and Mexican cuisine. For cheese, try it with brie or feta. For the best of all worlds, this is a go-to beer with a growler at home and a take-out Fetalicious pizza from Glass Nickel Pizza Company.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Bilbo Baggins is a well-made American black ale or BIPA -- whatever one prefers to call this brew, it's agreeably dark and hoppy. The Citra hops provide tropical bitterness, while the malts lend roasted sweetness but keep burnt flavors to a minimum. Its fresh hoppiness, citrus aroma and lingering dryness will appeal to those who enjoy IPAs. With One Barrel's high turnover, which results in new batches being brewed every couple of weeks, this beer always has crisp, fresh aromatics.
I don't consider Bilbo Baggins to be aggressively bitter, yet it's firmly hopped in the spirit of an IPA. The pleasant malty background makes it very enjoyable with balance and deep flavor. This brew is great for meals, because it can be assertive without the hops completely taking over the palate. It's also a good beer for those wanting to explore hop-centric American black ales, and worth comparing with others.
Food and cheer and song suit Bilbo Baggins. It's easy to tell why this beer is a hoppy favorite for regulars in the cozy confines of One Barrel.