Wisconsin Brewing Company
Wisconsin Brewing Company just celebrated its first year in business. Since opening last November, it has turned out nearly 15,000 barrels of beer, placing it among the state's top ten craft breweries by volume.
The brewery has carved out a niche in Wisconsin's ever-expanding craft market with a broad initial portfolio of styles that attract a broad swath of beer enthusiasts. Some of its success comes from appealing to fans of bitter beers, with the hoppy American IPA and lighter-bodied Session IPA among its first releases. Now the brewery is offering hopheads even more of what they're craving with a double IPA named psycHOPath.
Initially intended as a limited-release fall seasonal, psycHOPath is becoming a beer that's putting the Verona brewery on the map. "It's been our strongest beer out of the shot yet, we sold all of the first batch even before we had it packaged," says brewmaster Kirby Nelson.
Demand has been so strong that Nelson says he was compelled to make nearly three times the amount he originally planned. Given the initial response and the intense interest in strong hoppy beers everywhere, Wisconsin Brewing seems to be on to something here.
What is it? psycHOPath Intense Pale Ale from Wisconsin Brewing Company of Verona, Wisconsin.
Style: The imperial India pale ale, or IIPA, is also called a double IPA. The style is known for robust and even aggressive bitterness and strength. The double IPA is most often deep-golden to reddish-amber in color, with medium- to full-bodied mouthfeel. It's has 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 the flavor profile. The finish will often have alcoholic warmth, the result of a 7.5-10% ABV.
Background: psycHOPath is Kirby Nelson's hoppiest brew yet, which he describes as "a big IPA with a Midwestern 'let's have a little bit of balance.'"
As a brewmaster, Nelson has spent nearly three decades building a reputation for making lagers. Until helping found Wisconsin Brewing, hoppy beers were not something he even claimed to enjoy personally, so over the years he became known for his anti-hop sentiment.
"I bad-mouthed IPAs for two decades. One of the big surprises in my life is that I've been drinking a lot of this beer," Nelson says with a laugh.
Now at the helm of Wisconsin Brewing, Nelson is changing his attitude about hoppy beers. "Over the past six months, I've just gone out of my mind enjoying brewing and really settling into this place," he says.
That's certainly reflected in how Nelson is seriously chasing the trendy taste buds of craft beer enthusiasts who love all things bitter. His psycHOPath is a twist on a double IPA, which he describes not as an India pale ale but rather as an "Intense" pale ale. "I wanted to make a big IPA, our version of what a double IPA is all about," he says.
The beer does fall within the characteristics that one looks for in the intensely popular imperial IPA style, especially with its 80 IBUs. The bitterness comes from three types of hops: Columbus, Chinook and Cascade. Nelson chose those varieties because all three can be grown in Wisconsin, and over time he expects to use more locally harvested crops.
Nearly four pounds of hops go into each barrel of psycHOPath. "They are not the big stinky hops, they have more character and personality that comes out nicely in this beer," Nelson adds as a jab at those hung up on one-dimensional beers that are only about bitterness.
Nelson's brewing signature in nearly all of his beers is defined by how he uses malt for flavor, balance and body. With psycHOPath, a half-dozen different malts go into its making. Those provide slight hints of caramel and biscuit tones that when blended with hops lend a complex, spicy background, additional body and more alcoholic strength. So, psycHOPath lives up to what one might expect with one of Nelson's creations: a beer that isn't just about hops, even though they're still at the center of the show.
Halloween was the day psycHOPath was initially released, and that was by design. As Nelson was making the first full batch of it, he started adding sparge water, which is used to rinse the mashed grains to recover sugars and create wort. Due to the large amount of malts and hops that go into the beer, he had to recalculate the amount of water needed. Nelson says he was shocked when looking at the brew house's computerized control panel to see the screen indicated he needed 666 gallons of sparge water to make the beer!
"That said to me this beer had to be released on Halloween," he quips. "I pay attention to the gods."
There's a story accompanying the beer's name and label too. A friend of Nelson's provided an actual MRI image into which a hop cone was drawn into the center of the brain, providing an evocative representation of a "hop head."
This beer is labeled WBC #013, a reference for the sequence of beers that have been produced so far by Wisconsin Brewing, and an auspicious reminder of this particular brew's numerical legacy provided by the sparge water.
For those fortunate to attend Great Taste of the Midwest 2014, Nelson provided an early taste of a trial batch of psycHOPath. That beer was a little tamer in bitterness, and was made with only Chinook and Cascade hops. "I just didn't think it was psycho enough," explains Nelson. To create the current version, Nelson added Columbus hops and increased the bitterness while keeping the malt bill the same.
At 8% ABV, psycHOPath is strong; by comparison, the brewery's American IPA finishes at 7.1% ABV and an estimated 60 IBUs. This new "Intense Pale Ale" is found throughout Madison on tap and in six-packs that sell for around $8-9 each.
Looking ahead into the New Year, one of the beers to watch for from Wisconsin Brewing is a doppelbock that Nelson says is already fermenting in the tank. He plans to release it on draught only, sometime soon in the new year.
- Aroma: Hoppy, with a light citrus-spice aroma from primarily Cascade and Columbus hops.
- Appearance: Clear orange-copper, with a thick, soft, tan head.
- Texture: Medium- to full-bodied, with a sharpness that is accentuated by the hoppy-bitterness.
- Taste: A crisp assertive bitterness with hints of citrus-hoppiness and a touch of pepper-spice. There’s a firm, pleasant, malty backbone that lends bread-y flavor and body.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Hoppy and slightly dry. The firm bitterness combines with the malt to give it a complex and spicy finish. It's a finish that lingers on the palate.
Glassware: The Willi Becher, with its inward taper near the lip, will focus the nose, hold the head and show off the beer's clear golden color. That's the house glass in Wisconsin Brewing's taproom, and is well-selected.
Pairs well with: Assertive hoppiness can overwhelm many foods, especially if they are lighter fare, but psycHOPath will play nice with spicy dishes that have some heat of their own. It can also go well with salty cured meats like hams and sausages. In terms of cheeses, try it with sharp cheddar and strong bleu varieties.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Wisconsin Brewing is getting the attention of hop heads with psycHOPpath given its strong sales so far. Over-the-bar comments by staunch hoppy beer fans indicate that Nelson is getting their attention, and this is something they've been waiting to see him attempt to brew.
While its hops don't drill your tongue like some double IPAs, it packs a crisp, assertive bitterness. That's blended with a firm, malty backbone to create a lingering spicy warmth in the finish. Due to those malts, this beer is a little softer in body than some other double IPAs. It's an element that's comparable with the similar yet slightly more aggressive New Glarus Scream, which also debuted earlier this year.
While Kirby Nelson originally planned on psycHOPath being around just for the fall, it's sold so well he recently made an additional 700 barrels, and hints he may make even more. Going forward, it has the potential to join the brewery's year-round offerings.
Yes, psycHOPath is worthy of hop-heads' love. It's bitter, yet doesn't wreck the palate, and I give it credit for leaving my taste buds intact enough to enjoy another pint. Just keep in mind that at 8% ABV this isn't a beer to guzzle. I appreciate that it's straightforward, with an added malt dimension that lends almost a second personality to the flavor. I guess that makes psycHOPath an appropriate name.