Several years ago, I had a coworker who, to lighten the mood toward the end of a difficult meeting, would say, “If it were easy they’d call it beer.”
It’s a good saying because at a base level, beer is an escape, a release from the stresses of everyday life, something to be enjoyed.
What the phrase doesn’t capture is that beer has become increasingly complicated as brewers add fruit and lactose sugar to their IPAs and obscene amounts of chocolate, cinnamon, and actual marshmallows to their stouts. Even the most literate beer drinkers can’t be sure anymore that they’ll like what they’re ordering.
Which is why I have a renewed appreciation for a beer like Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. A family-owned brewery, Bell’s started making beer in Michigan more than 30 years ago. Bell’s now distributes to 40 states, and was recently ranked by the Brewers Association as the seventh-largest craft brewer in the country.
Two Hearted Ale is named for a river that drains into Lake Superior (there’s a picture of a brook trout on the label). The beer debuted in 1997, long before double dry-hopping and the haze craze. It’s an IPA, 7 percent alcohol by volume and brewed with just one hop, Centennial. For the past five years, it’s been the brewery’s best-selling beer.
On the surface, it might seem like Two Hearted would have a hard time catching on in Massachusetts (Bell’s started distributing here last June), home of Tree House, Trillium, and dozens of other breweries making of-the-moment IPAs that drip with flavors of mango and lychee.
But what Two Hearted lacks in novelty it makes up for in construction. This is a perfectly balanced beer, with rich notes of brown bread and caramel playing off the earthy, floral characteristics of the hops. It’s a beer that drinks like the ingredients belong together — heck, are even better together — a testament to equity and restraint and (old man voice) all the things we used to love about beer.
“There should be an essence of floral, there should be an essence of citrus, and a little bit of pine or resinous,” says John Mallett, Bell’s director of operations, who hand-picks specific plots of hops to go into the brew.
Two Hearted’s consistency, Mallett says, is part of its appeal.
“We love playing with beer, and we make different IPAs all the time,” says Mallett. “But we believe that the beer lover has a perception of what Two Hearted should taste like. If we made it the flavor of the month then we’d have to call it Flavor of the Month.”
He adds, with fondness in his voice, “It’s just such a pleasure to make that beer.”