IPAs and More IPAs: Bell's Two-Hearted Ale

I must be living right, because across the street from me resides a beer fairy. Periodically, he'll leave a bottle on the porch--generally of something unavailable in Portland. Last week, he left me a beer I've been trying to track down for weeks: Bell's Two Hearted Ale.

Two Hearted Ale is a legitimately legendary beer--though like all the early IPAs, the light of its fame shines a little less brightly amid all the newer ones. As far as I know, it's never been distributed out west; all these years people have spoken about it the way kids arriving back from Disneyland used to describe it to us lost souls who had never been. The beer is named for a famous story by Hemingway in the Nick Adams series. Returning from WWII first world war, Nick takes refuge in the Two Hearted River as a way to heal his wounded psyche. One couldn't help but wonder whether Bell's thought the beer contained similar properties--the legend seemed to suggest it. Naturally, I expected it to fall short of expectations--no beer could meet them--but I was still hoping to find a great beer.

Tasting Notes
I had an interesting experience with the aroma. When the beer was freshly-poured, it let off a spritzy, effervescent citrus smell, but it was volatile. Moments later, the aroma softened as it warmed and caramel malt emerged. It has the classic West Coast appearance--cloudy yellow with a sticky off-white head.

The flavor deviates from West Coast beers thanks to the hopping--peppery and sharp, with an herbal/medicinal quality. The body is creamy and the malts are pure caramel--a nice balance for the hops. There's a minerally sharp note whose source I can't identify, but which provides a bit of interest. Of course, as with any IPA, it's the hops that make the beer. In Two Hearted Ale, they're robust but slightly indistinct--stewed rather than bristling with, pardon the pun, bell-like clarity.

I've generally been disappointed with Midwest and East Coast IPAs. It's not that they're less assertive or bitter, but they seem to be less lively, less vital. Two-hearted Ale concedes nothing in this respect, though its character is quite a bit different. The hopping gives it a completely different quality. This is good--regional character is something to celebrate. I wouldn't call it the best IPA I've ever had, nor did I notice any appreciable healing (my sciatica was still there). But it deserves its reputation and is perhaps the best IPA East of the Mississippi. As my dad would say, that's better than a poke in the ass with a broken beer bottle.