One Drink Minimum: The Twin Cities IPA Face-off

My day job has me in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for the better part of two weeks. I haven’t had much time for brewing or for entertainment. So for this edition of One Drink Minimum, instead of pairing a beer with an entertainment event, I’m pairing two local IPAs in a comparative tasting and gluing them together with a robust meal of steak and pierogies at a local bar and grill.

The location of this northern face-off was the Edina Grill in Edina, Minnesota. The concierge at my hotel gave me two recommendations for local beer spots, and Edina Grill was one of them. He admitted there were bigger selections in town, but on my travel budget and the proximity to my location, this oldtown-diner-turned-hipster-hangout couldn’t be beat. And he specifically said: “Try their awesome pierogies”. The steak came nicely on the rare side of medium rare and was a little tough but not too bad. The horseradish sauce was tasty, not too rich or heavy, and made for a wonderful pairing with an IPA. The potato and cheese pierogies on the side were indeed awesome, and tasted divine in the steak drippings but were a little bland on their own. I ate around the haystack of crispy onions that topped the pierogies.

The beers I ordered were the two most ubiquitous local IPAs I can find on this trip: Surly Furious and Summit Sága. Furious, a 6.5-percenter from one of the jewels in the Twin Cities beer geek crown, has been around a while and has come highly recommended from locals for years. Sága, on the other hand, is a new brew for 2012 by Summit, a larger craft brewery with wider distribution. It weighed in at 6.4%.

Furious was first in my flight. The first mad-dog thing about this brew was the aroma. It was floral, herbal: not the usual grapefruit that one expects from American IPAs, and that’s a good thing. Don’t get me wrong – I love citrus notes in my hop aroma, but it’s becoming a little too conventional. The moment those little bubbles burst under my nose with a smell like winter in the Alps, Furious had my interest. The color was dark amber and clear, with a firm, persistent head. As I emptied the glass, the beer left behind the kind of lacing that any American homebrewer (or microbrewery) should envy.

The flavor was … well, let’s just say intense. It wasn’t too sweet, and definitely hop-forward, a little unbalanced. But I enjoyed it. It’s possible that the beer was mishandled somewhere along the line, but there were definitely some harsh resiny notes coming through. Not that I mind that in an IPA, especially one I’m pairing with spicy, creamy horseradish. And I dig resin, after all: I once put almost 31 AAUs of Warrior and Falconer’s Flight in an IPA with an FG of 1.009 – and that was just the early bittering additions. I should add that the mouthfeel was profoundly perfect, and really helped my enjoyment of this beer. While there wasn’t necessarily much sweet to balance out the hops, the body did.

On to Sága, which had a much more conventional citrus aroma than Furious. After the bold herbal punch in the face of the Furious, this one seemed positively mild by comparison, almost like a nicely dry hopped saison more than an IPA. The color was lighter, a bright tangerine but sparkling crystal clear.

The flavor was more easygoing as well. This is a very refreshing and approachable IPA from Summit, and I can see why many guys down the bar from me were ordering it without thinking twice. It’s a great easy drinker for the summer, although it was slightly more overpowered than the horseradish. This one was sadly a little lacking in body, though; it slipped away from my palate way too soon, leaving me refreshed but wanting more.

All in all, I preferred Furious more, which didn’t surprise me. It just had more of what I want out of a good American IPA. In the end, I find Sága a little too close to Summit’s flagship American Pale Ale to really stand out. But although it might not be my favorite, kudos to Summit for turning a decent IPA with a respectable ABV into a popular gateway beer. I’m always on board with anything that gets people hooked on good beer.

With that said, I’m definitely looking forward to getting back to Austin later this week, and hopefully getting a new brew in the fermenter this Sunday. I’m leaning towards a spiced German hefeweizen for this weekend’s brew, something to get through the pipeline quickly and into the keg to make up for some lost brewing time. And after that, back to posting a little more regularly.

Until this weekend, prosit.


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About Shawn M

Writer, podcaster, blogger, and homebrewer in Austin, Texas.

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