Paste's IPA Challenge Final Four Spotlight: Bell's Two Hearted Ale

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This week, we’re profiling the Final Four beers in Paste’s Top of the Hops IPA Challenge. Today we look at the Northeast bracket, where Bell’s Two Hearted Ale defeated Lakefront IPA 5-2. (For the rest of our IPA Challenge coverage, click here.)

We talked to Laura Bell—co-owner/director of marketing for the Kalamazoo, Mich. brewery and daughter of founder Larry Bell, about the history of the beer. “Two Hearted was a beer my dad experimented with in the ‘90s with English grain and Wisconsin hops, but those aren’t particularly good so he stopped making it. When the brewers experimented with the Centennial hops, we decided to keep the name.”

When Bell’s released Two Hearted Ale commercially in 2000, “a 7% dry-hopped IPA was not a common beer.” Using one single style of hops, Centennial, Bell’s quickly became the standard by which many other new IPAs strove to follow and proved that you could make a great IPA east of the Mississippi.

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“I think the Midwest has a great finesse for balance in IPAs,” Bell says. “The West Coast tends to put the bitterness upfront. Two Hearted looks outside of the hops for other characteristics. It’s not just about having the assaulting bitterness on your tongue. I want to be able to drink and IPA and say, ‘I’ll have another one.’”

The Centennial hop has been around since the mid 1970s, but wasn’t widely used when Bell’s decided to make it the sole varietal in Two Hearted. “I think Centennial has these very piney, grapefruit and floral flavors and aromatic qualities.”

What began as a supply store for home brewers has grown into one of the Midwest’s most celebrated breweries. “Each region has its own terroir about it,” Bell says. “We’re the oldest craft brewery east of Colorado. My dad just did his own thing and it stuck.”

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Here’s the updated Top of the Hops bracket (Click to enlarge):

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