Back in February of this year, at about the time when most beer geeks were embroiled in endless discussion of what does and does not constitute a brewery’s “flagship,” I started thinking about Chicago’s Half Acre Beer Co.
Half Acre has been one of my favorite breweries for a long time. They were part of Chicago’s “second wave” craft beer boom in the late 2000s, opening in the same time frame as the contemporaries to which they’ll always be compared, such as the very successful Revolution Brewing. Not every brewery of that era made it to today, but the cream undoubtedly rose to the top, and the original Half Acre tasting room became my favorite place to visit whenever I was in the city. In particular, no one in Chicago was doing hoppy beer styles with more verve or panache than Half Acre in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
Much of the brewery’s growth, though, was on the back of its flagship pale ale, Daisy Cutter, rather than what might be more expected for a brewery with a mastery over hops—a full-on IPA. Part of that was due to Daisy Cutter’s assertiveness—it was one of those pale ales that stretched the boundaries of the style in the direction of IPA to begin with. But with that said, Half Acre did produce IPAs very often—just never a year-round variety. Memorably, there was “Heyoka” IPA, which won a silver medal at GABF back in 2013, declaring Half Acre as an ascendant craft brewery in the competition’s most hotly contested category. But then things got confusing—members of the native American Lakota people contested the use of the name, which led to the beer becoming “Senita.” But that name didn’t stick either, leading to the third and final iteration of the beer, which is “Goneaway.” Did it steal a little bit of the beer’s thunder? Perhaps, but even though Goneaway was never year-round, most drinkers probably felt it was the closest thing to a year-round IPA for Half Acre, even when it was alternating with other IPAs such as Half Acre’s Vallejo.
Now, though, it would seem the time has finally come for a proper coronation. More than a decade after they started brewing, Half Acre has hit upon an IPA recipe they feel is worthy of full-time status. That beer is the brand-new Bodem IPA.
And to be perfectly honest … I was actually a little concerned, after reading some quotes from head brewer Matt Gallagher, describing Bodem. In a piece with the Chicago Tribune, Gallagher describes the beer as “a response to where drinkers are” right now, seeming to suggest that the brewery was perhaps altering its house style or philosophy to cater to drinkers who now tend to be overwhelmingly chasing after dense, chewy, sweet, positively desserty IPAs. This was concerning, to say the least, as Half Acre has remained one of the best producers of drier, clearer IPAs in recent years—in fact, their clear Beer Hates Astronauts IPA finished at #15 out of 324 IPAs when we last blind-tasted the style, one of only a handful of non-hazy IPAs to crack the top 25. To read Gallagher say “Honestly, we were looking for something sweeter and more full,” I worried that Half Acre would become the latest in a series of great hoppy breweries attempting to replicate a style that not everyone can/should be trying to produce.
I will fully admit, then, that after tasting Bodem, it’s clear I was wrong to doubt. I should have paid more attention when Gallagher stressed that Bodem IPA was still “rooted in how we do things,” because the beer is a clear expression of the balance and hoppy clarity that has always made Half Acre a great brewer of pale ales and IPAs. Its label contains the words “in the past” and “in the future” for a reason—it is a true stylistic middle ground, and very fun to drink.
I suppose this is the part where we should do an actual beer review, right?
In the glass, Bodem pours mostly clear, which just a bit of chill haze and a rich, golden hue. On the nose, the immediate impression is sticky hop resin, chased by light, peachy stone fruit and hints of biscuity malt. Truth be told, it’s not the most expressive IPA nose I’ve had recently, but I think my can may have been a bit cold. This was one beer that increasingly came to life as it began to warm.
On the palate, my fears of an overly sweet IPA were immediately put to rest. In fact, this is pretty darn dry overall—most breweries making modern hazy IPA don’t produce a single beer with this little residual sugar. So yes, Gallagher was speaking in relative terms when he said “something sweeter,” because Bodem retains only a hint of sweetness to amplify its fruity flavors. Here, I again get plenty of resinous notes that play well (and in a familiar, although almost novel once again way) with moderate bitterness, before segueing into increasingly big and juicy flavors of peach, tropical fruit (mango?) and lime zest. This is a truly “balanced” IPA, in the sense that the malt hasn’t been made a total afterthought: There’s actually a bit of light caramel and something like tea biscuits, which are present just enough to keep the beer from being one-dimensional. As it warms, more juicy tropical fruit (passionfruit) and peach are drawn out, but it never loses its relatively dry, resinous, bitter finish.
Bodem is, then, the sort of thing you’d expect in a true meeting and equal fusion between classic West Coast IPA and modern, tropical, juicy (but not necessarily hazy) IPA. It’s not a true paradigm shift from other Half Acre IPAs such as Goneaway and Vallejo, but more of a sidle in the direction that IPA has been headed. It absolutely does retain the same qualities that first made Half Acre a favorite brewery back in the late 2000s, while setting the brand up nicely for the future.
Now, can we talk about 12 oz. cans? Let’s make it happen.
Brewery: Half Acre Beer Co.
City: Chicago, IL
Style: American IPA
Availability: YEAR ROUND (emphasis is my own), 16 oz. cans
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer guru. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.