Friends! It’s only May 9th and you’ve already made this my best month ever! With a little extra love from Goose Island, it’s not only my best month, but I also breached 20,000 hits at sudsavant.blogspot.com. I’m feeling pretty good about things right now and with that in mind, today’s review will be for a brewery who also has quite a few things going for them. Today, I’ll be reviewing Great River’s Hop-A-Potamus. Don’t worry, if you haven’t heard of it. They’re a local brewer in Davenport, IA (just off the Arsenal Bridge, for those wishing to find it), but are enjoying a pretty good local distribution and really coming into their own with some unique, flavorful beers. Also they recently won a “Canny” Award at the first ever Cannys. The Cannys are “a competition that recognizes the high-quality, captivating graphics featured on craft beer in cans. Awards were presented during the Craft Brewers Conference, May 2-5 in San Diego, California.” (Source: craftcans.com)
The best part about Great River? Their craft brewing spirit. They’ve embraced cans. They collaborate like crazy with a local distillery, Mississippi River Distilling Co, to the point where both business have been out at local supermarkets giving out samples. They have a great presence at local festivals. They try creative things at their bar (“We have organic brown beer and vanilla beans? Throw ’em in the firkin!”). They seem to embody everything that is right about craft beer and I hope that attitude continues with their deserved success. The can for Hop-A-Potamus reads,
“Hop-A-Potamus is a double dark rye pale ale made with a ton of pale and six kinds of rye malt for a ‘full’ body. This double dark rye pale ale is fiercely hopped with a Northwest blend for a stampede of flavor and aroma. Beware: Hop-A-Potamus will charge if provoked! Hop-A-Potamus is not for the foolish for the faint of heart.”
With a description like that, who can wait? Let’s pour!
Aroma 10/12: I initially poured this beer a bit too cold and it changed the aroma completely. Initially, the hops and rye were fairly minimal but the sweet malt was bursting from the glass. The malt was so laden with caramelized sugars, I could’ve sworn it was an overripe banana. Really weird considering the style. The hops materialize soon enough and provide a light citrus and what could be a peppery spice, though that is likely from the rye. While the malts never fade away entirely, the rye becomes more noticeable in that earthy, slightly sour way that rye has about it. Thankfully, the sour of the rye helps to bring out those faint citrus hops.
Appearace 2/3: Simply sitting in the glass, this beer appears like a darkly stained cherry wood. Deep walnut browns and blacks abound, but not without ruby facets shining from time to time. When held to the light, the red shades become even more striking and allow for all sort of brown-red combinations like maroon and even magenta. The head was small, less than a finger, but appeared creamy, wet, and thick.
Flavor 18/20: A lot of earthy, yet not spicy, rye gets things started and quickly moves into a backbone that is quite reminiscent of the aroma. The sweetness returns in that uber-caramelized way that I swear reminds me of an over ripe, caramelized banana! Is there Belgian yeast in this?! Despite the sweetness, the beer remains remarkably crisp, and enjoys a faint, bright citrus note. An earthy note from the rye casts its shadow over the proceedings to bitter things up quite a bit (and add a moderate peppery spice), but only an occasional glimpse of hop resin is available from time to time. The finish is a strengthening of all the ingredients that would cause you to buy this beer in the first place. The hop resins bite at ya, the rye is earthy and bitter, the alcohol (9.0% ABV) even shows up a bit, and there’s a finish almost like mouth-watering, bitter, brown ale. Aftertastes are a reprise of the rye’s sour and a dark, lingering bitter down the back of the tongue.
Mouthfeel 5/5: I dig this. For a beer that claims to have 9% ABV (I believe it) and 99 IBUs (I am skeptical), this beer drinks like it has neither. It’s full-bodied (as advertised on the label) and offers a carbonation that is not aggressive enough to compliment or bring out a rye’s spiciness, but neither does it leave the beer feeling flat or syrupy. Keep in mind, not feeling syrupy is no easy task with he amounts of malt the brewers have crammed into this can. The warmth is all but invisible throughout the beer and two pints of this on an empty stomach will leave you laughing at all sorts of internet nonsense.
Overall Impression 8/10: This is a tasty beer, but I’m having a difficult time determining the borders after these worlds collide. On one side, you have a ton of malt (rye and pale). This results in a lot of sweetness, a great color, and a full body. Got it. However, if six kinds of rye malt are being used in this thing, I rather expect it to be insanely earthy, peppery with spice, and bitter like a custody battle. While I get lesser amounts of bitter and earth, the spice is all but absent. And on the OTHER hand, you have a pale ale – traditionally, a biscuity.crackery tasting, dry, lightly hopped delight of a beer (pale ales are rapidly becoming one of my favorite styles). I’d venture that none of the pale ale characteristics remain. There is an abundance of sweetness in the malt, despite the rye’s attempt to bitter things up, and… OK, I guess I can see how some folks could argue this an “imperial” version of a pale ale. Abundance of (attempted) dry malts up front and a nice hop presence behind. However, if that argument IS to be made, then the malts up front need to be made even more dry and crisp (the hallmark of a great pale ale) with the rye, and the hop presence at the end could be made even stronger.
Total 43/50: I can nitpick all I want, but in the end this is a damn tasty beer. Big, earthy, with high marks in the technical categories, and a well hidden ABV, this beer is one I would encourage more locals to buy if it was available. This beer sold quickly once it hit the shelves. It truly is a unique beer and I have trouble measuring it against other styles… but I’ll try anyway. It’s not as rye heavy as Sierra Nevada’s Ruthless Rye, but then again it’s also trying to blend in the pale ale style. It’s much more bitter than a good pale ale (like, say, Three Floyds Alpha King), but lacks some of the hop intensity one might expect give the abundance of malt (and the high IBUs). This review was written on my last two 16 oz cans, but I happened to find a lonely 4-pack in the back of a grocery store cooler. Huzzah! If you’re planning a visit to the Quad Cities, make sure that Great River is on your list. They completely understand the craft beer vibe and they make some damn good beer to boot. Cheers Great River! Keep up the great work.
Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!