With so many breweries, new beers and new takes on old styles, beer drinkers’ palates become more refined.
The styles and brands that I loved 20, 10 and even five years ago aren’t necessarily my go-to beers any more. Beers that were cutting edge five years ago might not be so any more.
Just after New Holland Brewing’s announcement that it would begin using more Michigan products in its beer, the company has announced its reimagined flagship India Pale Ale, Mad Hatter Midwest IPA (7 percent ABV, IBUs 55), which will hit shelves early next month.
Breweries need to keep up with the times, but I wouldn’t expect them to completely revamp their flagship ale such as New Holland is doing.
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“People thought we were nuts when we first made Mad Hatter, and they likely think we’re nuts for changing the recipe on our second-oldest and one of our top-selling brands,” said co-founder and president Brett VanderKamp. “But we’ve always said this brewery was the ultimate art project, and art doesn’t rest on its laurels.”
I remember the early days of Mad Hatter, which was first brewed in 1998. I was out of college, had been married and homebrewing for several years, and frequented Bell’s Eccentric Cafe.
This would have been about two years before Bell’s Two Hearted was released commercially, and I believe Founders released its Centennial IPA around this time as well. All three of these IPAs relied on Centennial hops for their flavor and character, and at this point in beer history, 7 percent, very hoppy IPAs were not particularly common. Mad Hatter was on the cutting edge when it first appeared.
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The changes to Mad Hatter will include the addition of Michigan-grown Cascade hops and Citra hops to the signature Centennial hop profile and an adjusted grain bill that increases the alcohol by volume to approximately 7 percent. A freshly engineered hop gun and assertive dry hopping create bold and bright aromatics.
Mad Hatter fans will spot the fresh Mad Hatter, as it also includes a creative update to its packaging with a new label and six-pack.
I had the opportunity to taste the new recipe, and it was quite tasty indeed. It had been awhile since I tasted Mad Hatter, and unfortunately, the freshest bottle that I could find locally was from January. Since it is not fair to compare a five-month-old bottle of IPA to a fresh one, I did not do so. Instead, I enjoyed each as its own beer.
The new recipe stood out with some unique flavor and aroma that I can only place as the smell I get when running through a recently cut hay field — sweet, floral and grassy. It was quite pleasant, with a sweetness up front and a bitter finish.
The hops were nicely balanced with the malt bill, and I could definitely taste the added Cascade and Citra hops. This IPA is really solid and I look forward to having this as another option on the shelf.
“The craft landscape and the craft drinker have both changed quite a bit since our early days,” said brand and lifestyle Vice President Fred Bueltmann. “Our team is inspired by the change we’ve been witness to, and we’re excited to offer a fresh, dynamic interpretation that integrates Michigan-grown hops as a true Midwest IPA.”
When Mad Hatter IPA was first brewed, VanderKamp was just 25 years old. It has been an anchor in the New Holland lineup since and has spawned a series of hop-forward “Hatters” that release annually for the company’s anniversary celebration. They range from the citrus-forward WPA, White Hatter, to a woodsier barrel-aged version, Oak-Aged Hatter.
This year’s Hatter Days celebration will take place in Downtown Holland on June 13 with a street party celebration, live music and the release of the entire Hatter family.
“It is scary to change a beer that is so core to your brand,” VanderKamp said. “We’ve had moments when we thought ‘Are we really going to do this?’ But the truth is, change is what brought us all here and made the craft marketplace what it is today. We’re all channeling our inner Hatter and we’re confident our fans will enjoy the result.”
The relaunch of Mad Hatter Midwest IPA will kick off with a release party at the Pub on 8th in Holland, Mich., on Friday, April 24, and continue in markets across the United States where New Holland distributes.