Hoops Balances the Hops

Hoops Brewing in Duluth’s Canal Park became one of the better breweries in the region when it opened this summer. The well-designed brewery is brightened by large, wood support beams, and there’s a nice vibe in the room, but it’s the beer that matters. Head brewer Dave Hoops has a reputation as one of the deans of Minnesota’s craft brewing scene, now off on his own after many years at Fitger’s Brewhouse. I started out with No. 21 India Pale Ale. All of the beers are assigned numbers at Hoops, for fun I guess and to differentiate a growing body of work.

If you are into some bitter but balanced hoppiness, No. 21 (7.5 percent ABV) will likely please you. The menu listed the hop variety as a non-specific PNW, for Pacific Northwest. The bitterness of this dry-hopped IPA, which pours a clear but foamy orange and hits you with some nice floral aromas, is balanced nicely with citrus and grapefruit.

I moved on to No. 15 Pale Ale, an American pale ale that was lighter and also nicely balanced. It probably would have made more sense for me to start with this beer, so my notes below are from the growler we poured the next day on a canoe trip. It pours a slightly lighter orange than No. 21 with some foam at the head and a pleasant floral and citric nose.

The bartender filled our plastic Fitger’s growler (and covered its original logo with Hoops’ stickers). It was savored after a long day of portaging. At 6.2 percent ABV, it’s not considered a session beer, but it’s still a quencher. It’s an approachable ale for those that don’t like bitter beers, whereas No. 21 might be too much for some hop-averse taste buds. This beer does read orange and tropical fruit, as it’s billed.

Hoops Brewing also offers No. 21 India Pale Ale. | JAVIER SERNA

A selection of Hoops beers are also available in 750ml “crowlers.” Select Hoops’ brews are available around Duluth on tap, and Hoops’ website says “there will be minimal distribution to Duluth and Minneapolis retailers.”

CONGRATS: Duluth’s Bent Paddle Brewing Co. brought back a gold medal from the Great American Beer Festival in Denver in early October. The brewery’s 14° ESB took top honors this year in the extra special bitter category.

OPENING: Earth Rider in Superior, Wis., started up production in late September.

Founder Tim Nelson, also formerly of Fitger’s Brewhouse, said the beer will be showcased in the nearby Cedar Lounge (1715 N. 3rd St.), which also features other Wisconsin-brewed craft beer.

Nelson said the 20-barrel brewery will have an IPA and a pale ale as flagship beers, along with a handful of other year-round beers such as a stout and a light lager, and will stretch the possibilities with some smaller runs of beer.

“We’ll have a rotating fruit beer,” said Nelson, throwing out a cherry porter or apple ale.

Nelson has plans to distribute the beer in Duluth and up the Shore. The beer will be found on tap in the distribution area, and the Cedar Lounge will sell crowlers and fill growlers from other breweries.

The Cedar Lounge, also owned by Nelson, will celebrate a week-long grand opening that opens to the public on Tuesday, Nov. 21.

By Javier Serna