Generally within the scope of my experience, Founders Brewing is one of those rare breweries which can do no wrong. Though I have heard through word of mouth that they have experienced some past issues with consistency in respect to ensuring each batch of a given brew tastes like the last, I personally have yet to encounter any such inconsistencies myself. From their Backwoods Bastard bourbon barrel aged ale to their Imperial stout, thus far everything I have tried has been exceptional. However, not typically being a big IPA drinker in cold winter months, I was somewhat reluctant to dive immediately into this particular release, not wishing to bring down their overall batting average in respect to my take on their work.
However the Centennial is what those in the beer world typically refer to as “sessionable.” That is to say, while still possessing the same undertones of hoppy flavor and bitterness that has come to define the IPA to many enthusiasts, it does so without coming across as too strong in any particular direction. In this, the general punch-in-the-face that higher IBU beers typically offer is mellowed and incorporated into another layer of the beer’s overall flavor profile, lending it a pleasant and easily drinkable nature.
The Centennial is, to the devout IPA drinker, an easy walk in the park with fine weather as opposed to the bitter rain-soaked marathon run of hoppy dominance, common among some other craft IPA offerings. At the same time, to those who either prefer another variety of brew such as ales, stouts, porters or Belgians, or likewise for those who may not typically drink craft or specialty beer, the Centennial’s gentle hop notes, when coupled with its confident body and amber presentation allow for the IPA equivalent of a safe space, in which one can enjoy that which is somewhat outside of their comfort zone, without swimming through a tongue punishing, palate wrecking riot of bitterness and aficionado pretense.
Upon the first sip, the dry hop flavor is complemented by malty tones and notes of citrus. Accompanying these, an almost floral sensation dances upon the top of the tongue before making its way back into the throat and sinuses. While drinking this almost copper-colored brew from one of Grand Rapids’ most well-known craft breweries, one can almost imagine the feeling of cracking open a bottle and relaxing upon a front porch, as a warm summer sun beats down upon a freshly mowed lawn. The sensation of a well-deserved cool down coming after hard afternoon’s work on a sweltering July weekend is very present here, and very pleasant as well.
Yet unlike the more common domestic swill that is meant to be served ice cold, so as to ensure its own innate and often abysmal flavors never reach the palate of the drinker, the Centennial wants you to enjoy it after it’s sat awaiting you for a spell. Yes, this beer is quite good served cold, but not too cold and not to such a point that it becomes completely undrinkable after it’s had a chance to meet room temperature. This is a beer that wants to provide refreshment, but at the same time wants to make sure that every note in its arrangement can be tasted and considered and approved of and in this, it sort of begs you not to freeze it like you might a Bud or Coors or any of the other other pedestrian six-pack style go-to American beers common among the less discerning.
Not quite a snob’s beer in any respect, the Centennial presents itself as an earnest and respectable attempt to bridge the gap between crisp, honest, palatable refreshment, and the dynamic sort of nuance that genuinely good beer can offer. It’s somewhat like an orchestral backing track to a popular rock song that you hear in your teens, which while being big and exciting and complicated as classical orchestra music can be, still comes packaged in a familiar format.
Here, we have a safe, enjoyable craft IPA that doesn’t insist too heavily upon itself, doesn’t demand you step up to any plates, and wishes you nothing more than a genuine session IPA experience. Nothing so outlandish or such an acquired taste that one may have reason to worry about serving it to uninitiated guests, but also one with enough rich and honest flavor that it easily sets itself apart from many other pale ales. Smooth, balanced and flavorful, the dry hopping and unfiltered nature to this IPA allow it to really bring its A-game to the table, without the need for that challenging “oh you’re not ready for this one, nope, nope, sorry you just aren’t” pretense of some hoppier and more bitter contemporaries.
In short, this beer – while being rich, robust and full of flavor – is also honest in a way that few things in life are. And at the end of the day, when one wants to kick back with something that both refreshes and provides something to think about, the Centennial delivers honestly. And for that, I appreciate it.
Nicholas Goroff is a beer lover, writer, actor, ex-political professional and devoted anti-ideologue. Follow him on Twitter @wizardofcause.
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