I can distinctly remember my first experience with Mad Hatter IPA (or any IPA, for that matter). A few summers back, I was at Molly Malone’s Irish Pub in Forest Park, IL with my buddy Adam, and still had a relatively tame beer palate. Ever eager to broaden my brew horizons, I glanced at the drafts. Lots of pub standards…and then a funny red top hat. And with a name like Mad Hatter? I was sold. We grabbed a table on the outside patio and I gulped down the first cold swig…

Egad! Horrors! Was this a cruel joke?! Bravely, I stomached the first mouthful and tried not to pull a sickened frown mid-conversation. The bitterness was overpowering. But I courageously sipped the pint down over the course of an hour, then promptly washed all remnants of its existence from my mouth with a Sam Adams Boston Lager. Whew!

I can’t imagine that many beer drinkers–even the most revered of connoisseurs–have had much more luck with their first IPA. Your taste buds just aren’t prepared for that initial sip. Mine certainly weren’t. A beer style as intensely hopped as India Pale Ale requires time, patience, and endurance to be fully appreciated. If you can’t commit to it, well…then yes, it will always leave you feeling like you just ate citrusy chalk.

This afternoon, as I poured myself my first Mad Hatter since that summer, I couldn’t help but be excited at the prospect of seeing (and tasting) the beer in a whole new light. With a few solid years and a host of IPAs under my belt, I was curious. Would it blow me away with its uniqueness? Would it disappoint yet again? Turns out…neither, really. The familiar floral scent of hops and citrus hit immediately as I poured, and there was a very subtle maltiness in the taste (I expected more). As for the bitterness of the hop note…not the most intense IPA out there, but it certainly isn‘t tame. Definitely still a sipper. As the beer warmed up, it got better and better, mellowing and smoothing out a bit while the maltiness became more pronounced. I found myself wishing for some Kung Pao chicken or a nice filet (I don’t recommend pairing with an egg and cheese sandwich). All in all, not an incredibly thrilling creation, but a solid, dependable, and flavorful offering nonetheless. The Honda Accord of IPAs.

ABV: 5.8%

Grade: B