Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Golden Nugget

Toppling Goliath
Decorah, IA

Style: India Pale Ale (IPA)
ABV: 6.0%

Eddie’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

Smell is the sense most closely tied to memory, according to science. Don’t know if you’re a science-believing type, but I do have to agree. To this day, if I smell overly ripe apples, it instantly and almost violently jerks my memory back to my childhood, where the apples falling from the ancient, gnarled Macintosh apple tree in the side yard of my parents’ house threw off heady scents of sweet apple goodness down into the window of my basement bedroom. (Yep, I was a cellar dweller in my youth, too.) Freshly cut alfalfa—same deal.

But not cow shit. I grew up on a dairy farm, but having been inured to the odor, I could not smell the cow shit. Manure, to use a technical term. More specifically, though, I couldn’t smell our cows’ shit. If I visited a different farm, even one a mile down the road, I could smell their cows’ shit like nobody’s business. Or maybe it was our cows’ shit just didn’t stink …

Now that I’ve whetted everyone’s appetite, I’ll start to get somewhere close to where I’m going with this review. One of my first craft beer experiences, way before I became the beer dork (or Beer Dork) that I am today, I made my first visit to Pacific northwest Beer Dork Ade Solomon in the PDX, Portland, Oregon. We went to a place called the Dublin Pub, which wasn’t a generic Irish bar, but a place that had something like 100 beers on top. (I remember the name of the place only because it relates to Ade’s favorite joke of all time: “Why’s the capital of Ireland the most populous city in the world?” “I dunno, Ade? Why?” “Because it’s always Dublin!”) I don’t remember the name of any beers we tried, but being a beer philistine at the time, I thought they were all too dark, all too bitter, all too heavy for a palate that thought anything other than light beer was like drinking mud. One beer did stick out, I’m not sure but I think it was a Hair of the Dog, but I seriously thought it tasted like urine.

Which, looking back at it, was quite astute. A lot of the American hops in pale ales and IPAs nowadays have what beer judges and pro critics might call a “catty” flavor or aroma, as in cat urine. It might sound like a slam against the brash pungency of American hops (and sometimes it’s meant that way) but once you get past the negative association it’s actually apt. I remember during my sensory and analysis and recipe formulation class at the Siebel Institute, we spent all morning drinking classic European lagers, then after lunch switched to pale ales and IPAs (the first being Founders Red’s Rye), and that blast of Amarillo hops, after a full morning of the more subtle, earthy, and herbal European hops, tasted like fucking urine. But guess what? It still tasted damn good.

So, finally, getting to my point. When I first got a pour of tonight’s featured brew, Golden Nugget, from the now world famous Toppling Goliath (straight outta Iowa) the initial whiff of Nugget hops sent my mind hurtling through space and time, back to the Dublin Pub in Portland, back to the exact booth I was sitting in. In my mind’s eye I could clearly see the list of beers high up on the wall, and I could feel the sting from where the waitress punched me in the thigh for being a complete dipshit about beer.

It reminded me of that Hair of the Dog beer from nigh onto 12, fuuuuuck 15 years ago? But my brain didn’t process what I was smelling as urine this time. Instead I whiffed aggressive but enticing notes of citrus fruits and pine cones atop a bed of biscuits-and-cookies malt. And the taste is just as enticingly intoxicating: a beautiful balance of sugary sweetness from a surprisingly assertive body interweaved by the fruitiness of the hops. Then, just when you think that’s all there is, POW! An avalance of pleasant bitterness provides a whip-short finish.

This, to me, is Toppling Goliath’s best beer. More chewy and complex than their Citra-stoked pale ale Pseudo Sue, it’s one of the beers you might classify as a “Midwest IPA” (not my term, but I like it a lot): aggressively bitter but with a relatively heavy body to back up the hops. Along the lines of a Bell’s Two Hearted or Surly Furious. Heady company there, and Golden Nugget holds its own.

Reviewed by Eddie Glick on April 23, 2015.
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