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Magical Mystery Pour #10: Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale

The second beer chosen for us by The Beer Nut (@thebeernut) is Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale (7% ABV) from Michigan, USA. We bought it from Beer Gonzo at £3.70 per 330ml bottle.

Magical Mystery Pour logo.We were vaguely aware of having heard of this beer but pointedly didn’t look it up before tasting to avoid skewing our judgement any more than necessary.

On opening the bottle, we were treated to a wonderful fruity, flowery aroma, like something on the air in an sub-tropical ornamental garden. It looked beautiful in the glass, glowing orange with a rock-steady head of whipped-white foam. Altogether appetising.

The head on a glass of beer.

The first taste elicited involuntary expressions of delight: Ooo, cor, blimey, phwoar! Which we guess answers the fundamental binary question about whether we liked it or not. It took us back to a decade ago, experiencing absolute delight as we tried one American IPA after another at The Rake in London’s Borough Market, marvelling at beers that seemed heavier, richer, sweeter, more bitter and more intense than anything we could find on draught in our local pub.

Close-up the aroma suggested not flowers and fresh fruit but pipe tobacco and boiling marmalade. There was something old-fashioned about the whole package, which brought to mind a historical recreation we’ve enjoyed a lot on more than one occasion, Cluster’s Last Stand.

The bitterness seemed high compared to some similar beers we’ve had, a sort of drying blast over the tongue at the end of each dip, but it conveyed a sense of solid maturity rather than showboating X-TREME-ness.

Another beer that we thought of was Fuller’s Vintage Ale — an odd leap, perhaps, but there you go — which led us to a conclusion: Two-Hearted is like an English bitter boiled down to concentrate. We know that Gary Gillman (blogger and sometimes commenter here) and Nick (mostly on Twitter) are in the habit of letting down packaged beer to recreate the effect of cask ale so decided to follow their lead and dilute a sample of Two-Hearted 50/50 with tap water. This was revelatory, even though it didn’t taste great in its own right: reduced in intensity, it did indeed resemble, say, Young’s Bitter, or Harvey’s Armada IPA.

We were very impressed with this beer and would drink it again. It’s not cheap but it’s not outrageously expensive either and we couldn’t think of many British beers that provide this particular kind of jammy, chewy, juiciness at a lower price. (Suggestions welcome, of course, but think orange, marmalade and toffee rather than mango Champagne.)

Tasting done, we looked it up, and found felt slightly embarrassed not to have tried it before: it’s regarded as a classic by many and (obviously) some people think it is over-hyped. It’s rated as world class by Beer Advocate (disclosure: we’ve done paid work for BA magazine) and has a perfect 100 high score on RateBeer.

Reviews on both sites talk about pineapple, mango, citrus, passion fruit, pine and all that American-hop baggage, none of which we picked up — it’s as if they were describing a different beer. That made us wonder if the journey across the Atlantic, perhaps via mainland Europe, and six months in the bottle (ours was packaged in January) had taken the edges off this apparently legendary beer in a way that just happened to really work for us.

Yes, that’s right: our new favourite beer style is Staled Warehouse IPA™.

Pleasingly, The Beer Nut’s own tasting notes from 2011 seem to match ours. (This is a strangely rare occurrence.)