Friday, February 20, 2009

Review: Modus Hoperandi India Pale Ale (Ska Brewing)

For the first time in years, Ska Brewing Co., Durango’s largest brewer, has introduced a new beer to its year-round lineup. Certainly, a cause for drunken celebration followed by a sober contemplation of the offering.

The Ska boys chose to grace the market with Modus Hoperandi, an IPA that packs a 6.8 percent alcohol by volume wallop, with 65 IBUs.

Ska is following a popular style. India pale ales are distinguished by their hop bitterness and high alcohol content. They were developed in the 18th century by British brewers who wanted a beer strong enough to mask the spoilage that inevitably occurred on the long sail to India, which was a British colony at the time. Or so the story goes, and it makes sense. After a long day of subjugating the natives, an IPA must be refreshing. (Soggy Coaster reading suggestion: pair a Modus Hoperandi with “Shooting an Elephant,” George Orwell’s famous essay on British imperialism).

In recent years, American craft brewers have seized on the IPA, turning it into a pissing match of who could stuff the most hops in a bottle. Dogfish Head of Delaware won that contest with its 120 Minute IPA, an experimental brew bringing 20 percent ABV and 120 IBUs. It tastes like no beer you have ever had. (Star Liquors stocks it, by the way).

Steamworks Brewing has its own entrant in the pissing match: Conductor Imperial IPA (8.5 ABV, 96 IBUs), a way-over-the-top hop bomb that Soggy Coaster finds excessively bitter.

Many beer drinkers love IPAs, and for some, an appreciation of the style sets a true beer aficionado apart from a domestic-sucking ignoramus. Soggy Coaster is not one of these people. Perhaps it is sacrilege, but he prefers good pale ales, strong golden ales, Belgian styles and stouts to the simplistic, bitter aggression of many IPAs.

Which brings us to Modus Hoperandi. It is a major effort from Ska, and it will be found wherever Ska beers are sold. Durango beer drinkers can buy it now; Ska fans on the Front Range and other states will get it in coming weeks. Ska opted to can Modus Hoperandi as well as bottle it, a curious decision given the IPA’s aggressive profile. Typically, brewers can more approachable beers. A six-pack of Modus Hoperandi cans retails for $8.39 at Ska HQ: not cheap by any means.

The first thing one notices is the can’s graphics. Ska has distinguished itself with tattoo- and comics-inspired art from day one. Modus Hoperandi advances this grand tradition with a fantastic design: a dark green background with three fellas in suits (one a skeleton) strolling out of the Ska logo, which is itself adorned with green hop flowers. It is perhaps the coolest beer can in America.

Modus Hoperandi – the name is also excellent – is perhaps best enjoyed straight from the can or a pint glass. It pours a light amber color. A minimal head recedes quickly.

The taste is exceptional for the style. It is bitter, but less so than other IPAs. A nice, hoppy floral aroma greets the nose. A slightly fruity taste – those hops again – is evident. Soggy Coaster found himself liking Modus Hoperandi despite his general aversion to the style. Modus Hoperandi will be a great beer for spring and summer.

The bottom line: people who enjoy IPAs will love Modus Hoperandi. People who generally do not like IPAs will tolerate and perhaps even like it. Soggy Coaster predicts Modus Hoperandi will find an eager market and stick around in Ska’s lineup for a long while. It is good, and only Soggy Coaster’s general aversion to the style keeps it from earning a higher grade here. B+

P.S. Obviously, a new year-round release from Ska is a big freakin' deal in the context of Durango brewing. Opinions will differ. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment.


  1. Most notable to me was the HUGE citrus/Grapefruit finish to the brew. I don't know if Amarillo hops are capable of that on their own, or if this is a different type of hops or a combination. WOW!

    The malt profile seems very simmilar to Euphoria's - why mess with a good thing, right?

    Full Sail's IPA has similar citrus-y finish to it. I'll have to try them side by side. (don't drink that one out of the bottle - too much CO2 - fizzy).

    Agreed that 'Modus' will be a FINE addition to summer!

  2. I appreciate your honesty. IPAs are not for everyone. In my experience, this is an IPA akin to those brewed on the West Coast. A good one at that. Every point from the color, nose, and head all the way to the finish is crispy, full of hoppy floral character and body. I call it a tonsil-warmer, too. You're right, it is a bit spendy in the 6 ... Read Morepack. $2 on draft, Monday and Thursday at pint night. Another mark on the ol' card gets me closer to a pitcher of this stuff.

    Keep on the great reviews,


  3. Not at Argonaut in Denver just yet, but I asked for it and I am sure the Ska distributor will try to push it soon.....

  4. in colo we're spoiled with spectacular micro brews, and IPAs are one of my favorites. That said Modus scores in my top 5 IPAs that I've had on the planet! I also love the can concept thats rapidly gaining popularity out here - seems to magically make it taste more crisp than a bottle

  5. I really don't like india they doing some illegal work.