Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Modus Hoperandi's remarkable rise

Modus Hoperandi India Pale Ale, introduced in 2009, has become in one year Ska Brewing Co.'s best-selling beer.

This is remarkable. Since 1995, when Ska was founded, its best-selling beers have been Pinstripe Red Ale and True Blonde Ale. Then, in 2009, here comes this new punk on the block.

I knew Modus had been selling well, but when I asked Ska President Dave Thibodeau if Pinstripe was still the best-seller, and he said Modus had overtaken it, I was taken aback. Modus’ victory is that of the upstart.

It’s especially surprising given Modus’ upfront aggression. Modus is not what is often called a session beer, something smooth-tasting and under 6 percent alcohol by volume that one can throw back in some quantity.

Modus, rather, is like a 19th-century dueler that slaps you in the face and challenges you not to cower. It’s big, it’s strong and it’s hopped to hell and back. I don’t care what the numbers say, Modus is far more bitter than its 65 IBU rating suggests.

People love it. Modus has earned fawning ratings on crowd-sourced review sites like BeerAdvocate. Hopheads talk about it like it’s the Holy Grail of beers.

Anecdotally, I frequently hear people rave about it. The guy next to me at work loves it. I see people walking around Durango in Modus T-shirts. Modus is all over the Internet.

Ska’s decision to can Modus has obviously been important to its success. I’ve watched as Oskar Blues, then Ska and others have found an eager market for canned craft beer. Now, Avery Brewing in Boulder is getting in on the can craze. It might not be long before we see most craft beer in cans rather than the familiar brown bottles.

Modus has also been marketed well. The deep green cans suggest hops by their color alone. The three cartoon men on the can (representing Ska’s three owners?) carry an attitude suggesting the swagger of the beer itself.

When I reviewed Modus shortly after its release, I was somewhat ambivalent. I’ve never been a fan of the school of brewing that simply seeks to stuff as much hop flavor in a bottle (or can) as possible. We’ve seen imperial IPAs that claim to exceed 100 IBUs. What’s the point? It’s as if chefs were caught in a strange trend to put as much salt into a recipe as possible.

I gave Modus a B+, recognizing it was well-brewed and would be well-received (and, by the way, correctly predicting that “hopheads will love it.”)

Modus doesn’t claim to be the hoppiest IPA. But it’s clearly going for bragging rights. Drink Modus next to a classic IPA like BridgePort’s, or even Avery’s, and it’s immediately clear that Modus seeks to beat the competition into submission. It’s an extraordinary beer, in the classic sense of the word (extra-ordinary, as in not at all ordinary).

I’ve come around to Modus. It is bitter, there’s no getting around that. But sometimes, on a chairlift or with a slice of spicy pizza, Modus is the perfect beer.

Ska will probably always brew Pinstripe and True Blonde – as it should, they’re good beers.

But if you happen to meet a Ska drinker in Denver, or Houston, or Chicago, or Phoenix, it seems increasingly, that person will know the brewery by one beer: Modus Hoperandi India Pale Ale.


  1. While I'm a bigger fan of Pinstripe from the get go first session, Modus really grew on me over the course of a six pack. It's one of those beers you try to get through at first, scowl at its challenge, and then find yourself crawling back for another before realizing you're all out. Definitely a challenge beer.

  2. Agreed. I think Ska's ESB is overlooked, too. Great hop-forward English-style ale.

  3. Modus Hoperandi is without question the best beer I have ever tasted.

  4. A good can of Modus is remarkably complex and smooth, not just bitter. There are piney and citrusy notes in there that are just exquisite. I don't put Modus in the category of one-note (boring) hop-monsters. Also, it pours incredibly well, with nice deep amber color and microfoam head nearly every time. An amazingly high quality product.

  5. A buddy living in Colorado brought some Modus when he came to visit in California. Hands down, the most delicious beer I've ever had. Wish I could find it in So Cal.