December 3, 2013
By Tyler Maas
When Hanson’s hit, 10 million-selling album Middle Of Nowhere came out, eldest Hanson brother Isaac was a fresh-faced 16-year-old, middle child Taylor had just turned 14, and kid brother Zac was only 11. This past Halloween, Zack turned 28. Taylor’s odometer rolled over to 30 in March. And Isaac just turned 33. No shit. The boys of Hanson are now men. Each is old enough to vote, rent a car, and no longer qualify to be on their parent’s health insurance plan. Every brother is married and, when combined, Hanson has fathered a total of 10 children—some as old as 11. Every brother is not only old enough to drink legally; they’ve apparently been drinking long enough to become beer snobs.
This spring, the brothers Hanson released “Mmmhops” pale ale to the world—or, more accurately, to people who visit their merch table at concerts or out of the way restaurants and liquor stores scattered throughout tornado alley. The Mmmhops Twitter account shows Taylor tipping back the brew with Ed Helms, non-Hayley Williams members of Paramore holding bottles beside Taylor and Isaac, and the two brothers leaving Zac at home for numerous in-store appearances. According to the band, the beer is “inspired by our own love of great beer we set out to craft our own unique American Pale Ale,” and it touts “a refreshing hoppy finish that we hope will stir every beer drinker to say ‘Mmmhops!’”
Just like Hanson, this beer is corny as hell. So, just like Hanson, this beer couldn’t be any good, right?
As an underemployed freelance writer who lives in the notable brewery bastion that is Wisconsin, I drink a lot of beer. I’ve grown to favor darker in-state micro brews such as Central Waters’ Mud Puppy Porter, Hinterland’s seasonal Winterland, Milwaukee Brewing Company’s Black Iron IBA, and Lakefront Eastside Dark, but I most often opt for cheap domestics like Miller High Life, Old Style, Pabst and Old Milwaukee. While I feel I’m well versed and versatile enough in my borderline alcoholism to form a cogent opinion of Mmmhops on my own, what’s the point of being the last to the well-attended party of writers with no real beer assessment credentials to weigh in on it?
That’s why I thought it would be best to allow a professional—an actual Milwaukee Brewer—to aid in my evaluation.
Mike Brenner is a certified Master Brewer. Yes, that’s an actually thing, and as far as Brenner knows, he and New Glarus Brewing’s Dan Carey are the only two Master Brewers in Wisconsin—a state renown for its rich beer history—who run breweries. A home-brewer since Hanson’s heyday in the mid-‘90s, Brenner obtained the Master Brewer diploma after completing an intensive course at Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, America’s oldest brewing school. After, he spent more than almost four months studying throughout Europe, including three months at Germany’s legendary Doemens Academy Munich. Now he runs his own spot, Brenner Brewing Co., where we tasted the beer. In short, this dude knows his shit.
Before getting into the beer, I asked what Mike thought of the band whose beer we were about to partake.
“I’m not really a fan of Hanson,” Brenner said. “I’m amazed at how many women my age fucking love Hanson still. It blows me away. I mean, they liked them the first time around and they still like them.”
I turned the questioning to what characteristics traditional pale ales should have.
“Technically, a pale ale has a little simpler malt bill,” he said. “The grains aren’t super heavy. People have gotten really crazy, especially on the West Coast, with over-hopping pale ales and IPAs. I prefer a pale ale that’s more well-balanced.”
And then, we brought our attention to the black and green cardboard box that encased our beer. In the effort of being as professional as possible while getting drunk off of beer made by dudes who were made ridiculously famous from singing a song of actual nonsense, we used the offical Beer Judge Certification Program scoring guidlines, a rubric made of five simple categories: appearance, aroma, taste, mouthfeel, and overall experience.
Immediately, I noticed Mmmhops is brewed by Mustang Brewing in Hanson’s native Oklahoma, a state notorious for its liquor restrictions. The alcohol content wasn’t listed, but all Mustang’s other beers cap off at a paltry 4.0 percent ABV (which is less than Miller Lite). I also took note of the Zythos hops it touted. Brenner consulted his hop index and said that hop variety was high in alpha acid, aromatic, and good for bittering. He also made sure to laughingly quote the “Beer + Music = Awesome” equation on the package. As a token of my gratitude for his time and wisdom, I offered him the QR code scan on the box that was good for a free Hanson download. I poured our beers as he queued up “Fired Up,” the first song off the band’s latest album, Anthem. We were ready to get lit, Hanson-style.
Between duel snickers at grown-up Taylor’s cocksure moans layered atop discarded JET guitar licks, we examined Mmmhops’ color and head, while taking in the aroma of the novelty beer frothing in our Brenner Brewing pint glasses. Both the trained expert and the guy who’d mailed a $6 Old Milwaukee rebate on the way to the former’s million-dollar brewery agreed it was pretty standard to most American-style IPAs we’d encountered. It had a light orange, almost sunburst coloration akin countless other brews.
Brenner quickly offered, “It’s got a decent head,” which might be the most inherently funny thing anyone’s ever said about Hanson’s beer.
Moments after the brew was poured, he habitually hoisted it beneath his nostrils and took an audible whiff.
“Its notes are malty too, and citrusy,” he offered before saying that was consistent with the Zythos characteristics he’d just referenced, which declared the hop variety to be “a strongly aromatic blend of hops with tangerine, lemon, grapefruit and pine notes.” Unfortunately, that statement couldn’t also stand as a dick joke.
With four senses down (including the feeling of the pint glass in our hand and glorious pop-rock sounds), it came time for the most important one of the evaluation.
“It’s not bad, it’s not amazing,” Brenner started, taking a few extra seconds to choose his next words. “It’s pretty formulaic. It’s like, ‘This is a pale ale,’ which I think is fine. In my mind, a pale ale shouldn’t be too crazy. It’s right down the center. It’s what a pale ale is supposed to be, but it doesn’t take any risks. It’s not too interesting.”
Mike was being pretty reasonable. And though my lacking expertise was becoming more evident with each sip, I shared his opinion. It was a bit more bitter than I’d expected from a basically Christian boy-band, and this was about as safe and sterile a beer could get while still falling beneath the cover of the vast IPA umbrella. Honestly, what bothered me most was that it lacked the typical high ABV content found in IPAs, which felt like a bit of a cop out.
“It reminds me what brew pubs do,” Brenner continued after a couple more sips. “You’re trying to get mass appeal, so you’re trying to create a beer you think [most] people will like. I think this is a beer a lot of people could drink.”
It had everything I look for in a beer in terms of mouthfeel. It was wet and, once ingested, made me feel more confident and charming. Really, its bitterness was to my liking and the fruit notes came through to leave a subtle citrus aftertaste. In other words, it felt like a beer feels in your mouth.
Mike Brenner was more articulate in this category, because he’s, you know, a professional brewmaster. “I think it’s more of an IPA than it is a pale ale,” he noted. “Because you’re getting that maltiness that you probably shouldn’t in a pale ale. It’s pretty bitter. It’s a solid beer.”
“If I were at a party and somebody gave this to me, I’d drink it,” Mike said. “But I wouldn’t be excited about it.”
I agreed, and I guess my quest to learn something more about seminal pop band through drinking their beer was a little misguided. What would it teach me? That these three dudes make an average beer that you’ve probably tasted before and is popular and well liked because it’s so bland it’s nearly offensive? And that says what about their music or cultural influence? Mike suddenly interrupted my thought process, summing up Hanson and their beer with one swooping sentence.
“You’ve had a million beers like this.”