At the end of August my brother took possession of two free tickets to Cedar Point. The catch was that they had to be used by Labor Day and he had struck out finding anyone to go with him. After sorting out some logistics to make sure I wasn’t just leaving Chelsea at home with the girls by herself while I went off to have a day of fun, I was able to join him. And that was great because I hadn’t been to Cedar Point in two years, a rare streak of missing out on America’s Roller Coast. Babies and Chelsea’s sister’s family moving to Prague for two years had put the yearly trips on hold for awhile.
And while I was excited to go ride some of my favorite roller coasters, I was equally as excited to be able to buy Ohio beer. One of the things I love about living in southwest Michigan is that I am within a couple hours of four distinct distributing regions with a wider access to variety than say if I lived in the middle of Texas. And while I make it to Illinois about every quarter, my Ohio trips, and therefore my chances to pick up Jackie O’s, The Brew Kettle, Rhinegeist and more, are much less frequent. That’s why it’s tradition to stop at the Anderson’s in Toledo on the way back from Cedar Point.
One problem stood in my way of Ohio beer nirvana. The Anderson’s, unknown to me until I was trying to remember which of the multiple locations was closest to our route home, had closed. A brief moment of panic set in as we coasted along 80/90. After shedding a tear for one of my favorite beer stops, I pulled up Beermenus to find a suitable replacement. Holloway Beverage Center in Holland seemed like a worthy replacement.
It indeed was, with shelves full of all my Ohio desires. After spending entirely too long in the store, I walked out with a bomber, a six pack and a mix six pack that included a beguiling pick from The Brew Kettle that was obviously influenced by me just having been at Cedar Point. Valravn described itself as a red/black IPA, whatever that meant. There was no date code on the bottle either, leaving me a bit weary, but it seemed like most of the beer was fairly fresh and I was willing to take a risk on one of the most underrated IPA brewers in the country.
As I poured the beer into a glass, there was no confusing it for some sort of red/black hybrid. It was crystal clear amber, a red IPA all the way. The aroma punched like a classic IPA with loads of grapefruit, pine and tropical fruit, before taking a deep dive into richer caramel, toast and even chocolate territory. That underlying malt complexity started demystifying the black part of the style descriptor. The taste followed the aroma closely, with classic hop notes backed by substantial malt complexity, resulting in a beautiful hybrid of styles that was both complex and drinkable while remaining balanced.
Valravn is not a sexy hazy IPA with no bitterness. This is not like drinking juice. Valravn is much more than that, a balanced complex beer that relies on more than just one element. It may be a bit of a throwback to earlier days, but I see it as a hint at what the crowds will inevitably circle back to in the future.