Bonsai Brewing Project, Whitefish

A disclaimer up front: By strict definition, India Red Ale is not an actual style of beer. But when you try to encapsulate the mystique of the Rocky Mountain West in a liquid pint, you might have to step outside the boundaries of convention.

Due North IRA is not a red ale, it’s not a hopped-up pale ale and it’s not simply an American IPA.

“It’s my take on a Montana-style IPA,” said Graham Hart, head brewer and owner of Bonsai Brewing Project in Whitefish. “I wanted to create a unique style for our area and my design of it is a kind of mountain style beer. That’s how I feel about it. It’s kind of a mountain man beer.”

To describe it in terms of an IPA doesn’t do the beer justice. Yes, IPA drinkers will be satisfied by the hop intensity, but the brew harkens to those winter ale needs and builds its hop profile on a solid malty and creamy – look for the hidden toasted marshmallow – backbone.

bonsai brewing project“With the dark body this has, it’s kind of deceptively hoppy,” said Hart. “A lot of (bitterness) hides in the flavor of the malt. You get this mixed flavor that’s kind of indecipherable. Every part of it has a bitterness and a hop flavor to it.”

Throwing in darker malts – like extra special and a tiny bit of chocolate – enhances the malt body and gives more depth.

“It makes this one more balanced,” said Hart. “But (hop presence) sneaks up on you a little bit because that malt will kind of cover it up and balance it out.”

The beer originated as a tribute to Flathead Lake Brewing Co. former owner Terry Leonard.  According to Hart, learning from Flathead Lake, as well as Tamarack Brewing Company brewers, was advantageous to his brewing education.

“I had my homebrew system sitting (at Flathead Lake) for about a month and I made five or six batches of beer in their brewery on my system,” said Hart. “It’s really nice to have people take you in like that. It helped me a lot.”

Due North is hopped almost every 10 minutes, escalating to every five at the end of the boil. Eight hop additions in total construct the bitterness, flavor and aroma scale.

“It’s the beer I really wanted to be our most popular,” said Hart. “It was by design I made it that way. I like that type of beer and you don’t see it very much. I was really hoping it would be well received. And it was.

“It remains to be one of my favorite beers to make.”