Wow. Northdown Cafe and Taproom has really scored a rare gem - again. This time, they have put up the only Hoppin' Frog Brewery beer I've known to have been on tap in Chicago, the Hop Heathen black IPA. It was cool to see the bar owner, Tom, himself present me with a glass of it, unsolicited. As with all things Hoppin' Frog, it's quite unusual; the Ohio brewer does nothing conventionally. After all, they offer an IPA-stout "black and tan" beer, itself sort of a black IPA.
Hop Heathen has a unique profile. This smells of fresh piney hops and some burnt sugar, and has a dark brown color with some amber mixed in; it's hardly black. It's nothing like the other leading black IPA's, Sublimely Self-Righteous and Trout Hop. A huge malt presence backs this beer and it's a bit sweeter, tasting of some brown sugar. The hops are there, but more subdued as they are in a hopped up stout or porter. The matls really soften the blow, and the mouthfeel is rich and lush, like an oaked beer. Given the slightly lighter color it reminds me more of a hoppy stout or porter than a true black IPA, which is a style that tends to have a super-dry, astringent finish.
This is a rarity on tap. When Northdown runs out, who knows when this, let alone any other Hoppin' Frog beer, will make a Chicago tap list. It's well worth spending 20 minutes of your time sipping, indulging in this one.
4.1 of 5 stars.