Review: Core Hilltop IPA

Brian Sorensen

I grew up in Springdale, and never in a million years did I think my town would one day have its own brewery. A lot has changed since I was a kid, and last year Core Brewing opened its doors and started making beer on the north end of town. Response from local craft beer enthusiasts has been so good that Core recently decided to expand production capacity by adding new fermentation and conditioning tanks. Annual brewing capacity is now 20,000 barrels per year – taking Core from microbrewery to “regional” brewery status as defined by the Brewers Association.

On Labor Day I met a good friend at Core to have a couple of beers and see how the expansion was going. The tasting room had been recently moved a few doors down from the tiny space it originally inhabited. I was excited to see much more elbow room when I walked in, with a view into the brewery itself.

The new fermenters are prominently displayed behind chain-link fence just beyond the bar. A large chalk board behind the tap handles is used to advertise available beers and their corresponding ABV percentages. Just around the corner from the main bar area is a huge room set up for darts. And just beyond that is a lounge straight out of every guy’s man-cave dreams, complete with sofas and a huge flat-panel television. Founder Jesse Core, who said he was influenced by pubs he visited while on a recent trip to England, did a fantastic job of creating a comfortable environment for drinking beer and hanging out with friends.

Several beers were on tap that day, including the ESB, Oatmeal Stout, and Black IPA. I decided to try the Hilltop IPA since it’s fairly new to Core’s lineup and would provide a nice segue way into the Black IPA I planned to have afterward.

Served in a pint glass, the beer was dark orange to reddish in color with a thin white head of foam. The aroma was faint, but I could detect spicy hops and a nutty malt character in the nose. On first sip I found spicy, piney, resinous hop flavor with an underlying base of biscuit-like, toasted malt. The beer’s flavor was substantial but balanced, offering big amounts of both hop bitterness and sweet and toasty malt. Hilltop distinguishes itself from other hop-centric examples of IPA by incorporating Maris Otter and Munich malts, which are responsible for the rich biscuit and nutty characteristics of the beer. Hop heads shouldn’t worry, though. Five hop additions are made throughout the brewing process utilizing Cascade, Willamette, Columbus, Horizon, and Nugget hops. The hop character was big and lingered on the palate long after the last sip was taken. Overall I found Hilltop to be a fine example of an IPA, with more of an emphasis on malt character than the majority of its category peers.

The Black IPA and Oatmeal Stout that I had afterward were very good as well. I particularly enjoyed the Black IPA, which is a fine example of a new but popular style. Imagine a hoppy IPA with a shot of espresso and you get an idea of what it’s like.

Overall, I had a great time at Core Brewing and I’m excited to see the success they are having in my home town – even though it’s happening 18 years after I left to settle in Fayetteville. With the added brewing capacity Jesse Core will soon be sending his beer beyond the boundaries of Northwest Arkansas. If the beers I tried last Monday are any indication of his brewing prowess, Jesse and his team at Core Brewing will represent us well.

Brian Sorensen
Brian is an admitted beer geek, occasional home brewer, and member of the Fayetteville Lovers of Pure Suds (FLOPS). You can follow him on Twitter at @EBSorensen.