As you may have noticed, there has been a recent storm sweeping across the city and province, moving away from the bitterness arms race in IPAs towards more juicy, hazy and tropical IPAs. For a long time the expectation was for a brewery to have a classic and crystal clear West Coast or North West IPA. I’ll go over some of these styles and then give a bit of an explanation of these newer styles that are showing up and definitely worth taking a look at.
I am sure many of you have heard the old tale about the origin of IPAs. Beer shipped from the UK to India required an increase in ABV and hopping to help stand the journey. The standard bitters and pale ales that were being sent over would spoil over the long journey. Increasing the alcohol content helped prevent spoilage, and the hops helped as well, inhibiting the growth of gram positive bacteria. These new beers, dubbed ‘India Pale Ales’ had a longer shelf life and a very appealing flavour profile. This story has come under attack lately, but it does provide one explanation for the origin of the style.
Skip forward a number of years and BC has been producing a number of amazing IPAs, very much focused on local west coast hops. These west coast hops are primarily Cascade, Centennial, Columbus and Chinook, but also include a handful of other varieties. With big citrus aromas coming through, primarily grapefruit and lemon, these IPAs pack a big hop bitterness and are more heavily dry hopped than a standard IPA. One of the big differences between West Coast and North West IPAs is the malt character. West Coast IPAs are very refreshing, finishing fairly dry with less malt character. North West IPAs have a similar hop profile, but are typically more malty, with a bit more residual sweetness. This malty backbone makes more a more balanced beer than West Coast IPAs.
These two styles dominate our province, and are still the most common type of IPA out here. With these two IPA styles, brewers have been pushing the envelope, always looking for new ways to adjust the style, or push it in a different direction. Wherever there is a classic style, there are those that want to push and bend it as far as possible. If we take an IPA and maintain some qualities that allows us to recognize it, there are many options to adjust it and make it your own. Brewers can change the malts to adjust colour, flavour or mouthfeel, or change the hop additions to make a more bitter or more aromatic beer. The alcohol content can be adjusted, creating double IPAs or even imperial IPAs. On the other side, you can reduce the alcohol to create an easier drinking version such as an ISA or India Session Ale. Different grains can be added too, allowing for the sub styles of white IPAs containing wheat, or Rye IPAs. With so many options with the style, there is endless room for creativity. One of the more recent trends in IPAs is the North East IPA.
North East IPAs are typically very cloudy, with the haze arising from high protein grains, intense dry hopping and yeast still present in the finish product. Serving these unfiltered or fined (finings are clarifying agents that bind with haze producing particles and cause them to fall out of suspension) allow for a smooth and creamy mouthfeel. In addition to the cloudiness, these beers are massively dry hopped, typically with much less bitterness than West Coast or North West IPAs. By adding the hops in the dry hop stage rather than earlier in the kettle, more of the volatile hop aromas come through in the finished beer with less total bitterness in the beer. The alpha acid compounds in hops that provide bitterness in a beer require heat to be extracted, and generally earlier hop additions in the boil kettle will result in more bitterness being extracted from the hops. By moving the hop additions later in the boil or to dry hopping, less bitterness is extracted and more aroma compounds remain in the beer. The variety of hop is different as well, moving away from the citrus and grapefruit hop varieties towards juicy tropical flavours. Citra, Mosaic and Topaz hops all offer up massive mango, passionfruit, pineapple and apricot flavours that have come showcase this new style.
Most recently, the trend of even lower bitterness and more hop aroma and flavour has created two new sub styles of IPA. Milkshake IPAs are less bitter, and have the addition of lactose to increase the sweetness and mouthfeel of the beer. By utilizing some of the newer hop varietals, the tropical aroma and flavour comes through, while lactose is an unfermentable sugar that provides residual sweetness. Sometimes fruit is added to highlight the hop flavour and aroma. A number of these beers have been popping up around town as brewers try out this new style.
The second trend has been pushing this move towards aroma and away from bitterness entirely. By removing the hop additions from the boil kettle, you can have create an extremely flavourful beer with very little bitterness. Hops have been traditionally used to balance sweetness in a beer, but by adjusting the malt profile, you can make a beer that doesn’t come across as cloyingly sweet and still incredibly flavourful.
If you come across any of these new styles, definitely pick them up. Even beer drinkers who aren’t hop heads and shy away from IPAs might enjoy the reduced bitterness and intense juicy hop flavour and aroma. With the increased haze, the smooth mouthfeel and creaminess that comes along with it, this new beer trend is a challenge to brew, but hugely rewarding to taste.
CAMRA BC – Vancouver Branch