Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Tropical Fruit Juice IPA (or IPA in 2015)

Cellarmaker, San Francisco. At the forefront of new IPAs
The world’s greatest craft beer style, the one with the most storied history, the one most misunderstood, most widely brewed, has been changing for the last three centuries. And IPA continues to change and evolve faster than it ever has before.

Defining what an IPA is has become a difficult thing to accurately achieve. Right now, arguably the closest we can get is to say IPA is a beer that’s pale in colour and well-hopped, specifically for aromatics. I think we’ve even got to a place where IPA is a synonym simply for ‘hoppy’ and we require a prefix to tell us more precisely what to expect (Imperial, Session, Red, and so on), with many variations being brewed.

If we take IPA to mean the typical core-range American-style IPA then it’s likely going to be 5.5%-7.5% ABV, straw-to-amber in colour, hop-bitter and aromatic with US and new world hops, and that’s a very broad general description which doesn’t tell us anything specific about the flavours or subtleties – it’s like saying a cheeseburger is a meat patty topped with cheese between a sliced bread roll, but it mentions nothing of the finer details.

One approach, albeit limited, is to break down American IPAs into some broad geographic types, or ones linked to particular periods of time, which I attempted in The Best Beer in the World.

Seeing as the style is so fast-moving, I didn’t get to include the most recent American IPA trend, which I think evolves from the profiles of Oregon, Vermont and newer California IPAs, and which can accurately be described as Fresh Tropical Fruit Juice.

These new IPAs are unfiltered (sometimes hazy, sometimes properly murky) and very pale in colour. The intensity bitterness is low and character malts are non-existent. The time of them being super-dry and bitter has shifted towards softer, rounder bodies with some residual sweetness, though you don’t immediately notice that texture because the hop aroma is so dominant, so powerfully wowing, with the aroma sticking to the subtle sweetness in the beer, and giving the unmistakable qualities of fresh fruit juice – pineapple, mango, peaches, melon, papaya. There’s also a new focus on freshness to capture those aromas at their very juicy best – two weeks old is becoming too old (don’t underestimate this and it's not like these enjoy before they die IPAs: the draft-only, local-only – perhaps brewery-bar-only – hyper fresh IPA is nearby).

And notice that the pine resin, florals and grapefruit aromas are missing from the flavour profile of these IPAs – the classic qualities of American C-hops like Cascade, Columbus, Centennial are not present. And that’s relevant because these juicy IPAs are using newer hop varieties.

Citra was first released in 2007 but it took a couple of years before it was grown and brewed-with in larger volumes. The flavours in Citra (tropical, citrus, soft fleshy fruits) are different to those famous C-hop staples; they aren’t tangy, pithy, resinous or floral. They’re juicy.

At a similar time we got to try more Australian and New Zealand hops with their exotic tropical fruity aromas. Then came the next big hop releases from 2012 onwards: Mosaic, Equinox, Tahoma, Azzaco, Polaris, and more, plus newer European varieties like Mandarina Bavaria. These take that juiciness further and give even more tropical fruits plus melon and fragrant stone fruit. These new hops have changed the way IPAs taste because once we know it’s possible to make a beer smell like Um Bongo we crave more of its freshness. Bitterness, pine and grapefruit can do one – it needs juice now.

More Cellarmaker... They were the inspiration for this post thanks to their juicy, juicy beers
One side-effect of this change is how brewers are re-focusing on the American IPA. In the last five years we’ve seen the IPA-ification of all beers, like Black IPA, Belgian IPA, White IPA, Wild IPA, Fruited IPA, and so on, but we’re now seeing those sub-categories disappear. In their place are new IPAs. There’s IPAs using these new hops in new combinations, IPAs brewed with new hopping techniques from emerging research studies on hops, there are SMASH IPAs (Single Malt and Single Hop), hop burst IPAs, and more. It’s interesting that while the broader sub-categories seem to be disappearing, the Session IPA is an unstoppable style. And with this beer we’re seeing some of the best uses of these new hops and techniques (Stone Go To IPA, Firestone Walker Easy Jack).

IPAs currently account for around 27% of the US craft beer market, or seven million barrels of gloriously hoppy beers. In 2010 it was only around 12% of the market and one million barrels. That’s incredible growth, even more so when you consider that the craft beer segment is also growing exponentially – IPA is growing within a fast-growing category.
As well as growing up and out it’s still changing. It’s always changing; it’s been changing for 300 years, a liquid snapshot of brewing. These tropical fruit juicebomb IPAs (they are juicier than Juicy Bangers) are not like West Coast IPAs from five years ago. They’re not like the now-classic examples from 10-20 years ago (Lagunitas IPA, Racer 5, Odell IPA). These are today’s IPA where the never-ending search for newness and freshness continues to change what IPA is. And tomorrow’s IPA? Surely it can – somehow – only get juicier. Until it changes again.

1 comment:

  1. Great read. Your synonym for 'hoppy' is what really sums it up for me. Hops are just so diverse in flavour and they continue to evolve as you suggested. Another way of looking at IPA could be that the term almost signifies a 'hops sandbox' whereby brewers have open permission to experiment and explore the impressive diversity of hops. Cheers Marc.