IPA - The Style and How to Brew it From a Brewer's Perspective

These days few styles draw as much passionate debate as IPA.  Just five years ago the IPA was a somewhat straightforward style: bitter, clean, crystal clear, and a sturdy malt bill accentuated by crystal malt to add balancing sweetness to the bitterness which coated your tongue.  Of course, there were variations and interpretations of the style (east vs. west), but only recently has the IPA become a source of internet forum fights.  Regional interpretations of the style have traditionalists going crazy.  As an example, hazy juicy IPAs from the North East have emerged as a force to be reckoned with; albeit drawing plenty of controversy amongst brewers and craft beer geeks alike.  Personally, I think regionality is always a good thing - leaving guidelines behind to certain extent and brewing the IPA YOU want to drink.  Besides, what is an IPA really?  Most agree that an IPA should be hop forward and pale, beyond that there really is not much people agree on these days.  Again, a good thing.  After all, it's interpretation and curiosity that drives innovation and advancement.  

We chatted with four breweries who brew great interpretations of the style: Creature Comforts Brewing (Athens, GA), Beer'd Brewing (Stonington, CT), Burial Brewing (Asheville, NC), and Civil Society Brewing (Jupiter, FL), regarding their opinion on the style and how to brew it.  We hope you enjoy what our friends across the country had to say.

Adam Beauchamp - Creature Comforts Brewing Co.

Check out the video below to get insight on how Creature Comforts approaches the IPA and creates their fantastic Tropicalia IPA. 

Aaren Simoncini - Beer'd Brewing Co.

India Pale Ale can mean so many things to an individual.  It's been crazy to watch the developments in what consumers are really seeking out of the style.  Whether its the soft, hazy, full mouthfeel of the relatively new "New England IPA", the tongue scraping bitterness of the "West Coast IPA" or the old school balanced malt and floral hops of the "East Coast IPA."  With so many niche's now, the only thing you can really put your finger on is the celebration of hops as an ingredient.  The short answer of what it is to me though, is my favorite beverage!

The first thing that comes to mind when developing a new IPA recipe, is the hop bill.  Are we looking for something bitter that may only showcase one note or are we looking to create a blend that will stand out as unique and multi layered.  There are constantly new and interesting hops being released, so are we looking to showcase that one and "test" it's true profile?

Water profile is often the second thing that I consider when writing a recipe.  Luckily for us here in Stonington, our water is very soft, and provides a very nice foundation to build upon.  We use a good amount of Calcium Chloride to build our water, but we'll also use some Gypsum and Epsom Salt to dial in.

In regard to hop selection or schedule, it all really depends on what we're looking to put out.  Single hop beers are always fun, but can often become too one noted.  It's important to pick fresh pelletized hops that are high in the various desirable oil compounds to create the most aromatic flavorful IPA possible.  Hop schedules can vary as well.  We've become known for our IPA's that lean to the dry end of things and are generally low in bitterness.  Being that we conduct a whirlpool post flame out, we generally don't add much of a bittering charge, and reserve the majority of hops for our whirlpool and subsequent dry hop.  We still attain some bitterness from this method, but it lends it's self to our desired flavor profile.

I always say keep my malt bills simple!  I don't mean so simple that it's nothing but pilsner, but keep the crystal malts out of it.  If you absolutely must use crystal, keep it under 20L and use it sparingly or better yet, substitute a small amount of Munich.  A nice two row or pale malt should act as your base, some Vienna, CaraPils (or other Dextrine Malt), wheat or perhaps oats can add a nice touch.  Finally, if you're looking to brew a double, toss in some Dextrose.  This should serve to boost the ABV, restrain the malt character and dry the final product out.

You could ask fifty brewers about dry hopping and receive fifty unique answers!  We generally target at least 1.5 #'s/BBL in our dry hop bills, and we'll add that across two or three different charges.  The key here is to minimize Oxygen ingress, and use fresh pelletized hops.  Don't use bags that have sat open or warm, actively purge the headspace of oxygen with Co2 while adding hops from the top of the vessel.  It's also very important to make sure the beer is dry hopped warm.  We generally want the beer to sit on dry hops for about a week, but we'll extend that occasionally depending on the particular beer.  A few other things that I've heard out there are bubbling Co2 through the bottom of the vessel to rouse the hops, dry hopping before fermentation winds down, circulating the beer with a pump during the dry hopping period, and the list goes on...

The hazy versus clear IPA is probably the hottest topic in craft beer right now.  It's almost as polarizing as the ongoing presidential race.  I'd consider myself a moderate in this case.  Our beer is on the clearer side, but there is a noticeable hop haze, especially when very fresh.  I think that the haze contributes a great flavor and body that may be unattainable in a filtered or otherwise clear beer.  As far as the New England haze goes, there are those out there doing it very well, and those that are cheap knock offs...  It's pretty obvious who the cheap knock offs are...

With yeast it really depends on what you're looking to achieve.  Are you brewing an East Coast IPA, where a more traditional English yeast may be a good fit, or are you brewing a West Coast IPA where bitterness is key and you may want to select the Chico strain?  We personally like our beers to be very dry and not yeast focused.  We found the San Diego Super strain to be a great fit for our production environment and flavor profile.  It's a beast when it comes to attenuation, and versatility while remaining a backup singer to the hops that we're focusing on. 

You can't be afraid to experiment.  Through experimentation you find which hops play nicely together and then you can build upon that relationship.  There is certainly more out there than Citra and Mosaic to play with.  Try some of the experimental hops, change up your dry hopping regimen, keep the IPA focused on the hops, but don't let it become one dimensional.

Doug Reiser - Burial Beer Co.

IPA is the most important style to American brewers. It can be anything. It doesn’t have to be clear, bitter, hazy, juicy, light-colored, 6%, or 7%. It just has to be hop driven. An IPA should be an expression of hops, with a little support from their friends in the malt family. Hops can be accentuated by water chemistry, yeast, or heck, more hops. I don’t see a reason to define IPA as a historical category. It has evolved worldwide. Let it keep going.  

When going to the drawing board, I’m looking to the desired end product always. What do I want the drinker to taste? Am I going tropical and juicy, or citrus and smooth, or piney and sharp, or floral and fluffy? That determination is step one, and that turns me immediately to water and yeast. Once I set those in place I can pick my hops and malt. I cannot remember the last time that I said “Oh, I like these hops. I’m going to make a beer around them.” It is almost always the finished product experience that starts the ball rolling, and yeast is a huge first step once I have that in place. 

When it comes to water parameters we are all over the place - and I think that’s great. We read a lot of water reports from around the country. It all depends on the finished product experience. But we do everything from extremely soft (Asheville water is nearly devoid of salts) to moderately hard. Some IPA has higher sulfates and some has higher chlorides. We often balance Calcium and Magnesium as much as we can and use a bounty of Bicarbonate. If you aren’t messing with your water table each time, and designing to each beer, you are missing out on a valuable aspect of your beer. 

Like most brewers these days, we eschewed bitterness for smoothness. Even our West Coast-styled IPAs have come down quite a bit in exchange for more present water chemistry. We are strong believers in the whirlpool, perhaps far beyond what many these days are doing. The amount of ripe fruity flavors that can be extracted there should never be overlooked. We very seldom add hops before the whirlpool. Many would probably be surprised to know that we balance our whirlpool and dry hop additions pretty closely. We don’t significantly use a ton more dry hops, but we believe it helps balance the beer more. 

A good grain bill has base malts and flaked malts. We use about 8 different base malts at Burial and they are crucial, not just an afterthought. We also use a ton of local proteins. NC grows some killer Wrens Abruzzi Rye and Turkey Red Wheat. You will never see a crystal malt unless we do a Black IPA. On very limited occasions we might use 2-4% of a lightly modified sweet malt. 

Our dry hop process is beer dependent as well. Process is key to hitting specific taste profiles, so we may actively dry hop, hop off the yeast or multi-stage it. Regardless, we limit hop exposure time to just a few days to maintain freshness. I think it is crucial to avoiding the off-putting flavors of some of the huge AA% hops. 

I love hazy and clear IPAs. Again, this is just a different drinking experience. I will drink clear Altamont Beer Works IPAs all day and wake up and drown myself in hazy Other Half Brewing IPAs. We have our own approach in that we use a very strange and unique yeast to make IPA. It provides us with a robust yeast character that brings out different flavors from the hops than many would expect. 

Our house yeast sings in all of our “house-style" of IPA, and we often will blend it in different ratios with a cleaner yeast to reach a particular beer goal of attenuation or clean hop presence. Of course, we also still make some Chico yeast IPA, and it’s clear as day. Yeast is so vital to the success of our IPA.

It’s most important to be creative. Don’t copy what others are doing. When I first tasted our first foray with our house yeast I said: “I have never tasted this before.” And that blew me away so much that I was hooked. I just hope that others out there are doing the same. Never stop experimenting, ever.

Karl Volstad - Civil Society Brewing Co.

When I think of IPA, I think of something with moderate bitterness and juicy fruity character.  Hops are always the first thought and after that it's how we can make sure that they shine in the finished product.  When picking out which hops to use, it’s really just how I feel when I’m thinking of a recipe.

We treat our water to accentuate hop character and mouthfeel.  It’s important to know what water you’re working with.  We use RO water and build it back up from there.

A good malt bill is one that gets out of the way of the hops.  I just want to keep it basic.  I definitely think you can over think or get too cute when it comes to your malt selection. 

As far as dry hopping goes, I think the temperature that you dry hop at is important.  I prefer to dry hop between 65-72 degrees and making sure that the hops are in suspension to get as much contact time as possible. 

I don’t care whether an IPA is clear or hazy – good beer is good beer wither way.  Most of our beers lean towards hazy. 

Yeast in an IPA all depends on what you’re going for.  West coast IPA would generally lean towards a neutral clean fermenting yeast and for the east coast IPAs you’d be looking for a strain you can coax some fruity character out of. 

Most important to a great IPA are water and your dry hopping process.