American IPAs Part 1 – Not Your Father’s IPA

Sitting in the sleek Hoof Hearted Brewpub drinking a DIPA cloudier than a German Hefeweizen, fruitier than a grapefruit/mango smoothie, it’s hard to fathom how this beer could have evolved from the English-style IPAs of my youth.  In a single generation American IPAs have morphed into something that would be unrecognizable to the founders of CAMRA, let alone a 19th century trader in the East India Company.  How did this happen?  Is this shift driven by the availability of new ingredients, new brewing technology, shifting consumer tastes, or all of the above?

Those who have ever pondered questions of this ilk, possibly after one too many IPAs, should find this three-part series of interest.  Today I set the table with a brief look back at the evolution of the American IPA.  In part two brewers from seven Central Ohio breweries share their thoughts and tips on state of the art techniques for getting the most out of the humble humulus lupulus. In the third and final post local brewers sound off on hops that play well together.

One of the new wave of local IPAs, Actual’s Magnon made its debut earlier in 2016.

American IPAs – A Brief History

The introduction of citrusy, piney hops bred in the Pacific Northwest was the first expression of an indigenous style that could make some claim to be distinct from British pale ales.  According to my research the first beer that prominently featured American-bred hops was Anchor’s Liberty Ale, which was introduced in 1975 and featured Cascade hops. Probably even more influential was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which debuted in 1980 and also featured Cascade hops.  Though neither beer is strictly speaking an IPA they showed that a market existed for beers built around the new breeds of American hops.  One of the earliest examples of what we would now call an American IPA was Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale.  First released in 1981 this holiday favorite utilized three of what would become workhorse hops in IPAs of the future—Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook.

Despite the success of Sierra Nevada’s hoppy beers, it took another decade before IPAs started to gain popularity, and it was not until 2011 that they became the best-selling style of craft beer. One of the earliest IPAs to appear in Ohio was Barley’s Centennial IPA. First brewed in 1994 it combined American-bred Centennial hops with British Fuggle hops, but its availability was largely limited to the brewpub in downtown Columbus.

The next phase of the revolution was to amp up the flavors, subtlety and moderation are not core components of the American psyche.  East Coast IPAs, like those coming out of Dogfish Head, took both malt and hop profiles to new levels. West coast breweries like Stone, Green Flash, Russian River, and Bear Republic, threw the notion of balance out the window.  Their recipes were designed to showcase the flavors and aromas of the assertive American hops. Malts were subjugated to a supporting role.

Celebration Ale

Next we entered what I refer to as the vindaloo phase.  Beers like Ruination IPA and Palate Wrecker lured you in with beguiling, hoppy aromas and then walloped your taste buds with a big punch of resinous oils and bitter alpha acids.  Marketing and branding approaches long on machismo, double dog dared drinkers to acquire a taste for bracingly bitter beers.  Topping 100 International Bittering Units (IBUs) became a badge of honor. Mikkeller went so far as to release a beer that hit the 1000 IBU mark (at least on paper), even though scientists agree that our taste receptors saturate at roughly 100 IBUs.

Stepping back from the precipice of an all-out hopocalypse brewers gradually scaled back on bitterness while at the same time boosting the aromatic hop profile.  Hop varietals appeared that combined high alpha acid content with expressive citrus and tropical fruit aromas, examples include Citra (2008), El Dorado (2010), Mosaic (2012), Azacca (2013), and Eureka! (2015) among others.  Hops grown and/or bred in far flung locales like New Zealand (Nelson Sauvin), Australia (Galaxy), and Japan (Sorachi Ace) started appearing in American brewed IPAs.  Aromas such as melon, lemon, gooseberry, black currant, and blueberry were now in the spice cabinet. Brewers tweaked their recipes to bring out the complex, some might say exotic, aromas of this new wave of hops.

hops for homebrew

The emergence of session IPAs intensified the shift toward IPAs long on aroma and short on bitterness.  Not content with fruit flavors that could be coaxed out of the new hops, brewers started adding fruit juice directly to their IPAs.  Curiously no one elected to call these beers hoppy shandys. Given this trajectory it was only a matter of time before brewers married strains of yeast prized for their production of fruity esters with an aggressive schedule of dry hopping involving copious amounts of fruit forward hops. That takes us back to the fruity, über hazy glass of Roller Blabe sitting in front of me.

Angelo Reflects

I’ll finish today’s post with the thoughts of Angelo Signorino, brewmaster at Barley’s Brewing.  As one of Ohio’s longest tenured brewers Angelo played a pivotal role in introducing IPAs to Central Ohio beer lovers.  I asked him for a brewer’s perspective on the evolution of American IPAs.  His response gives you a sense of how far the ground has shifted in two decades.

What was perceived as hoppy decades ago is considered pedestrian these days. The first beer we dry hopped was our Irish Rogue for St. Patrick’s Day, 1993. We used 0.1 (1/10th) pound of hops per barrel. People found it noticeable. One friend even said the beer “smelled like weed.”

In 1994 we dry hopped our first batch of Centennial IPA with a whopping 0.3 lbs of hops per barrel. We first cask conditioned IPAs in 1995, which opened up the opportunity for another dry hop addition.

The hop additions increased incrementally over many years. Late additions and dry hops have continually increased. These days the hop bill for a hop-forward IPA would be along the following lines, amounts are per barrel (31 gallons):

  • 0.25 lb first wort hopping
  • 0.25 lb 60 minutes (high alpha acid hops)
  • 0.6 lb flame out
  • 0.6 lb end of whirlpool
  • 1.5 lb dry hop

(For those keeping track at home that’s five times more dry hopping the the original Centennial IPA recipe).

Trying to keep up with the relatively recent shift in trends and tastes is quite the adventure.

Angelo Fermenter
Angelo in front of one of the fermenters in the Barley’s brewhouse.

Come back tomorrow to learn how several Central Ohio brewers approach the modern-day IPA in my post, American IPAs Part 2 – (Hop) Timing is Everything.

3 thoughts on “American IPAs Part 1 – Not Your Father’s IPA

Add yours

  1. I was privy to some beta IPAs, and the first Centennial IPA produced by Barley’s. I am proud to say I am a longtime family friend of the Signorino clan. The Barley’s Centennial IPA is the best beer I’ve ever tasted, with Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Commodore Perry IPA being my favorite bottled IPA. I haven’t had a beer in six years, so I haven’t experienced the new wave IPAs, but I am proud to have had the privilege of enjoying the first batch of Centennial IPA, and am proud to be able to say that my favorite beer also happens to be the benchmark of IPAs in Central Ohio. Much love, Angelo.

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