Brut, Milkshake, and Hazy – These Aren’t Your Grandparents’ IPAs

Brut, Milkshake, and Hazy – These Aren’t Your Grandparents’ IPAs

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

I don’t think it’s going to surprise anyone to hear that the most popular style of craft beer in the US is the American IPA. The Brewers Association put out a report after CBC (Craft Brewers Conference) in which surveys of craft professionals indicated that hoppy beers were the number driver of craft beer growth for early 2018. And within the hoppy beer world, the American IPA still reigns as king according to their numbers.

By now, most people who are even casual fans of craft beer know the history of the IPA, but here’s the short version for the folks just now getting into craft. In the days when the sun never set on the British Empire there were English soldiers stationed everywhere in the world, including bloody hot India. Being English soldiers, they wanted beer. Unfortunately, most of the beer would spoil on the ships on the way to, or within, India. What to do? The brewers started adding alot more hop to act as an antibacterial and some extra malt to produce a bit more alcohol, again as an antibacterial agent.

When the now unspoiled beer arrived in India, the soldiers were meant to cut it with water – but they didn’t. They like the higher alcohol, and came to like the added hop bitterness. When they got back to England, they wanted to be able to drink the pale ale like they had in India, so the brewers started making it for the domestic market – the India Pale Ale. So the American version (with even more hops) has its roots in the pale ale and in England.

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To be sure, there has been some movement within the style – IPA doesn’t mean a single thing anymore. The hazy IPAs can’t really be seen as the same kind of beer as a west coast IPA; their flavors, bodies, and bitterness are just so different. This is one of the reasons that GABF expanded their competition categories for 2018 to include Hazy/Juicy American IPAs and Hazy/Juicy Pale Ales.

The questions then become, if there are different kinds of IPAs – how many are there? Would I know it if I were drinking something other than a straight American IPA? How do IPA sub-styles differ? Are some of these sub-styles distinctions without differences or are there bright line demarcations between types of IPAs? As I started looking into it, I realized that it’s going to take me three articles to cover all the sub-styles – that’s how many there are.

In most cases, you may not discern a palpable difference between some IPAs. But in other cases, it isn’t hard to tell them apart – the haziest of the NE IPAs isn’t going to be mistaken for a black IPA. However, in all the sub-styles there is a continuum, New Englands that are much less hazy (my preference), West Coasts that have much more fruity flavors and aromas than normal, white IPAs that have more or less wheat in the grist.

Therefore, with the caveat that there is never a bright line indicator as to what IPA you are drinking (trust your brewer to describe it at least semi-appropriately), here is a list of the recognized IPA types…recognized by BJCP, BA, UnTappd, or just by brewers making certain styles. We’ll start with the newest one first – how many brut IPAs have you had recently? I have tasted no fewer than twelve versions of this sub-style since late July, and I don’t usually go seeking hoppy beers.

Indiana City’s Brut is one of the great local dry IPAs. The part I wonder about is how to keep a dry beer at 5.5% and yet keep the malt at a decent level. image credit: Indiana City Brewing

1) Brut IPA – This particular IPA sub-style originated in Northern California in 2017, and very well may be the next big thing in IPAs. The first example of this beer (from Social Kitchen & Brewery) was compared to a dry champagne, and in wine parlance “dry” is referred to with the French translation – “brut.” Hence we get the overly snooty name of the brut IPA. The brut has some fruitiness from hop flavor and aroma, but it’s not as juicy as NE IPA, which we’ll talk about below. It’s light colored, clear, and has a very short, dry finish from a lack of residual sugar – that’s what makes a brut a brut.

The brut IPA is a dry, fizzy beer with plenty of hop aromatics, but not as much bitterness as a typical American IPA.  In fact, some people ask if it should it really be called an IPA given its comparatively low bitterness. My answer – there’s such flexibility of practically all the beer categories and brewers routinely cross lines with their descriptions and categorizations, so who cares if this isn’t the most technical IPA in the world.

There are a couple of ways to go about achieving the dryness – one, you can use simple pale malts and mash the heck out of them (little higher temp or for 90 min. instead of 60 min., or recirculating the mash liquid) to get the complex sugars broken down into fermentable sugars, (but not mashed so hard that you get unwanted compounds in the wort). Then, when fermented, more of the sugar is converted to alcohol and other compounds and less sugar is left in the beer – ie. it’s drier.

Therefore, it is easier to make a dry beer if the original gravity isn’t too high, like in the pale ale range (1.050-ish) to low IPA range (1.060-ish). Of course, beer and brewing being what there are, not many people stick to the straight idea of the dryness for the brut; a recent beer I tried from Country Boy in Lexington was a brut IPA with peach fruit added – why get rid of extra sugar to make a brut just to add back sugar with fruit? The weirdest part – that was one of the driest brut IPAs I have tried (not much peach there).

The other way to dry out the beer for a brut or extra-brut IPA is by using an enzyme called amyloglucosidase. This enzyme is present in the malted grain and is one of the mechanisms by which that complex sugars are broken down to glucose (a fermentable sugar). But you can dry out a beer easily by supplementing the mash with an additional dose of this enzyme. In general, bruts made with the enzyme are described as extra-brut, while those made by manipulating the mash are called simply bruts – but like everything else, it’s not a hard and fast rule.

Brew Link Brewing in Plainfield has one of the best milkshake IPA series we have come across. image credit: twitter: in_hop_pursuit

So that’s the brut IPA, where effort is made to maximize the sugars that can be eaten by the yeast. Another relatively new IPA goes the opposite direction; it’s made to increase the amount of non-fermentable sugar, so that the final beer is sweet, and has a full body mouthfeel and slickness afforded by that extra sugar that remains – these are the milkshake IPAs.

2) Milkshake IPA – Early in 2016, Tired Hands Brewing teamed with Omnipollo in Sweden for a new type of beer. A few other east coast breweries picked up the trend and started started putting out what they called milkshake IPAs. These are a form of hazy IPA (see below), but they aren’t hazy for the same reason as what we now call New England IPAs. Whereas hops as flavoring and aroma agents are the key factors and hop remnants and other metabolized compounds are used as body agents for New Englands, the milkshake IPAs use fruits and vanillins for flavoring and aroma, and the big mouthfeel comes from lactose.

If they really want to be called IPAs, the hops (usually American) usually contribute to the fruity flavor and aroma, but the milkshake part comes from the sweetness, mouthfeel and fruitiness overall. They are hazy because of the added lactose and from the pectin of the fruit that doesn’t break down. This leads to a perma-haze; it isn’t going away no matter how long it sits. The haze can even be augmented by using grist additions of flaked barley or oats.

The fact that some milkshake IPAs have a considerable contribution from the hops, it isn’t offensive to me that these dessert kinds of beers are still referred to as IPAs. What I don’t get is that they are hazy IPAs, but are not considered to fall under the hazy/juicy IPAs in every day description. Hazy/juicy, as described by Brewers Association or just about anyone else, is reserved for New Englands, and it doesn’t seem to be much of a topic of conversation amongst beer folks; everybody basically accepts the common usages.

image credit: The Alchemist

3) New England IPA/Hazy IPA/East Coast IPA/Vermont IPA – This is the third of the newest IPAs sub-styles and the last we will discuss in this first article. While I’m speaking of this last, there is no argument that this is the IPA sub-style that has taken America by storm more than the others. It was late 2010 when The Alchemist in Vermont introduced the DIPA Heady Topper with huge late additions of hops and some haze in the final product. Slowly, other Vermont breweries added to the portfolio of what was first known as the Vermont IPA, but s now called the New England or Hazy IPA.

Over the ensuing years the beers have gotten hazier and more “juicy,” to the point now that some varieties need to be chewed when you drink them. Sometimes referred to as the anti-IPA because hop bitterness is nowhere to be seen in this sub-style, it is the fruity flavors and aromas that take center stage. So far this sounds a lot like the milkshake IPA, but the difference between the two lies in mechanisms by which the haze, flavor, and juiciness are achieved.

In the case of the New England IPA, the haziness comes from a combination of very late hopping in the boil, a ton of dry hopping – either in the fermentation or afterward – and the yeast used. This combination can be fairly straightforward or chemically complex; the important thing to remember is that haziness is not the goal – flavor and body are the goal, and hazy appearance just happens to be a byproduct.

The first yeast strains used for these beers came to be known as Vermont yeasts, and they have a tendency to do a couple of things, 1) metabolize a variety of wort constituents, not just the sugars, 2) stick to the hops compounds and to each other so they stay in solution and don’t flocculate (clump and fall out) as well. Both of these factors tend to increase the haze, from either the yeast not settling out or from something called biotransformation. This is a chemical process where the yeast modify hop compounds in the fermenter and produce other chemicals – some are terpenoids, some are hydrolyzed, and some other large compounds that tend to hang up in the beer.

I don’t really want you to obsess on the chemistry. Just know that biotransformation is a complex process. image credit: DOI: 10.1021/jf300018s

But do brewers use late hops or hops in the fermenter to get the haze? No. They do it because biotransformation and late/dry hopping modify the flavor and aroma. Late hop additions mean less time in the boil, so fewer compounds from the hops are converted to bitter flavors and less of the aromatic oils and chemicals are carried of in the steam. Therefore, more hop flavor and aroma make it into the beer. The same kinds of things go on in during dry hopping, it’s just that New England IPAs employ ALOT more hops for dry hopping, so everything is magnified.

It’s the hops in the fermenter that really help define the New England. The biotransformation of the hops by the yeast creates new aroma and flavor compounds, things that wouldn’t be there without having the hops there while the yeast are active. For example, citronellol can be produced by yeast from the hop compound geraniol. You know citronellol, it’s that lemony smelling compound in citronella candles that keep the mosquitoes away. Thank the yeast as much as the hops when you drink your hazy IPA. True they tend to use the fruitier, more tropical hops, but the yeast acting on the hops is the secret weapon. For a great Indiana example, try the Nickel from 18th Street Brewery, but you’ll have to convince Drew to make it again, Lord knows I‘ve tried.

Conclusion – So those are the three newer IPAs that are all the rage in the US right now. The differences range from subtle to stark, but the common themes are that these aren’t the hops in your face IPAs of even a couple years ago, and they each bring something new to the table. Flavor, body, and other characteristics have supplanted bitterness in the new styles, although the straight American IPA is still selling well. Do they represent the vanguard of a permanent shift in the palates of drinkers, or are they nothing more than fads? My guess is that they will be steered into the corral of beer styles that we have come to know and will become part of the permanent herd.

Next time, let’s talk about nine or ten additional styles of IPA, some of which people are more familiar with.

banner image credit: Paste Magazine

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