IPAs for the non-IPA fan

source: Wall Street Journalsource: Wall Street Journal

Anybody with a passing knowledge of the American craft beer craze should be aware that of all the various beer styles there is only one champion, the American IPA. While there is a coastal rivalry as to whether this style should be nothing but an explosion of bittering hops or equally intense bitter hops and sweet malts there is no debate that in America, the IPA is king.

While this style is immensely popular with the craft beer fanatic it is also one of the least accessible beer styles. The bitterness of hops is something of an acquired taste, especially those beers who IBUs are nearing the absurd. To expect the novice craft drinker to leap wholeheartedly into this style is a bit unrealistic.

Mike and I have discussed on numerous occasions that there is a hops “arms race” where breweries eager to out bitter each other are racing toward a bitter level that exceeds common-sense and good flavor. While more often than not you’ll see an IPA in my hand more and more I yearn for something different, namely subtle flavor, from my favorite style.

The Wall Street Journal of all places recently published an article called IPAs for People Who Don’t Like IPAs. They list five beers that take advantage of a different class of hops, those that provide a more sweet flavor from their oils than the bitterness from their acids. They argue that these IPAs are great examples of subtle IPAs that might intrigue the non-IPA drinker. (Of which I know a few.)

  1. Great Lakes Chillwave Double IPA: Hop-of-the-moment Mosaic bursts through this beer like a splash of mango nectar. It comes on like fruit soda but finishes with an IPA’s bracing bitter kick.
  2. Widmer Brother’s Old Embalmer: Oregon’s Widmer has a long relationship with Yakima Valley hops growers, and often gets first dibs on experimental strains like John Haas’s X–431, featured in this barley wine. The beer is strong, and its caramel sweetness complements the hops’ notes of blood orange and grapefruit rind.
  3. Tallgrass 8-Bit: Like a sweet-sour mojito, 8-Bit blossoms rich and juicy—pineapple and cactus fruit—but drifts off with a menthol-ish tickle into a cooling finish. Hot and cold, deep and bright, springtime in the desert.
  4. New Belgium Rampant: A brash name for a bright and bubbly beer. Mosaic and Calypso hops provide fruity flavor—peach, pear, pluot, strawberry—but classically American-accented Centennials provides a tempering zest of candied lemon peel.
  5. Samuel Adams Double Agent IPL: This “imperial lager” gets its juiciness from New Zealand-grown Nelson Sauvins hops. Named for Sauvignon Blanc and the star of the burgeoning Kiwi hops industry, this strain mimics the gooseberry fruit and sweet finish of cool-climate white wines.

I haven’t gotten to try any of these beers and feel slighted that obviously three of the five breweries do sell to our market. I haven’t seen the Great Lakes, Widmer Brothers, or Sam Adams anywhere in town. I am hoping that we get some so I can get a taste of what the WSJ is calling a subtle IPA.

Has anyone else gotten to try these? Are they a softer, friendlier, more richly defined IPA? Are these types of beers the inevitable backlash against an industry obsessed with hop flavor? I am curious to see.