Whether you’re a hophead or not, it’s hard to argue that American IPA is the “it” style in the craft beer scene.
A cornerstone of small and independent brewing is experimentation, and that’s exactly what brewers are doing with IPAs right now. From tropical to sour to spicy, here are 10 ways craft brewers are putting a spin in their IPAs.
(MORE: Why Are IPAs Still So Popular?)
This cactus-like plant is native to Mexico and the southern United States and is the prime ingredient in tequila. It contributes a sweet and syrupy nectar and can enhance the natural malt sweetness in an IPA or double IPA. While balanced, it can lend just a little sweetness or accent to a citrusy IPA. To see the liquid product of this union, pour some O’Connor Brewing’s El Guapo IPA or Victory Brewing’s Agave IPA.
Some flavors just don’t seem like they belong in beer, but somehow through art and experimentation, the brewer can exercise his or her art and make them blossom. Such is the case when a brewer adds lychee, small fruits the size of a large berry that taste similar to strawberries. When the bitterness of an IPA meets the sweetness of this fruit, the two have a symbiotic relationship with the sweetness making the bitterness behave and the bitterness encouraging the sweetness to let loose. To try this combination in a glass, pour some JDub’s Brewing’s Lychee IPA.
8. Buddha’s Hand
Known for its sweet zest, Buddha’s Hand looks like a human hand, and sections of its bulb are called “fingers.” It can be a challenge for brewers to get enough to come up with an entire commercial batch, but this one has potential when pairing a citrusy IPA or enhancing the already sweet malt backbone. To try this enlightening citrus, pour some Berryessa Brewing’s Buddha’s Hand IPA.
Always at home in a wild ale and a usual guest in some spontaneously fermented beers, Brettanomyces are a type of wild yeast that are not too common in IPAs — yet. While some brewers fear letting Brettanomyces into their facility, some have begun letting these yeasts make themselves at home in an IPA. Depending on the particular strain of Brettanomyces being used, any number of flavors can be contributed to the beer from barnyard to pineapple and beyond. The best way to sample the brewers brewtiful vision is to pour a sample of Stone Brewing’s Enjoy After IPA.
IPAs are well suited to add depth to a spicy meal, but what happens when the IPA itself carries some Scoville units? This type of IPA can carry an extra layer of spice to an enchilada, and make a mean fondue or soup base, or just a suitable summer sipper. In a world where brewers are experimenting to find more pepper, the jalapeño has become a welcome addition into the world of IPA, providing a polite partner for those looking to combine hot and hoppy. For a spicy IPA, pour an Alaskan Pilot Series: Jalapeño Imperial IPA.
5. White Oak
In a world where every brewery seems to age beer in barrels, some beer drinkers are hasty to cast aside wood-aged beers that weren’t aged in barrel with a spirit like rum or bourbon. Craft breweries sometimes age beer on wood spirals, which contribute an immense amount of flavor and take less time to finish than a barrel-aged beer. White oak specifically infuses woody flavors like vanilla and coconut into a citrusy IPA and can lend notes of creamsicle and dessert. To try an IPA of this persuasion, pour a Cigar City White Oak IPA.
4. Gin Barrel
Another seemingly unusual combination of flavor matches a gin barrel with an IPA. What pours forth from this wooden vessel is an IPA that combines notes of oak, pepper, spice and vanilla with a citrusy and fruity beer. While bourbon, rum and whiskey have become mainstream, gin is out there asking to be experimented with. To taste test this, pour some of Gigantic Brewing’s Gin Barrel Aged Pipe Wrench IPA.
3. Wine Must
Born from mixing beer and wine together in a glass, this particular style hybridizes beer and wine, putting fermenting beer together with wine must, so they can begin their zymurgic journey at the same time. Pouring an intoxicating red color, this particular beer benefits from the marriage of Syrah grape must and a hoppy IPA. Since these mature together, the result is a unique vinous drink that can only be described by pouring a Dogfish Head Brewery Sixty-One.
2. Mezcal Barrel
Mezcal is similar to tequila; it is simply the distillation of different types of agave (tequila is limited to blue agave) and made in different regions in Mexico. All tequilas are mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequila. As brewers look beyond traditional borders to find new nuanced vessels for their beers, mezcal offers a different path from traditional tequila. To try this spirited IPA, track down and pour some Mezcal Barrel Angel’s Trumpet from Adroit Theory Brewing.
1. Squid Ink
Capping off the list is the strangest IPA ingredient: squid ink. Wisconsin’s 3 Sheeps Brewing has a line of small batch beers where they look for unique ingredients and brewing challenges. They found both in this ingredient. The bottle says that the brewery wanted to brew something that had never been tried before.
“Squid ink, we found, darkens the beer and actually enhances the hop profile, along with contributing a slight briny character,” the brewery explains. Naturally, they brewed an earthy IPA to pair with this unusual ingredient. To dive into the briny deep of this beer, pour some 3 Sheeps Nimble Lips IPA with Squid Ink.
The spirit of IPA Day is going beyond the known into the unknown. Here is your chance to try that beer that you have always wanted to, but didn’t think you’d like. Just remember: beer is art and a brewer is a painter with a barley canvas. Without patrons, there is no art.
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