Meet the next big IPA substyle in craft: Brut IPA
Hazy IPAs are clearly the trendiest hoppy beer in the country. Breweries are scrambling to pump out as many as they can, replacing tap lines that used to be dedicated to the classic West Coast IPA with new fruit-forward beers in the New England IPA fashion. The East Coast has toppled the West Coast’s hop dominance.
But this East Coast dominance might be coming to an end soon. A new IPA substyle born in California is spreading from brewery to brewery like a wildfire. It goes by a lots of names -- sometimes called the San Francisco IPA, or a Brut IPA, or a Champagne IPA -- but whatever the name, it’s united by its pale color, bone-dry body and fruity hop aromas. Think of a sparkling glass of dry Champagne but with fruit-forward hop aromas.
The Brut IPA has obvious summer appeal and it’s quickly spreading across the country from its birthplace in San Francisco. The style originated with Kim Sturdavant, the head brewer of San Francisco’s Social Kitchen and Brewery. Sturdavant stumbled upon the idea of a Brut IPA when he was using an enzyme called amyloglucosidase to balance the sweetness in his Triple IPAs.
Amyloglucosidase helps fully ferment all of the sugars out of a beer, an important function for making sure hop flavors shine through the heavy malt bill of a high-alcohol beer like a Triple IPA. That led Kim to ask, what happens when you use this enzyme on a lower alcohol beer?
“I just thought it would be really rad to [use Amyloglucosidase] for an everyday drinking beer, just a bone dry IPA. And that kind of blossomed into what can I do to make this champagne-like and how could I make tropical, sparkling, fruity aromas in a glass of beer?”
The next time Sturdavant got room in his brewing schedule he put this idea to the test. He brewed a lower alcohol pale ale with a fruit-forward hop character (thanks to some Nelson Sauvin Hops) and a completely bone dry body thanks to this special enzyme. He released his first pints of “Hop Champagne” in November of 2017.
The regulars at his pub, located a few blocks from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, immediately took a liking to this new creation and word spread. A few of his brewing friends asked if they could copy the style, he said absolutely, and before long the idea took off. Soon Cellarmaker Brewing across town and Drake’s Brewing Company across the bay both released their versions.
“More and more people in the Bay Area started making them. Then I started getting emails from people in Australia, New England, Brazil, and all over the U.S.,” Sturdavant said.
Sturdavant thought about what to call the style and ultimately landed on “Brut IPA,” borrowing a wine term that signifies that there is very little sugar left in the glass. That also helped differentiate Brut IPAs from Biere de Champagne, a style of beer that borrows the specific sparkling-wine techniques used on Champagne.
Sturdavant has since established a few style guidelines for Brut IPAs: the beer must be pale, extremely dry, highly carbonated, and demonstrate clear hop aromas. Sturdavant said he tends to avoid the most astringent hop aromas like grassy and pine flavors, instead focusing on fruit forward hops.
“I’ve been sticking with higher oil content hops with very tropical aromas that have even a hint of gasoline instead of pine or grassiness aromas,” Sturdavant said. “I associate grassy and piney aromas as having more bite, instead of pineapple and passionfruit.”
The Brut IPA should also be a lower alcohol beer, according to Sturdavant. High concentrations of alcohol can be perceived as sweetness, even if the beer itself is dry, so Sturdavant recommends keeping Brut IPAs below 6% alcohol.
“It’s been really fun tasting other people’s examples of [the Brut IPA] and piking little bits from each one to draw a learning experience,” Sturdavant said. “It’s super cool that I could have a concept that people are so drawn to. It’s kind of like a really cool achievement, I’m pumped on it.”
This beer style probably wouldn’t have taken off a decade ago, when brewers were more concerned with brewing beer free of adjuncts or things like enzymes. Sturdavant said even he would have been against using enzymes ten years ago.
“I would have said ‘You can’t use an enzyme, that’s what Budweiser does,’ but this day and age nobody really cares about the rules,” Sturdavant said. “We’re just trying to make things that are interesting and taste good and make sense. It’s exciting.”
Written by Lester Black