Back From the Vault, Black Ipa

Sequels are safe. They allow you to wring every last drop of value from a single good idea. The formula: take your original idea, add a slight twist, repeat. It’s as true for Disney as it is for the craft beer world. Hop-forward Pale Ales sparked the craft beer revolution and we’ve been drinking the sequels ever since.

Each iteration, we are assured that THIS is the next big thing to take the craft beer world by storm. And there is a surge in popularity of this “new” thing for a few months. Then it fizzles. And we’re on to the next big thing.

Here’s the steady parade of IPA twists that I remember in my craft brewing career.

It started with Pale Ale.

Then India Pale Ale (IPA) – pale ale with more hops.

Then Double India Pale Ale (DIPA) - IPA with more hops and more alcohol.

Then Double Dry Hopped (DDH) IPA – IPA with a second round of dry hops

Then Black IPA – A contradiction in terms (both Black and Pale?), but just means a hoppy dark beer.

Then Belgian IPA – A Belgian-style ale with peppery yeast-derived notes and bold new world hops.

Then Session IPA – A low-abv but heavily dry-hopped beer that you could ostensibly drink “All Day”.

Then New England IPA (NEIPA) – which is IPA without the bitterness and even larger doses of Dry Hops.

Then Milkshake IPA – Adds lactose to NEIPA driving it sweeter, creamier and into Creamsicle territory

Then Brut IPA – a response to the increasing sweetness in the once bitter style, this is a super dry (low residual sugar) yet hoppy beer template that never really caught on.

Then Cold IPA – fermented colder providing a crisp, clean canvas for a heavy dose of hops

But it’s starting to seem like we are out of ideas and about to enter what I call the “Disney Vault” era of IPA. For a limited time only, we will re-release our old good ideas…again!


Dry HoppingA technique where brewers add hops to a beer that has fermented. Sometimes it is early in fermentation where the brewer intends for the yeast to interact with the hop compounds to produce novel aromatic compounds (bio-transformation). Other times it is at the very end of fermentation to add a bold hop aroma (this was the original practice developed in the UK, Pale Ale casks are typically dosed with dry hops). NOTE: Dry is a reference to the beer having relatively low residual sugar at the end of fermentation, not to the moisture level of the hops. The vast majority of hops are commercially dried to preserve their flavor & aroma stability.

The West Coast IPA seems to be experiencing a revival and, one could argue that virtually everything in that list, prior to NEIPA, was driven by innovation on the West Coast. Sierra Nevada brought us Pale Ale, Stone / 21st Amendment / Ballast Point / Lagunitas / and their West Coast brethren all pushed the DIPA into the marketplace. Russian River pushed the Dry-Hopping limits with Pliny the Elder. Later “Triple IPA” Pliny the Younger, would push more limits checking in at a whopping 10.25% ABV!

Heady Topper, an East Coast DIPA that changed the IPA game, might signal the shift towards East Coast influence, but I would argue it was an early proto-type for what became the NEIPA – a transitional form in the IPA evolution. Compared to what NEIPA has become, Heady has has more in common with West Coast styles with it’s relatively bold bitterness, and distinctive UK malt character. But it broadly seems like we are going back to the Pale Ale days and starting over.

Ultimately, the big thing that seems to be making a comeback is the idea of having beers with malt character that are balanced toward bitter. We welcome any return of this style as we still find it very enjoyable – in part – for nostalgic reasons (i.e. we’re old).

The other thing I’ve noticed popping up again is Black IPA. We’ve been experimenting with some as pilot batches (see Prova #32,Prova #38,Prova #44 and Prova #51) over the past few years but I think the marketplace might be ready for another resurgence of the style.

I mean for a little while – then it’s on to the next old thing.

As a sidebar, I’d suggest this seems to be part of a much larger arc; a growing movement away from gimmicky beers loaded with lactose, baked goods, and fruit. This movement appears to be celebrating historic beer styles from around the world, especially Bavarian styles. This is ironic because the original craft beer battle cry was ditch the flavorless light lager for hoppy, flavor packed ales. And now, craft brewers are brewing light lagers.

It’s all part of the cycle. And it brings me back to one key point: freshness matters. Drinking German beer in Germany is almost always better than drinking the imported version here in the states (refrigerated transit aside). Local breweries can deliver tastier lagers than Germany – especially from their taproom faucets – because they don’t have to survive a long ocean journey and staling ambient temperature in a container ship for weeks before reaching you. The hoppy beers that launched the revolution were only possible because people drank them fresh, at the source. This is the REAL advantage of craft beer and small batch brewing: freshness. It is more true for hoppy beers but it still makes a significant difference with ALL styles of beer, including light lager.

We’ve always been inspired by historic beer styles and are pleased to see them coming back into vogue. Just remember, I said that local brewers can deliver tastier lagers than their imported competitors. But that doesn’t mean they ALL produce quality continental clones. Brewing a delicate Pilsner or Kolsch can be challenging for someone who’s only made NEIPA. So as always, Caveat Emptor. But I think we are on the cusp of a retro brewing wave which will be an echo of the early 2000’s + more craft lager. And we’re here for it.

Three cheers for beer flavored beer!

Filed under #Beer101

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