For those who have grown weary of the hazy beer trend, a new hope has arrived. Unlike the murky and juicy Northeast-style IPAs that have dominated the beer scene for the last couple years, the hot new sub-style of IPA is pale, clear and ridiculously dry — and it was born right here in Northern California.
The first Extra Brut IPA — called Hop Champagne, so named for its high carbonation, light body and champagne-like finish — was brewed last year by Kim Sturdavant at Social Kitchen & Brewery in San Francisco. Largely influenced by trendsetters such as Vinnie Cilurzo at Russian River Brewing Company, brewers long have been using corn sugar to enhance the dryness of their IPAs, but the Extra Brut IPA takes that concept a step further.
Of course, we’re not brewers, so we’ll let AJ Tendick of Bike Dog Brewing Company explain the science behind the Extra Brut IPA:
“When barley is malted, it activates these enzymes that are then deactivated when it’s kilned. ... Then when we crush it and soak it in hot water, it reactivates these enzymes,” Tendick said. “Those enzymes are breaking down some of the more complex sugars into simpler ones that the yeast breaks down further and turns into alcohol. But you’re always left with some residual sugar.”
The Extra Brut style simply adds more of those active enzymes. “The enzyme is a naturally cultured version of that same enzyme that’s already in the grain, (but) you’re just giving it a lot more,” Tendick said. “It continues to break down all those complicated sugars into simpler sugars, which allows the yeast to further break down those bonds and create more alcohol, and it dries the beer out.”
In contrast to the hazy and milkshake IPAs that have become ubiquitous in recent years, the Extra Brut IPA has a light color, a clear body, a thin mouthfeel, a bone-dry finish and a simplified grain bill to spotlight the pleasantly bitter hops. Inspired by Social Kitchen, Bay Area breweries such as Cellarmaker Brewing Company and Triple Voodoo Brewery were quick to brew their own versions. However, Drake’s Brewing Company has led the charge to define and spread knowledge about the style ever since creating its own version in February.
When the curious brewers at Bike Dog reached out to Drake’s for information about the Extra Brut process, Drake's head brewer, John Gillooly, made a trip to West Sacramento within a week to brew a collaboration beer. That “science project” became Et Tu Brut? (8.5 percent ABV), a clean, crisp, drinkable brew released in late March. Neither sweet nor sticky, the beer’s extremely dry finish functions much like the pinch of salt in a gose, continually beckoning your tongue back to the glass for another sip.
The reaction so far from Bike Dog drinkers has been enthusiastically positive. “For all the people that were crazy excited about that milkshake IPA that we made, there’s just as many people that are old-school, and they want the next thing in crisp, clear, West Coast beers,” Tendick said. “It’s nice that we have got a little warm weather, because that makes a dry beer that much better.”
Never ones to shy away from an experimental beer, Flatland Brewing Company in Elk Grove also recently debuted its own Extra Brut IPA called Hop Perignon (7 percent ABV). The version is just as crisp and clear as the Bike Dog beer, albeit slightly less dry and a little more flavorful. It smells and tastes a lot like a session IPA, only with the elevated alcohol content of a regular IPA.
Flatland co-owner and head brewer Andrew Mohsenzadegan researched the process on his own and brewed the beer mainly because he wanted to taste it, and the reaction from customers has been positive for him as well. “It’s a nice contrast because I think people are looking for dry beer, even though (many) are still in that Northeast-style phase right now,” he said. “I’m hoping this will get people back into beer-flavored beer.”
Further developing a still-evolving process, Mohsenzadegan plans to brew an Extra Brut pilsner next, applying the same enzyme-adding technique to a different beer style. “It will be a super bone-dry, low-bitterness pilsner with hop aroma and flavor — a good summertime refresher,” Mohsenzadegan said.
“The Northeast drinkers are still going to like these beers, but it’s nice to get back to something dry,” he said. “We have had a couple years of fairly sweet beers, with the pastry stouts and adjunct barley wines, so hopefully this is the start of something cool.”
Daniel Barnes is a freelance writer, film critic, craft beer enthusiast and one half of the blog “His & Her Beer Notes.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.