Editor’s note: This is the first beer column from James Patrick, who has covered the industry for years. The column will appear every other week.
The world needs more IPAs. Or put another way, the marketing arm of the beer world can’t get enough of IPAs.
That might explain why a relatively new, California-driven style of IPA is skyrocketing in popularity. Brut IPAs have exploded onto the scene this year, with over 1,000 now on the beer rating website Untappd. More than 100 Brut IPAs were added to Untappd in the past three weeks alone.
The Brut IPA is divisive because of how it tastes. Brewers add an enzyme during the brewing process that breaks down a beer’s complex sugars. That gives the yeast more to eat. The result is a beer with a crisp finish. With very little sugar left unfermented, it’s an acquired taste.
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Some Sacramento-area brewers are skeptical about the boom in Bruts. Kyle Leddy, New Glory’s head brewer, made a Brut IPA earlier this year. That was the first and only time you’ll find it on tap there, Leddy said.
“I really wanted to like it and I think a lot of other people wanted to like it, but I don’t know that anybody really does like it,” Leddy said.
David Brown isn’t a fan.
Brown, the owner of Elk Grove’s Dreaming Dog Brewery, recently made a Brut double IPA. He already had a pair of double IPAs in his repertoire, but he wanted to do something different because his customers were pestering him.
“That’s one where my customers have been telling me that my double IPA isn’t hoppy enough for them and we wanted to take it to a level of extreme,” Brown said.
Did it work?
“I’ve had more than a few people now who think it’s gone overboard,” Brown said.
But people are buying it.
Flatland Brewing’s Andrew Mohsenzadegan has made five Brut IPAs, and he’s enthusiastic about the style. Mohsenzadegan touts varieties he’s made that taste like a rosé wine or like champagne. Customers can’t get enough.
“People who don’t like IPAs, or who like light beer, they like Bruts because they’re so dry and the bitterness is really soft,” Mohsenzadegan said. “I haven’t come across Brut IPA that’s bitter yet.”
At least the Bruts are true to what an IPA should taste like, Mohsenzadegan said. India pale ales were first brewed by the British. They over-hopped ales so they would survive long voyages to the far reaches of their empire.
And they are a hop-forward hit with today’s drinkers. There are almost 200,000 IPAs registered on Untappd. Stouts, by comparison, account for about 100,000 beers. There are about 45,000 lagers. Consumers are saying, pretty loudly, that they want an IPA.
But often they’re saying they want an IPA that’s, well, a huge departure from tradition.
“You have to make money,” Mohsenzadegan said. “We’re also a business. We make consumer goods and you have to listen to consumers. If they want a milkshake, fruited, weird, vanilla, lactose-driven IPA that tastes nothing like an IPA, we put ‘IPA’ in the title to sell more of it. It’s bizarre. It’s a crazy world we’re in right now.”
Mohsenzadegan says he understands why that’s happening. Breweries are trying to meet a huge surge in demand for IPAs. But, he says, milkshake IPAs aren’t true to the style.
“There’s fruit you can throw into these things and still have it be hop-forward and not taste like a milkshake,” he said.
The pressure to innovate — or the pressure to make a certain style of IPAs — is enormous. Brewers have watched hazy, New England-style IPAs take over the market. Brewers that didn’t make a New England were left in the haze.
It makes business sense to keep an eye on trends. Leddy, from New Glory, points to San Francisco, where the Brut IPA was born. Seemingly every brewery there, Leddy said, offers a Brut IPA.
“It’s like peer pressure at that point,” he said. “You don’t want to be the only brewery on the block not making a style everyone else is making. You look like the outsider.”
Still, maybe the Brut IPA isn’t the style to go copycatting. We, as a society, managed to move away from stonewashed jeans, once we realized they were ugly things. The problem with the Brut IPA is a simple one. Drinking it somehow makes you more thirsty.
“You don’t want a beer to be so dry that you feel like you drank sand,” Leddy said.