Movies & Booze - American IPAs

Dean McGuinness profiles a worthy favourite

Often on Movies and Booze we do unusual and rare beer styles. It can happen that we sometimes inadvertently side-step the most popular craft beer styles in our quest for something different. We are rectifying this today by selecting two beers from America (and probably Ireland’s) most popular craft beer style. In fact both beers are from probably the most popular sub-style from the most popular style – American IPA.

Our two beers for today are Stefan’s IPA from the Maisel’s and Friends range (Maisel’s Brewery, Bayreuth, Germany) and Red Hook Longhammer IPA from Red Hook Brewery, Seattle, Washington State, U.S.A.

American IPA

India Pale Ale originated in England – records suggest that the style of beer emerged in the 1700’s and became more popular into the 1800’s and beyond. Styles of beer can be sometimes tricky, and the more popular the style is, the more likely that two things will happen – (1) people will disagree as to the ‘true’ origins of the style, and (2) people will interpret the style differently, with the result that there will be versions of the beer out there that are quite different, but described using the same style name. Because India Pale Ale is a very popular style of beer, both of these are particularly true. I am going to side-step the ‘origins’ of the style, and instead talk about what one might hope to expect from an India Pale Ale, and how it has morphed and changed over time.

If we start with the ‘style family’ (India Pale Ale, or now just ‘IPA’ because each of these words have less and less relevance to the style family when one considers the many branches that have developed in this family tree), at the start there were three things that characterised beer that belonged to this style.

First of all, the beer is an ‘ale’ – it is brewed with top fermenting yeast (yeast that tends to rise to the top of the beer at the end of fermentation, and that tends to give fruity and fuller flavours – as compared to bottom fermenting, or ‘lager’, yeast, which tends to give cleaner flavours from fermentation). Even with this, the IPA style has been extended to include lagers, with some brewers now brewing ‘IPL’s’ (India Pale Lagers – a variation of IPA using a lager yeast).

Second of all, the beer is ‘pale’. In the 1700’s and 1800’s, the definition of pale was a bit more liberal than it is today. Pale ales in the 18th and 19th century could often be amber or even dark amber in colour. Pale, at that time, really referred to anything that wasn’t dark. The colour of the beer comes from the malt and grains used in the beer, and at that time, maltsters had more challenges in preparing malt that would allow the brewer to brew a bright golden beer. Up until recently, style guidelines would describe pale beers as including anything that would range from gold through to deep amber. Only recently have authors of style guidelines started to separate ‘amber’ beers from ‘pale’ beers, with the suggestion that pale (in modern times) is understood to be closer to golden or pale amber. With modern interpretations of IPA’s, some brewers have opted to stretch the colour definitions a bit. Black, Brown and Red IPA’s are all being brewed, and the idea that a ‘pale’ beer can be black is definitely a stretch (some West Coast U.S. brewers opt to call Black IPA’s ‘Cascadian Dark Ales’ in an attempt to avoid the oxymoron).

Thirdly, the style name incorporates the word ‘India’. There has been much discussion about this among beer geeks (me included!) as to what this exactly means. Sometimes people describe IPA’s as beers ‘invented to survive the long travel to India’. While there are grains of truth in this phrase, it is not exactly correct. Instead, it is true to say that having what would be considered an above average strength (by today’s standards – typically around 6% to 7.5% a.b.v.) would definitely help a beer stay fresh. Likewise, having lots of hops used in brewing beer also helps the beer stay fresh. Having a fresh, pale, hoppy ale in the hot climate of India is something that one would expect was received well by the beer drinkers of the time. It is the word ‘invented’ that gets most people into trouble. While brewing texts of around the time did suggest that using more hops would be appropriate when a beer is travelling a long distance, IPA’s are not the only beers that have lots of hops in them. Instead, it would appear that this style of beer worked well both in the Indian export market, and later back home in England, and the name ‘India Pale Ale’ followed much after.

Taking the first of the two characteristics above that would be associated with ‘India’ – i.e. a beer with above average strength – again, creative brewers have stretched this. Session IPA’s are brewed to more normal strengths – often between 4% and 5%, and sometimes (particularly in the U.K.), it has been stretched to 3% or even below. Likewise, Double IPA’s (or Imperial IPAs – IIPA’s) are brewed to strengths higher than what would be normal for IPA’s – 7.5% to 10%. Using the strength of the beer as being a definitive characteristic of all beers within the IPA style family is not, as a result, consistent.

That leaves us with hops. And, to put it simply, IPA’s are all about hops. Hops can impart bitterness to beer to balance the sweetness from residual sugars that have come from the malt used in brewing. Hop essential oils can also impart various different flavours into the beer. In fact, hops are so important to IPA’s that the beer style people have divided IPA sub-style families according to the origin of the hops. Whenever you see ‘American IPA’ or ‘English IPA’ the ‘American’ and ‘English’ refers to the source of the hops. While the flavours that one gets from the essential oils in hops are not directly related to where the hops are grown, it is true to say that there are some flavours that come through quite a bit and are associated with a range of American hops – namely citrus, pine and tropical fruit flavours – and there are other flavours that are generally associated with a number of English hops – earthy, herbal, minerally flavours. Seeing ‘English’ or ‘American’ with IPA on a label can give us a clue as to what to expect from hop flavour in the IPA, but truth be told, the variety of hops actually used is probably a better clue as to what to expect.

So now we understand IPA’s! Or do we. As with all styles, as soon as they start to settle down, some creative brewers look for new ways to stretch or re-interpret the style guidelines. Hybrid styles involve merging two (often quite different) styles to come up with something that is (ideally, from the point of view of the brewer that comes up with the idea) quite unique. White IPA’s (a merging of Witbier and IPA) and Sour IPA’s have come on the scene recently – but that is a story for another day!

Stefan’s IPA

Beer Style - American IPA
Alcohol by Volume - 7.3% a.b.v.
Brewed by - Maisel’s Brewery
Brewed in - Bayreuth, Upper Franconia, Bavaria, Germany.

Maisel’s Brewery is a brewery better known for an excellent range of wheat beers. However, as a fifth generation family brewery, one might expect that the passing of the years might impact on the traditions of the brewery. While Maisel’s still brew incredibly successful different styles of wheat beer (a hefeweiss, a Kristal weiss, a dunkel weiss – all available in Ireland – and even an organic (bio-)weiss that is not available in Ireland), all one has to do is look to the current fifth generation family member that is running the brewery – Jeff Maisel – and one might anticipate that a new influence might be creeping into Maisel’s beers.

Maisels also have at their brewery their ‘Beer Adventure World’, which I had the pleasure of visiting for the second time a few months ago. This is the most extensive brewing museum in the world, and now the end of the museum tour opens into an extensive restaurant with a wide range of beers from both Maisels and from various breweries with whom Maisels are friends.

All of these developments have a strong American influence suggested to them – and given that Jeff Maisel is the son of a German father and American mother, the source shift in the brewery’s heritage is obvious. The ‘Maisel’s and Friends’ range of beers that they are brewing (of which Stefan’s IPA is one variation) is an example of this American influence. Collaboration brews have become popular in the U.S. and have spread from there across the world – brewers working together to brew beers using the inspiration, knowledge and expertise of brewers from two (or more) breweries. The Maisel’s and Friends range of beers involve the Maisel’s brewers collaborating with friends of the brewery to brew beers to styles that may or may not be immediately associated with Germany. Given Jeff’s parentage, perhaps it is not surprising that an American IPA would surface in this range.

Stefan’s IPA is burnished gold in colour, with a full and tightly formed white/off white head. The aroma of Stefan’s IPA gives the promise of what will follow in the flavour – juicy and rich malt flavours come through in the aroma, and these develop into a complexity of flavour on the palate. Tropical fruits – luscious, mango, guava, pineapple, cantaloupe melon – combine with stone fruit (peach, apricot) and citric orange zest and sweet mandarin orange. This fruit flavour sits on top of a foundation of sweet, deep, rich malt flavours – caramel, soft toffee with suggestions of almond nut and candied almonds. Balance is present in the form of bitterness at the lower end of the range for IPA’s (40 IBU’s), but this is further supplemented by a distinct spiciness – freshly cracked black pepper and white pepper.

Certain countries are associated with certain styles. Germany – with the famous Rheinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Laws) – is very much associated with lagers, and American has become associated with its most popular beer style, the American IPA. It is a pleasure to see a German brewery tackling an interpretation of a style so synonymous with America, and doing it in a way that packs all of the punch and character that one associates with an American craft brewed beer combined with the complexity and sophistication that one would associate with a country such as Germany with a long and storied brewing history.

Stefan’s IPA is an IPA not to be missed!

Red Hook Longhammer IPA

Beer Style - American IPA
Alcohol by Volume - 6.0% a.b.v.
Brewed by - Red Hook Brewery
Brewed in - Seattle, Washington State, U.S.A.

Red Hook are one of America’s original craft breweries – established in the 1980’s at the birth of the American craft brewing movement. Red Hook retains its origins as one of the first craft breweries in the U.S., but has also teamed up with other craft brewing pioneers (such as Widmer brothers in Portland, Oregon) to form Craft Brewers Alliance. As a result of this partnership, these breweries have succeeded in making their beers available across the United States, and the breweries names are among the best recognised of the craft breweries in America.

West Coast U.S. has long had a tradition of being a touch alternative and edgy. While Portland in Oregon has a more grungy feel that combines the industrial essence of the city with the creative and artistic impulses of the residents, Seattle has a feel about it that belies its position at the upper Northwest of the United States. Seattle (as a result of the Tom Hanks film ‘Sleepless in Seattle’) is famous for being just as rainy (if not more so) than Ireland.

Brewing a light and refreshing American IPA is something that one might expect from a brewery a touch further south, but the alternative way in which they have promoted the beer reflects their position away from the mainstream United States. Red Hook Brewery, at the time that legislation for gay marriage was top of the agenda in the media, chose to support the cause. The slogan that they adopted at the time for their Extra Special Bitter (ESB – a beer that we have reviewed previously on Movies and Booze) was ‘you can’t spell “lesbian” without “ESB”. Their slogan for Red Hook Longhammer was perhaps a bit punchier – ‘Red Hook supports gay marriage, because two Longhammers are always better than one’.

But what about the beer? Red Hook Longhammer is distinctly pale in colour – straw gold, with a clean, bright, well formed white head. Pine immediately hits the nose on the aroma (perhaps reminiscent of the North Western U.S., famous for its extensive forests that include tall redwood trees). This pine aroma and flavour is a characteristic that is often associated with American hops such as Cascade, that deliver a pine and fruit character to the beer in which they are used. Citrus character provides the crisp refreshing zing of fruit flavour in Longhammer, with distinct lemon/lime juicy zestiness coming through on the flavour.

Red Hook Longhammer gives all of the complexity that one would hope for from an American IPA, but with a bit more crisp refreshment (as compared to the chewy depth of Stefan’s IPA). It is deliciously refreshing and bright, while still having all of the depth of flavour that one hopes for from an American craft beer.