Dean McGuinness, the Beer Messiah, reviews Harviestoun IPA and Nelson Sauvin IPL
The Evolution of the IPA Style
For some people, ‘craft beer’ and ‘IPA’ are synonymous. In reality, craft beer is all about a massive diversity of different styles, but there is no doubt that India Pale Ale is the leading contender among these many styles. The IPA style itself has evolved considerably over the last number of years, to the point where ‘IPA’ is now considered to be its own style family.
Our two beers for today both come from the IPA style family, and both are from Scotland. We will be looking at the evolution of the IPA style as we taste Harviestoun IPA from Harviestoun Brewery in Clackmananshire, Scotland, and Nelson Sauvin IPL from Tempest Brewing Company, located at the Scottish Borders.
Evolution of Beer Styles
In my opinion, the whole point of craft beer styles should be to make things easier to understand for the person looking to find a beer that suits their taste. To be fair, this is not the only relevance of them...Beer Historians are interested in the origins and history of beer styles, and brewers are interested in the brewing techniques associated with them. The average Joe in the street, however, should be able to find a beer that suits their taste that little bit easier if they understand styles that they like, and then understand what style a particular beer belongs to. If only things were that easy!
First of all – what is a beer style? It is best to understand this at two levels.
A Beer Style Family is a number of different Beer Styles that all have something (usually one, two or at most three things) in common. A Beer Style (sometimes called a ‘sub-style’ – as in one step below a Style Family) is a more specific group of beers that should have multiple key characteristics in common. From a beer drinkers point of view, this should make it easier to select a beer that suits your taste – if you know you like / don’t like ‘Stout’, then if somebody offers you a beer that is brewed to this style, there is a better chance that you will know whether you like it or not.
There can be variations within Beer Styles, and even more variation within Beer Style Families. This variation can be the source of confusion associated with beer styles, and it can come from different places.
Brewers can interpret the same beer style differently (or misunderstand a beer style), resulting in a beer being labelled as belonging to a particular beer style, but not really having the characteristics associated with that style. Beer styles can evolve over time, as brewing practices change or as interpretations of that style change over time.
Sometimes brewers don’t identify the style that their beer belongs to. Sometimes brewers make up new styles, with no agreed upon definition among the general population of beer geeks as to what that style should be like.
All of this potential confusion comes from one important tenet of beer styles – beer styles are a social construct. They are not something that is scientifically defined or empirically verifiable. A group of beer geeks come together, and form a consensus that a beer style is ‘x’, ‘y’ and ‘z’. Unfortunately, two key characteristics of beer geeks are that (a) they rarely reach a consensus, and (b) they find great joy in dissecting the smaller details associated with beers, which can result in multiple different opinions as to what a beer style actually is.
In this spirit, one of the most important things is not to get overly obsessive about absolute facts when it comes to beer styles. Think of them as fluid guidelines, and accept that when it comes to the details, often there are differences of opinion out there. Certain basic general principals are often reasonably solid, but obsessing about details can get people into trouble!
To understand beer styles (and the source of many of the heated discussions that can arise about beer styles) a little better, it might help to look at them at three levels. Beer styles can be defined Historically.
There are many beer authors and bloggers out there that can go to great trouble to research the history and origins of beer styles. In so doing, they establish a foundation for a beer style, and often can plot how brewers have interpreted beer styles differently over time. For example, ‘stout’ started out as a strong (high alcohol) beer, and the term (in years past) was applied to a number of different beers of varying colours. As ‘Dry Irish Stout’ (a specific sub-style) emerged in the last century or so as central to the style ‘Stout’, and as a number of other sub-styles were established over time (‘Milk Stout’, ‘Sweet Stout’, ‘Tropical Stout’, ‘Oatmeal Stout’, ‘Imperial Russian Stout’, ‘Gingerbread Stout’ and so on), ‘Stout’ became established as a Style Family, and the key characteristic that stouts have in common is that they are black in colour.
This evolution and desire to define beer styles leads to the second way of looking at beer styles – namely looking at beer styles in terms of the Core Characteristic(s) of the Style or the Style Family. Beers have a number of different characteristics – colour, alcohol strength, hop flavour, malt flavour, body, head, carbonation, presence or absence of specific flavour characteristics etc. These characteristics can be used to understand and define Beer Styles and Beer Style Families. Using the above example, the ‘Stout’ beer style family can be thought of as beers that share a specific characteristic – colour. ‘Stouts’ are black. Likewise, IPA’s are ‘hoppy’ – the balance of their flavour tends towards flavours that come from hops used in the beer. As one delves deeper into sub-styles, more and more characteristics become relevant as the sub-style is defined all the more specifically. In this way, beers classified as belonging to well-defined sub-styles should be relatively similar to eachother (albeit at different levels of quality, and subject to different interpretations in recipe design by the brewer). The net result should be that a beer properly put into a well-defined sub-style should establish the flavour characteristics that the beer drinker should expect from that beer.
Using this basis for understanding beer styles, the Beer Judge Certification Programme has defined circa 14 Beer Style Families, and 106 beer styles. However, even this does not cover all of the beer styles that are out there. Brewers can create hybrid styles by ‘marrying’ two beer styles together. So, a ‘Black IPA’ is an IPA that is black in colour. These hybrid styles require that brewers establish distinctions between beers that ostensibly look like they are the same, but are given two different sub-style names. For example, the distinction between a ‘Black IPA’ and a ‘Stout’ is that the balance of flavours with the Black IPA should emphasise hop character, with subtle malt flavours present to support that balance of the beer, and ‘Stout’ should emphasise malt flavour. Hybrid styles greatly multiply the number of possible beer sub-styles that can be brewed, but the hope is that an understanding of the styles that have been merged to form the hybrid will be sufficient to understand the various ‘daughter’ sub-styles.
Another day, we will look at the third basis for beers styles. Ever more creative brewers have developed brand new beer styles based on a ‘Flavour Vision’ for a beer. They develop a concept for a beer, and then brew a beer to reflect the vision and combine the flavours that makes sense in the context of this concept. The ‘Milkshake IPA’ or ‘Gingerbread Stout’ are styles that belong to this way of looking at styles, but that is a subject that we will look into on another day.
Evolution of the IPA Style –
IPA’s used to be called ‘India Pale Ales’, and they used to belong to the ‘Pale Ale’ style family. Over time, the ‘IPA Style Family’ has evolved, and now we have many variations of the IPA style. First of all, we can look at the history of the India Pale Ale style, and we’ll do it by taking each of these three words in turn – ‘Ale’, ‘Pale’ and ‘India’.
Before Louis Pasteur (19th Century), there was little understanding of microbiology. This meant that yeast was not recognised as a beer ingredient. For example, the original Rheinheitsgebot (German Purity Laws), which date back to 1516 make no mention of ‘yeast’ as a brewing ingredient, with the result that they specified three ingredients for brewing beer (water, malt and hops) and not the four (yeast added as the fourth ingredient) that is commonly accepted nowadays.
Different superstitions are in evidence in old books about beer as brewers without the wherewithal to explain fermentation in terms of the action of yeast converting sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide and various flavour compounds. Examples of this include the ‘Brewer’s Stick’ – the idea that stirring a beer with a particular stick would magically trigger a fermentation (in reality, the stick was imbued with a yeast culture because it had been used to stir previous batches of beer, and stirring the beer inoculated the beer with a certain amount of that yeast). As a result, beers were divided into two groups – ‘ales’ and ‘beers’, with the distinction being that the former (‘ales’) were malt-based alcoholic drinks brewed using herbs and spices, and the latter (‘beers’) were malt-based alcoholic drinks brewed with hops.
Nowadays, with an understanding of yeast as a brewing ingredient, and with most beers brewed with some amount of hops, the distinction between different broad families of beers has changed from ‘ales’ and ‘beers’ to ‘ales’ and ‘lagers’. Beers belonging to the ‘ale’ family are brewed with yeasts from a particular family of yeast (‘Saccharomyces Cerevisiae’) – yeast that tends to prefer to ferment at warmer temperatures, tends to ferment a little faster (typically three to five days) and tend to produce beers that can be ‘fruity’ and/or ‘spicy’. ‘Lagers’, by contrast are beers brewed with yeasts from a different family of yeasts (named variously as ‘Saccharomyces Uvarum’, ‘Saccharomyces Pastorianus’ or ‘Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis’). These yeasts tend to prefer to ferment at cooler temperatures, tend to take a little longer to ferment (typically six to eight days), and tend to produce final beers that are relatively clean in flavours resulting from the fermentation.
‘India Pale Ales’ belonged to this first family – the ‘ale’ family – though, as we will see with the second beer that we are tasting today, the style family has now evolved to include lagers as well.
On to our second term ‘Pale’. The colour of beer is primarily determined by the blend and types of malts used in brewing the beer. Malts are grains that go through a process with the last stage(s) of this process resulting in relatively little colour development in the malt (as in the case of ‘lightly kilned’ malt) or resulting in more colour developed in the malt (as in the case of ‘roasted’ or ‘stewed’ malts or grains). Historically, maltsters were not good at limiting the amount of colour that was developed in malt during this process, with the result that ‘pale’ beers were more amber in colour than the straw gold colour that we associate with lightly coloured beers. From the point of view of ‘India Pale Ales’, the ‘pale’ in the name usually indicated that the beer was somewhere from deep amber to slightly paler in colour, and it was only as methods for more gentle kilning were perfected that IPA’s could tend towards golden in colour as an alternative.
Our third element of the ‘IPA’ name is ‘India’, There are many stories used to explain the origins of ‘India Pale Ales’, often with people explaining that the style was developed because brewers brewed India Pale Ales because they wanted beers that would survive the trip from England to the English colonies in India. In reality, this is a misinterpretation of the history that is loosely based on the actual facts. It is true that India Pale Ales were brewed in England, and shipped to the colonies in India. It is also true that the higher hopping rates and relatively high alcohol content of the beers meant that they were better positioned to stay in good condition for the long trip to India. However, this story suggests that this was the only style of beer brewed in England and shipped to India (not true – many sweeter and darker beers were also shipped to the colonies at the time), and it also suggests that the beer was specifically designed with this goal in mind (again, most likely not true). In reality, relatively strong hoppy pale ales were brewed and shipped to the Indian colonies. The original versions of these beers found favour with beer drinkers, with the result that other brewers emulated the style in an attempt to cash in on the popularity of this particular flavour profile. Over time (many years after the first ‘India Pale Ale’ was brewed), advertisers coined the term ‘India Pale Ale’ to communicate to beer drinkers that a beer had a flavour profile associated with this family of beers.
The above gives an outline of India Pale Ales from a historic perspective. However, with the recent revival in popularity of this style, many creative brewers have taken to brewing hybrid versions of the style. Combining ‘Red Ale’, ‘Brown Ale’ or ‘Black Ale’ and ‘India Pale Ale’ has resulted respectively in ‘Red IPA’, ‘Brown IPA’ and ‘Black IPA’, and these evolutions have meant that India Pale Ale as a sub-style of ‘Pale Ale’ no longer really makes sense. The result is that more recent interpretations of this style count the ‘IPA’ as being a Style Family that includes these various sub-styles, and the accepted name for the Style Family is ‘IPA’ to distinguish the style family from the classic ‘India Pale Ales’ of history that are the origin of this style family, and still exist as a sub-style of the IPA Style Family.
The core characteristic of the IPA Style Family is hoppy character. Hops can give various flavours in beer. They are most closely associated with beer bitterness, because hops added early in the boil can contribute a distinctive bitter flavour to beer. However, hops added late in the boil, or hops added after fermentation (‘Dry Hopping’) can contribute ‘hop flavour’ to beer. This hop flavour can depend on the variety of hops used, with hops from England often having earthy or minerally flavours, hops from the U.S. often having citrusy, piney, fruity or often many other flavours, and many other hops grown to contribute their own specific character to beer.
A relatively recent evolution of the IPA style family is to play with the yeast used in brewing this beer style. One sub-style that has come about as a result is the ‘IPL’ – India Pale Lager. There is no suggestion from historical records that hoppy, high strength lagers were ever shipped to England. Rather, IPL’s (such as our second example today), are a creative variant on the IPA style that borrows the essential hoppy character of the IPA style, and demonstrates how this can be different (with clean lager flavours standing to one side to allow the hop character to shine through more clearly) from the original IPA from which it originated.
Harviestoun IPA –
Beer Style - American IPA
Alcohol by Volume - 5.8% a.b.v.
Brewed by - Harviestoun Brewery
Brewed in - Alva, Clackmananshire, Scotland.
Both of our beers today are brewed in Scotland. From a historic perspective, this gives its own interesting slant on the evolution of beer styles. Historically, because hops were not grown in Scotland, classic Scottish styles tended to be more malty. However, in the current day, almost any beer style can be brewed anywhere – with the result that we have here an ‘American IPA’ brewed in Scotland.
There are a number of hops that are recognised as being classic hop varietals from the U.S., and the ‘American’ in ‘American IPA’ is a reference to the fact that American hops are used in brewing this IPA. Citra, Simcoe, Amarillo and Apollo are the blend of West Coast U.S.A. hops that have been selected for this beer. Aromas and flavours that come through from these hops include tropical and stone fruits (honeydew melon, peach) and citrus (lime zest) together with a certain amount of spiciness (white pepper) and floral aroma (‘geraniol’ or rose petals). Dry hop bitterness does not hit hard in the original tasting of the beer, but evolves and develops into the aftertaste.
In colour, this beer is distinctly straw golden in colour – quite a bit paler than the classic amber or dark amber IPA’s from which this style has evolved. Harviestoun IPA is a sophisticated beer – it has layers of hop flavour, and distinct bitterness, well balanced with clean, crisp malt flavour that comes through as wheat crust or cracker bread, with just enough gentle malt sweetness to balance the hop character.
A superb interpretation of the American IPA style!
Nelson Sauvin IPL –
Beer Style - New World IPL
Alcohol by Volume - 5.4% a.b.v.
Brewed by - Tempest Brewery
Brewed in - Scottish Borders, Scotland.
‘IPL’ (India Pale Lager’) is a relatively new sub-style within the IPA family. One had to expect that having explored every variation of colour to make the ‘P’ (Pale) in IPA redundant, it was only a matter of time before some brewers moved onto playing with the ‘A’ (Ale) by brewing IPA’s with lager yeast. The result is a beer where the fermentation flavours are cleaner, and the hop character is accentuated – put on a pedestal to shine through – rather than integrated into the fermentation flavours of the beer.
Pineapple, lychee and guava come from the New World hops (Nelson Sauvin) used in this single hop IPL. Nelson Sauvin has emerged as a much sought after hop from the New World (New Zealand), and it can deliver these distinctive and slightly unusual tropical fruit flavours. The fermentation flavour foundation to this beer is cleaner, and the finish is quicker than the previous beer. The tropical fruit flavours come through as crisper and distinctly refreshing. Bitterness in the beer is a touch more restrained, and the malt flavour, while providing a sufficient base of malt sweetness for the hop character of the beer, is distinctly gentle.
The alcohol content of this beer is just at the lower end of the scale for a classic IPA. IPA’s are typically in the 5.5% to 7.5% range, and at 5.4%, this beer comes in just at the entry point to this scale. As an IPL, this seems somewhat appropriate – the lager yeast giving clean flavours suggests that the balance in the beer does not want to be overpowered by too much malt or alcohol flavour.
Overall, Nelson Sauvin IPL is a delicious beer to appreciate the IPL style. It is clean and crisp, showcasing the distinct character that can be achieved from the Nelson Sauvin hop.