One of the most persistent trends in craft beer is the progressive cultivation of more “hophead” beer drinkers, who enjoy the intense hop flavors of India pale ales (IPAs), one of the largest segments of craft beer sales in the U.S.
As IPAs have grown in popularity, brewers have expanded the definition of the style to include West Coast IPAs, East Coast IPAs, English IPAs, Belgian IPAs, white IPAs, red IPAs, brown IPAs, black IPAs, wheat IPAs, rye IPAs, wild-fermented Brettanomyces IPAs, double (or imperial) IPAs, triple IPAs and even quadruple IPAs.
The increased demand for IPAs, with hundreds of brands available, has led to the development of many new hop varietals, as the preferred hop aroma and flavor profiles have shifted from pine and citrus to spicy and dank to tropical fruits like mango and guava.
Even with all of the diversity of IPAs available, nothing beats a well-hopped West Coast IPA, and the Bay Area produces a number of excellent examples, which typically have a subtle malt profile that takes a backseat, allowing the hops to shine.
West Coast IPAs
• Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. has been producing a variety of interesting craft beers since 2000. A recent addition to the lineup is the hoppy Tunnel Vision IPA, which includes the old standby hop varietals Centennial and Columbus, relative newcomer Simcoe and a yet-unnamed experimental hop that goes by the number 5260.
The aroma and flavor profiles both feature the classic bright citrus and resinous pine characteristics for which classic West Coast IPAs are known. In addition, there is a unique, pungent lemongrass flavor mid-palate, followed by a pleasant dank, spicy bitterness in the finish.
• Alameda’s Faction Brewing was opened in the fall of 2013 by co-owners Claudia Pamparana, a veteran of 21st Amendment Brewing in San Francisco, and brewmaster Rodger Davis, who made his mark at both Triple Rock in Berkeley and Drake’s Brewing Co. in San Leandro.
Faction immediately established a seasonal rotation of four completely different IPAs released throughout the year, including Summer IPA, which features Citra hops as well as the New Zealand hop varietals Nelson and Galaxy.
With tropical fruity aromas and flavors of gooseberry, passion fruit and mango, along with a subtle underlying green onion sharpness, the Summer IPA is a complex brew sure to please most hopheads. Faction is not yet bottling its brews, so Summer IPA is only available on draft.
• San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing Co. has made a deliberate effort to showcase different hop profiles with its Single Hop Series of IPAs. Hermitage has released more than a dozen IPAs, each made using a single-hop varietal, including the recently released Mandarina Bavaria single-hop IPA. Mandarina Bavaria hops, as the name implies, are a new German varietal known for contributing aromas and flavors of mandarin orange.
In the Hermitage brew, sharp orange zest is prominent in the aroma, while the flavor is reminiscent of the bitterness and acidity of the pith of a Satsuma mandarin.
• Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, founded in 1997 in San Francisco, is best known for its bold Prohibition-themed packaging and its Big Daddy IPA, but it also produces several seasonal IPAs in its Limited Series, including the Vendetta IPA.
The aroma is a punch of pine, sweet grapefruit and pineapple from the Amarillo, Apollo, Chinook and Citra hops. With more malt complexity than many West Coast IPAs, the hop flavor is not particularly pronounced, but the beer does provide a persistent bitterness, and it drinks quite smoothly for the intense 7.6 percent ABV.
Derek Wolfgram is chief communications officer for Los Altos Hills’ Silicon Valley Sudzers Homebrew Club, which welcomes both new and experienced beer enthusiasts. For more information, visit sudzers.org.