Classic West Coast India pale ales feature significant bitterness, as well as hop aromas and flavors of citrus and pine, often supported by a simple malt bill – the grain ingredients that contribute just a touch of malt sweetness to balance the bitterness.
Newer hop varietals contribute other flavor and aroma components, such as tropical fruits, floral character or even blueberry, pear or stonefruit.
California breweries continue to experiment with interesting combinations of traditional West Coast IPA hops and the new breeds, and the following four IPAs represent unique takes on the style.
Panic IPA: Track 7 Brewing Co., Sacramento
ABV: 7 percent; International Bittering Units (IBU): 70; hops: Amarillo, Centennial, Crystal, Simcoe
Pouring a brilliant golden color with a moussy white head, Panic IPA is the most traditional West Coast IPA of this grouping, featuring the classic combination of dank, earthy pine and bright grapefruit citrus hop aromas. On the palate, it is simple but enjoyable, with a mild initial bitterness that builds slowly into a big bitter finish over the course of a sip. Dank evergreen hop flavor is offset by the faintest hint of sweet malt, carried forth by the medium body and moderate carbonation.
We All Grin for Lupulin: Hop Dogma Brewing Co., El Granada
ABV: 6.8 percent; IBU: Not stated; hops: CTZ, Idaho 7, Citra, Hallertau Blanc
A very fresh, contemporary take on IPA, We All Grin For Lupulin highlights fresh, juicy orange and grapefruit hop aroma goodness, with additional hints of apricot, jasmine and delicate pine, as well as a touch of malt sweetness. Crystal clear and bright gold in the glass, with a long-lasting fluffy white head, the beer includes gentle bitterness and floral hop flavors up front, followed by juicy citrus fruit and pine mid-palate, and finishing crisp and dry with lingering bitterness. The medium-light body and prickly carbonation accentuate the hop characteristics nicely.
Tropical Torpedo: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico
ABV: 6.7 percent; IBU: 55; hops: Amarillo, Mosaic, Citra, El Dorado, Comet
Sierra Nevada’s beers are usually quite refined, and Tropical Torpedo is no exception. As the name suggests, the traditional citrus and pine of its Pale Ale, Celebration Ale and Torpedo IPA give way to aromas of underripe mango and papaya, with slightly minty/herbal pine notes and mild honey-like sweetness. A bright golden-orange in color with a dense, frothy white head, the beer provides flavors similar to the aroma. With moderate bitterness, the overall impression is delicate for an IPA, but pleasant. The finish is subtle, fading away quietly instead of closing with a bracing bitterness.
Leo v. Ursus – Fortem: Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Paso Robles
ABV: 8.2 percent; IBU: 55; hops: Cascade, Mandarina, Citra, Simcoe, Mosaic, Hallertau Blanc
The first release in a new series of quarterly releases from Firestone Walker, Fortem Double IPA features a huge, complex hop aroma that makes itself known as soon as a can is opened. Integrating notes of citrus, pine, tropical fruit and flowers in ever-changing combinations, the beer initially reminded me of the smell of Juicy Fruit gum, then moved on to Indian mango pudding, then on to other blends. The golden color of the unfiltered brew includes a faint haziness, and a dense, creamy off-white head sits atop the glass. Well-integrated citrus, pine and tropical hop flavors and a subtle but firm hop bitterness are balanced by a delicate malt sweetness, and the balance extends through the finish. With a creamy body and moderate carbonation, this brew hides its alcohol level very well.
Derek Wolfgram is a Certified Beer Judge and an officer of the Silicon Valley Sudzers homebrew club. For more information, visit sudzers.org.