All You Need To Know About Brut IPA
by Jack J. Maloney
In the world of IPA something new has created a stir that some see as rivaling the early days of hazy,
juicy, New England IPAs, a style that now rules the IPA roost. More craft beer fans have heard of it than
have actually tasted it since it's focal point is in California but iit seems that Brut IPA is slowly but steadily
moving eastward with a bang.
The brut IPA borrows its name from the wine world; in champagne, brut means very dry. So too with
the brut IPA. The trend has only been in existence for about a year or so—too short in beer time to
coalesce into a defined “style”—but it has a few hallmarks. It’s pale, it’s bone dry, it’s highly effervescent.
In short, it’s as close to champagne as an IPA can get. And it’s nothing like the fruity, hazy, creamy IPAs
that now dominate taps across America.
But it’s not just brewers’ and consumers’ tastes that make a trend happen, of course. Technology and
ingredients play a role. Hop growers and breeding programs had to develop the tropical-fruity varieties
that are the hallmark of New England-style IPAs, and one California brewer thinking outside the box had
to stumble across a new use for a brewing enzyme that would make brut IPAs possible.
It was all started late last year by California's Social Kitchen And Brewery’s brewmaster, Kim Sturdavant.
He wondered if an enzyme he was using in the brewery’s triple IPA couldn’t be put to use in a regular-
strength IPA. This enzyme—amylase—isn’t rare in breweries. It reduces the sugar levels and lessens the
malty sweetness of a beer. It renders the beers very attenuated, a brewing term that means the yeast
has eaten up most of the sugar in a beer so it's not syrupy, sweet, and sticky.
When he used the enzyme in his regular IPA the result was an incredibly dry, ultra-pale, and bubbly brew
Sturdavant called it Hop Champagne Extra Brut IPA. It was an instant hit.
Once they set out to brew a brut IPA brewers’ main concern is how to balance the hop flavor and
bitterness in a beer that has hardly any malt character. Typically, malt sweetness balances hop
bitterness; if you brewed a beer with no malt, it would taste like bitter hop water. Because the malts’
sugars get eaten up by this enzyme, they’d have to tone down the hop bitterness in their brut IPAs.
It’s a balancing act, trying to squeeze as much hop aroma and flavor into the brut IPA without making it
too bitter. It’s also a lot about keeping the IBUs [international bitterness units] really low. A regular IPA is
around 55 IBUs. We’re somewhere between 22-25 with the brut IPA.
Although the alcohol in the beer also contributes some sweetness brewers still have to be careful to keep
the hops’ bitterness down. Tod do that many add hops at a point in the brewing process where they’ll
contribute more aroma to the beer while emitting less of their bitterness. Because the malt isn’t a factor
at all in brut IPAs’ flavor, the resulting flavor is pure hops—just what most IPA fans are after.
Brut IPA might not be the next big thing, but it’s got a lot of brewers interested. There also seems to be
a subtext of ‘this is the West Coast responding to New England style. Now other brewers seem to be
more than happy to take the brut IPA ball and run with it. And given that the amylase enzyme can be
ordered with just a quick call to a brewery supply company—if it’s not in the brewery’s toolbox already—
the style should be popping up at taprooms across the country this summer and fall.
The Brut IPA is really a significant departure from the way brewers and consumers have been thinking
about IPAs for a while or to put it another way, when you first experience it on the palate you will say it is
so very much different from any other IPA you've ever had
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