Exceptional IPAs are challenging to brew. The first IPA I ever brewed was Northern Brewer’s Dead Ringer IPA kit (way back in 2011!). The recipe is inspired by Bell’s Two Hearted Ale; 2-Row, Crystal 40, and a heap of Centennial hops peppered through the boil. Simple enough right? WRONG! To not fault of its own, Dead Ringer came out just ok.
Where did it all go wrong? Perhaps everywhere. More important than the flaws in that batch, is what I’ve since learned. Instead of visualizing IPAs as the proverbial “seesaw” of malt and hops, try to envision it as a continuous disc balancing on a pivot. Malt and hops are part of the disc, but so is tropical and pine flavors, straw and amber colors, or pillowy and dry mouthfeels. Every important aspect of an IPA is tied to something else, where enhancing one attribute will result in diminishing of one or more (even unrelated!).
Our ongoing effort to craft an exceptional IPA is called Hoppopotamus. We’ve brewed it six times over the past two years, making small tweaks along the way to drive the recipe closer to our vision. The latest batch shows improvement in some areas, but regression in others. Check out the tasting notes below!
Appearance – Poured into a 5oz Embassy Brandy taster. Sudsy white head clings to the walls of the tasting glass, with two finger thickness. This batch features a near-perfect orange color, which I’ve been chasing in my IPAs for years. There is also an aggressive haze. Certainly looks the part of a new-American IPA!
Smell – Liberal dry hopping lends to a very complex nose. Floral aromas battle with grapefruit juice, orange zest, strawberry bubblegum, and fresh tangerine for center stage. Unfortunately the aromas are somewhat fleeting despite dry hopping at nearly 1 oz/gal.
Taste – The taste is overwhelmingly like orange juice concentrate, featuring a off-putting sweetness too reminiscent of an East Coast IPA. In the background there are elements of pine and grapefruit. No floral, tropical, or melon-like flavors.
Mouthfeel – This batch displays an improved mouthfeel in the way of a silky creaminess. The beer coats your tongue nicely and features a touch of hop astringency at the finish, reminding you that this is an aggressively hopped IPA.
Overall – The appearance and mouthfeel are the best features of this batch, however the aroma and taste may have taken a step backward. This beer finishes with a distracting sweetness that directly competes with the hops and the aromatics are not at an appropriate level.
Peter Bouchaert of New Belgium is quoted as saying:
Brewing is a compromise; you have to take into account so many factors. It’s an interaction. You need to see any beer you create as a holistic thing.
With that in mind, here are some compromises I plan on implementing for the next batch of Hoppopotamus:
- Exchanging some of the sweeter hops varietals for more tropical ones
- Shifting the 20 and 5 minute hop additions to the knockout/whirlpool
- Removing all crystal malts (even at the expense of losing the orange color)
- Increasing boil duration from 60 to 90 minutes (to hopefully compensate for #3)
- Pitch a less attenuating, fuller bodied yeast strain
- Dry hopping according to the DIPA levels from the Dry Hop Bible
These compromises will hopefully lead to the “perfect” recipe. Update to follow in a few weeks. Cheers!