This week’s Canada’s Craft Beer post comes from our Western Canada craft beer guy, Joe Wiebe as he gets us acquainted with IPAs including two great BC IPAs.
The origins of the IPA (India Pale Ale) style verge on the mythical. What is true is that the style was created by English brewers in the early 1800s to be shipped to India for consumption by the wealthy middle- and upper-class Europeans living there, including British officers, civil servants and businessmen. Some people have theorized that the beer was made stronger in terms of both alcohol and hops so it would not sour on the four-month sea voyage around the Horn of Africa (this was before the Suez Canal cut travel time to India significantly), but there is evidence that regular pale ales and porters routinely survived much longer shipping times.
Nonetheless, “East India Pale Ales” were brewed slightly stronger than typical pale ales—about 6.5% ABV—with a higher dose of bittering hops. This effervescent golden ale was more fully attenuated, which means the yeast did a more thorough job of fermentation, resulting in a cleaner, less sweet/malty beer with a dry, bitter finish—perfect for the hot Indian climes and cuisine. IPAs also became a hit back home in England until lower-alcohol bitters and milds became more popular and lagers took over as summertime thirst-quenchers.
When the contemporary craft beer revolution started to gain ground in the 1980s, some west coast microbreweries began experimenting with lesser known traditional beer styles, and when they decided to brew an IPA, they tried using some local Cascade hops that had been developed at Oregon State University in the 1970s. This new hop varietal added a distinctive aroma and flavour profile to the beer: it was flowery and spicy with a citrusy grapefruit character. And it seemed like the more hops they added, the better the beer got.
Over time, the West Coast IPA (or American IPA) has become the flagship beer of the craft beer movement. Any self-respecting craft brewery has to brew a solid, ultra-hoppy IPA if it wants to be appreciated by “hopheads.” The demand for potent hop varieties with unique aromas and flavours has grown significantly—brewers pre-order their “hop bills” years in advance, and hop breeding programs are working overtime trying to come up with new varieties to add to brewers’ repertoires.
Thanks to the influence of hop-crazy craft breweries south of the border in Washington, Oregon and California, British Columbia is home to many great IPAs, making it heaven for hopheads, myself included. Victoria’s Phillips Brewing even hosts an annual event called HOPoxia that features hoppy beers exclusively, and at Victoria Beer Week earlier this year, I helped curate an IPA Tap Takeover at Spinnakers Gastro-Brewpub that featured 20 different IPAs from B.C. breweries.
Here are two great B.C. IPAs to seek out and try as a starting point. Enjoy your journey into hophead heaven!
Driftwood Brewery Fat Tug IPA
7.0% ABV | 80 IBU | Available: BC, SK, MB & Yukon
Fat Tug IPA was not one of Driftwood’s original beers when the Victoria brewery opened in 2008, but once brewers Kevin Hearsum and Jason Meyer brewed the first batch in 2010, it quickly became Driftwood’s main beer. Fat Tug is phenomenally successful in B.C., especially in Vancouver where it is far and away the city’s most popular craft beer, on tap at any reputable tap house or beer-focused restaurant. Many, myself included, call it B.C.’s best IPA, if not Canada’s—it won Beer of the Year at the 2011 Canadian Brewing Awards—and certainly one of the province’s top beers all round.
All the praise is well deserved: Fat Tug is a gorgeous, perfectly balanced IPA that pours orange-amber with a medium-bodied but persistent head of white foam and big, mouthwatering notes of grapefruit and other tropical fruits that waft up from the glass. Tasting the beer showcases those sticky-sweet and resinous hop flavours atop just the right amount of maltiness. Driftwood’s immaculate attention to detail guarantees this beer is perfect on tap or from the 650-ml bottle. Be warned, though: it is surprisingly quaffable for a 7% ABV beer.
Nelson Brewing Organic Full Nelson Imperial IPA
8.2% ABV | 90 IBU | Available: BC, AB, SK
Nelson Brewing’s brewmaster Mike Kelly calls this beer the “Nelson Triple Threat” because it features Nelson Sauvin hops sourced from Nelson, New Zealand, which are “triple dry-hopped” during the brewing process. These southern hemisphere hops have a prominent Sauvignon grape-like character.
Full Nelson pours copper coloured and creamy with great lacing as you drink through the glass. The aroma is distracting in its intensity; the first time I tasted this beer, it reminded me of childhood trips to the candy store in search of Fun Dips—those candy sticks that you dipped into pouches of sugary sweet powder, specifically the grape flavour. It is an enticing, mouth-watering scent that definitely makes you want to take a sip.
That grape candy sweetness is not as prominent in the actual flavour, which is good, but there is an added grape tinge to the citrus/grapefruit flavours of the Citra hops, which stand out prominently against the background bitterness. All of those big hop flavours are stacked on top of a solid foundation of malts, and the aromas stay right through to the final sip. I could still taste the grape flavour on my lips long after I finished the bomber.
The fact that this beer is made with all-organic hops is impressive since many brewers I have spoken to refuse to use organic hops because they feel they just don’t meet the high standards required by top-of-the-line West Coast IPAs. All I can say is here is proof positive that it is possible. Kudos to Nelson Brewing, which has been all-organic since 2006.
A few more west coast IPAs to try
Here are some other West Coast IPAs to look for (in no particular order):
- Central City Brewing Red Racer IPA & Red Racer Imperial IPA
- Four Winds Brewing IPA
- Fernie Brewing’s Bucket List IPA Series, including Quiet Rye’t Rye IPA & Last Cast Summer IPA
- Phillips Brewing Amnesiac Double IPA
- Parallel 49 Brewing Filthy Dirty IPA (previously known as Lord of the Hops until the Tolkien Estate caught wind), Snap Crackle Hop Imperial Rice IPA & Hopnotist Single-Hop IPA;
- Lighthouse Brewing Switchback IPA (soon to be renamed) & Numbskull Imperial IPA
- Dead Frog Brewing Fearless IPA
- Bomber Brewing IPA.
- Phillips Brewing also has the Hop Box featuring four different hop-forward beers
- Parallel 49 has the Pic A Hop mixed six-pack.
Joe Wiebe, the Thirsty Writer, is one of Canada’s busiest beer writers. Based in Victoria, he has followed British Columbia’s craft beer scene closely for more than 20 years. His book, Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider’s Guide to B.C. Breweries, was a B.C. bestseller for 2013. He hosts beer tastings/seminars and as appeared on television and radio as a craft beer expert. A freelancer for 15 years, he has written about craft beer for a wide variety of magazines, newspapers and websites. Visit www.thirstywriter.com and follow him on twitter at @ThirstyWriter.