Thursday, February 13, 2014

India Pale Aged Ale with Brett - Tasting Notes

India Pale Aged Ale with Brett

Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Historic IPA / India Pale Aged Ale
Bottled On: 12.30.2013
ABV: 8.3%

Appearance: glowing gold, moderate head, slight haze, okay retention
Smell: classic Brett barnyard, dry tart fruit, orange citrus, cedar, musty wood
Taste: tangy, tart, funky fruit, orange zest, earth, juicy rich finish
Mouthfeel: medium-bodied, slight slickness, dry and drinkable

Early in 2013, I brewed up an experiment that I've been calling an "India Pale Aged Ale," taking the presumptuous step of coining an entirely new genre of beer to adequately capture the differences between historical IPA compared to its various (many various) incarnations today. While a large number of people have since read my article about the concept — and certainly many more have read Mitch Steele's fascinating book IPA, which inspired it — I'm not sure if the "IPAA" concept has caught on any more in the past year. Don't worry, give it time. We're not making history here, we're rebranding it. At least I can now comment on the results of my experiment.

Two things you're probably wondering. First, how is it? Well, if you've been paying close attention, you may have read about the ho-hum results from the first part of the experiment, in which I bottled a second brew of the original recipe fresh, minus the crucial Brettanomyces. That fresh version of historic IPA was rather disappointing — or more specifically, disappointingly malty, rather than hoppy. These historic IPAs used a massive dose of hops in the brew, and even a scaled down version is a match for any of today's American imperial IPAs. I get into a few theories on why the Brett-less version was less aggressive than I would have imagined over at that first post, but for a serious consideration of how such a beer may have been fresh, I'm going to have to rebrew.

Fortunately, aging a standard English IPA wasn't really the point of this project. One can pretty easily imagine how that turns out. The focus was my original version, aka IPAA, which was aged for almost a year with Brettanomyces before bottling. I'm happy to report: it's tasty. And it came out pretty how much I guessed it would.

It's interesting just how much the classic Brett character dominates this beer. Most drinkers probably first encountered Brett in Orval, or something like Orval, and we think of that profile as the classic, default Brettanomyces character. Well, this IPAA attempt resembles Orval a lot more than it resembles most modern IPAs. Funky barnyard is the first thing you get in the aroma and flavor, and the beer is decidedly tangy — the big citrus notes of orange and pineapple add much more tartness than I expected. This is far from a hop bomb. Brett C, which I chose because it is the originally-isolated British strain, gives the beer a very juicy profile. I harp on about Brett not making a beer sour, but clearly it can make it tart, and this is surprisingly far along that continuum. A medium / moderate level of carbonation allows the mouthfeel to remain mid-weight, still leaning slightly heavy on the malts, but the finish is dry and fairly viscous, leaving a bitter / sour note that's somewhat more aggressive than I've found in other Brett beers. Perhaps the best way to describe this is zesty, like the character of dried citrus fruit skins. For all that, it's fairly clean and pretty easy-drinking — more so than a lot of the heavy barrel-aged Brett stuff most breweries are putting out these days. With higher carbonation, I could certainly see historic drinkers describing this as champagne-like.

So the second thing you are likely wondering — and the most important thing, really — is: how closely does this actually resemble historic India Pale Aged Ale? And naturally, that's the hardest question for me to answer. I don't think any drinkers or note-takers back then used words like "funky" or "barnyard," and the character of Brettanomyces was simply the character of aged English beer, which makes it problematic when guessing at flavor profiles and the evolving language used to talk about beer. Nonetheless, this meets every main requirement as far as terminal gravity and aging conditions (one imagines the English were not drinking IPA that reeked of oxidized, BBQ-tasting hops), and fits into the very vague descriptions of IPAA from the time. And regardless, I'm taking this as another point of evidence that hops play a pretty large role in helping Brett to develop the huge ripe funk it's known for.

EDIT: Extraordinarily helpful commenter Gary Gillman shared an English brewing article from 1902 on the conditioning and carbonation of bottled beers, which briefly describes the character of pale ale stored in wood, then bottled and further maturated: "There can be no doubt but that such beers, brewed and bottled under most favourable conditions, present to the palate a peculiar pungent flavour and an invigorating freshness which is greatly esteemed amongst connoisseurs." I don't remember if Steele may have referenced this same article in his book, but the notes line up with his descriptions and with my own results. Indeed: "peculiar pungent flavour" with an "invigorating freshness" is exactly how I imagine someone in 1902 might describe such a beer. Furthermore, in the last week or so, a number of connoisseurs have tried my beer, and every one of them greatly esteemed it.

So I think I'm on the right track, though I have a few tweaks I'd make based on how the non-Brett version came out, based on some process discrepancies between my brew and the historic journey taken by the beer, and also based on some gut-instinct feelings I have. As mentioned before, the "Pale Ale malt" I used was probably too dark, and it seems Pilsner would actually be the best choice here. The primary yeast is still up in the air, though I wouldn't use West York again. And as hoppy as this batch was, it could have used more — the Brett-less version tasted more like a barleywine than an IPA, even young. India Pale Aged Ale was dry-hopped in the barrel during its voyage to India, something I failed to take into account and never got around to. While I don't know that I'll be able to emulate the barrel-aging process with a rebrew any time soon, it would be interesting to give this a "tertiary" aging period on oak-chips with a healthy dose of dry hops for a few months before bottling.

Given the success of this crude first experiment, I hereby declare brewers recognize that India Pale Aged Ale as its own style. I expect to see a bunch of "Beer Trends to Watch Out For" articles on this very subject in all the beer and food magazines within, let's say, three years. Everyone get on that.
Tasting notes for the version of my IPAA without Brett are here.


  1. Hi Derek:

    This link should work:

    At the bottom, where it says Get PDF, click on that and it is at pg. 298 of the article.


    1. Thanks! Very much appreciated. I updated the post with some of those notes.

  2. Instead of Pilsner malt, you might want to consider Irish stout malt (very low color and high ferment-ability). Maybe for yeast try Wyeast 1028 (minerally and finishes very dry). Just my two cents. Great work though.

    1. Good idea. I wasn't familiar with Irish stout malt before, but it sounds like it would work great for this. Wyeast 1028 is a good suggestion, and I think I probably will. I've used London Ale for a few brews since, and I like it a lot so far. I've heard that a few major breweries use it as their house strain and I can see myself coming back to it for a number of brews.

  3. Great project! I'm curious, why pilsner instead of Marris Otter?

    I just brewed an English IPA of MO, EKG, and Burton yeast which came out pretty good. I'm definitely looking forward to re-brewing and ageing it either with the Brett and/or in a bourbon barrel for a year.

    1. Maris Otter seems like it'd be the obvious choice, but from all I've read (and all the helpful comments this project has collected), it seems as if Maris Otter is still a bit too high Lovibond compared to what historic brewers were going for. The pale ale malt that I used for this is comprable to MO, and it came out far too amber in color and malty in flavor. You want something extremely pale and fermentable to emulate the white malt these brewers were using.

      Barrel aging this with Brett would be awesome, I wish I had had a barrel when I started this project!

  4. Crisp offers Maris Otter extra pale ale malt with 1.5-1.9 lovibond. Recently brewed an IPA using it, 2.3% crystal 40 and some torrified wheat. The brew turned out very pale yellow.


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