Tuesday, July 28, 2015

There Are Too Many IPAs On the Market - Here's Why I'm Adding a Few More

Awkward Hug IPA - the first non-funky beer released at Kent Falls.


It's pretty well established that there are just way too many IPAs on the market. We beer drinkers can't shut up about IPAs — especially if we happen to think the style is overrated. Great flamewars are wrought in the embers of the hatred some bear for hoppy beers, and the fact that some believe they're ruining craft beer. (In addition to gose, which is also supposedly ruining craft beer, leading me to believe that one of my favorite non-styles of beer, dry-hopped gose, is extra super duper killing craft beer).

The IPA category (and its offspring) grows determinedly year after year, continuing its domination as the most popular style in craft beer. And while AB has yet to release Bud Lite India-Pale-Ale-Rita, even the big guys have found ways to jump in on the craze here and there, with offerings like Blue Moon White IPA, Yuengling IPL, and for a truly perplexing example, Guinness Blonde Lager (which makes the interesting assumption that the type of consumer who would wish to buy a "blonde lager" brewed by Guinness would really be sold by the presence of Mosaic hops in such a beer).

That is the weird conundrum that IPA finds itself in these days, when undeniably there are many breweries that feel compelled by a demanding and thirsty market to produce an IPA that they may have little interest in making otherwise. No brewery, big or small, should feel compelled to make a beer they don't want to make. But when it comes to IPA, it's never just some vague guesswork at what the market wants. Many people will tell you, accounts will tell you, flat out, that you need to brew an IPA. (Especially in a market where the phrase "sour beer" is largely met with blank stares). In this sense, the sense of demanding that all breweries make an IPA even when they have no interest in doing so, yes, there are too many IPAs. There are absolutely too many IPAs on the market. It's gotten a little crazy over here.

I've gotten into this conversation a couple times now, recently. As often as you catch the "everyone has to brew an IPA or die," viewpoint, you'll hear the exact opposite, argued from an individual's own tastes. At a recent dinner conversation, someone tried a test batch of a saison I was working on and remarked how they liked the different path my beers took. They said: "Just please don't do an IPA."

If you have been reading Bear Flavored for some time, it's not a surprise to you that I (really, really) love hoppy beers. My focus has always been this: one part funky weird beers, one part clean juicy hoppy beers, and one part funky weird juicy hoppy beers. These are the things I like to drink so they are therefore the things I like to brew.

For better or worse, I'm still brewing with this same mindset as a commercial brewer. Focusing on tart and funky farmhouse beers for the Connecticut market probably isn't the smartest idea on paper. But all I really know how to do is brew the beer that I want to drink (as I said; for better or worse), and hope other people like it too. And if they don't care for that type of beer, honestly, it doesn't bother me too much. Tastes differ! And also I'm an incredibly selfish person so there's that as well.

There aren't currently any other farmhouse breweries in Connecticut, and hardly any breweries here are doing any kind of farmhouse / funky beers, so I'm curious if it will seem disingenuous for us to brew IPAs. If the mission of Kent Falls was explicitly, say, "Belgian-inspired beers," having a series of Northeast-style IPAs be our only "American" offering might seem kind of cynical. Fortunately, we haven't actually debuted all that many beers just yet, so we're still in the early stages of defining ourselves, and shaping what people expect from us (even the wildest and most experimental breweries want to have a common through-line). The framework, at least in my head, is to simply brew in the farmhouse mentality: refreshing beers that are satisfying to drink after a long day's work. And really, I think, that's pretty much saying the same thing as: "we brew whatever we feel like drinking." Because whatever you feel like drinking is that which is going to satisfy you after a long day's work.

So that's one reason I feel the market should have more IPAs: if a brewer is really, genuinely super passionate about a particular style, I think they should make that style.

The second reason I don't feel even slightly bad about adding more IPAs to an already-crowded IPA market: IPAs are like bread. Hear me out. Every town in America could have a bakery and everything would be just fine. No one would get into arguments about the Bakery Bubble. We understand, fundamentally, that bread is better fresh, even if we've entirely abandoned buying it so. I haven't counted how many towns there are in America lately, but I'm pretty sure there would be at least, like, 45 bakeries in this one-bakery-per-town situation. I don't know. Maybe half a million? Literally anywhere in that range sounds reasonable to me. Point being, good bread made right is really, really, really best fresh, and therefore you could never really have enough bakeries, if everyone switched to only buying freshly-baked bread from good artisan local bakeries. If everyone switched to only buying freshly-baked bread from good artisan local bakeries, the whole bread world would be revolutionized, and good bread would become far more accessible to the average person by supporting and allowing such bakeries to be ubiquitous and accessible. (American bread currently, in case you were wondering, is largely atrocious. I wish very much and desperately that the same movement that fixed beer would please get around to fixing bread on the whole).

IPAs, like bread, are best very, very fresh. (At least, a large number of people these days would say so). Yes, in spite of the old semi-stretched-truth story of IPAs being sent to India for their powers of preservation. Just because an aggressively hoppy beer may stave off infection in a boat to India for longer periods of time, that doesn't mean this is the best way to drink it. (Besides, their IPAs were likely totally different from what we're brewing now anyway). Most IPA fans today seem to be gravitating toward incredibly super extra fresh IPAs, and I'm right there with them. Hop oils break down quickly, and even in the best storage conditions, IPAs can lose some of their magic spark within a couple weeks, leaving nothing but bland uniform bitterness with no nuance. Industrial bread bakers could find ways to cheat around the freshness of their bread, but ultimately, having access to fresh bread is always going to be better. Some large breweries like Sierra Nevada, Stone and Lagunitas have figured out the logistics of hauling IPA all around the country and maintaining quality, and god bless them. I have infinite respect for the big breweries that do it right. But all things considered, it's simply easier to ensure that a beer is fresh if you're producing small quantities of it, sold quickly, within a local market which will consume it fast. And that is my goal: whatever it takes to ensure the drinker of such a beer receives the freshest and best IPA possible.

So yes, I do think there is room in the market for more IPAs. Not if everyone wants to grow to the size of Stone or Lagunitas or Sierra Nevada, no: they're already playing that game way better than most of us ever could. But if every town in the country (or world!) had a great little bakery and a handful of small-batch, fresh IPAs, always going out the door so quickly that they were always consumed super bright and aromatic? That wouldn't be such a bad world to live in.



21 comments:

  1. What are your thoughts as a farmhouse brewer on the attitude some people have about clarity in their beer? It seems like every "northeast IPA" is cloudy, and lord knows that fresh Saisons can be cloudy - are your consumers indicating that they care?

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    1. Great question, that's something I've been talking to a lot of people about recently. Personally, I don't mind / enjoy some haze in beers, at least depending on the style. IPAs and farmhouse ales are definitely welcome to a bit of haze, in my opinion, it adds to the mouthfeel and softness of the beer. Since I'm not really going for the usual super crisp / super bitter character in my IPAs, I like this.

      There certainly can be such a thing as too much haze, and occasionally a really ugly-murky beer, but still, I feel that (within reason) appearance can't be nearly as important as how the beer actually tastes and feels. And who's to say clear beer is more attractive anyway? That's just the man getting us down. Hazy beer is beautiful too.

      So to me, it's all about how that appearance may affect the actual character of the beer. Does it support what you're going for? Then, cool.

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    2. Oh, and as to whether consumers care -- I'm not sure. At least, I haven't heard any criticism of my own beer for this yet. Our IPAs are too new, but this batch sold out in days, so I'm guessing they don't. I think people are starting to recognize that the hazy northeast IPA is a distinct thing, and it seems to be pretty desirable (so long as the beer itself is good!)

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    3. I think it all depends on the brewery. If the buying public knows you can produce a solid clear product, releasing a hazy solid offering isn't a big deal. If you can only product hazy offerings and some of them are sub par. It then becomes an issue.

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    5. Ironically, this issue is at hand for me at my now ex-workplace. Every beer on the board (barring a few pilot batches with various farmhouse or Hefe strains) that we brewed was bio fined - which we did to a Trois IPA pilot batch as well, and it felt like it completely killed the flavor from the samples we took beforehand. I recently brewed a pilot batch of a NE-style IPA with a good proportion of wheat malt as well as a touch of flaked wheat and oats, all whirlpool hopping with a touch of dry hop as a last hit before kegging, and WLP002 (Boddington's). I only cold crashed, and it turned out fine, but as is expected, a bit of omnipresent haze came through. It sold out in a day. People were buying growlers and posting pictures, and when one person posted one to our local brewing group Brewluminati to talk about it, the owner at my previous work flipped out, saying it made his brewery look bad (based in Anaheim, CA).

      Anyway, it was definitely the best hoppy beer I've ever brewed, and it was thoroughly loved - yet I got in trouble for it because of oat haze. Just thought it was funny to see discussion on this soon after the rigamaroll. I give zero f's about haze - what contributes that juicy, creamy mouthfeel is just so worth that beautiful overall juicyness.

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    6. Fair enough, Lewy. That's certainly true. You definitely have to earn what you're presenting. This is one realm where the results could be the result of sloppy brewing and not intent.

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    7. Hah, such a strange high horse we've developed for clarity. Oh well, opinions and aesthetic preferences change.

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    8. Exactly. Though I don't foresee anything changing over there - we taught him over and over about why his frequent yeast dumps lead to diacetyl, but nothing changed. I say keep fighting the good fight and brew what you like and if what you like is hazy and delicious, do you, man, do you!

      Thanks again,
      - Aiden :)

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  2. Love the post... and the awkward hug in the background of the picture...

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    1. Haha I'm pretty proud of that pic.

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    2. Is that Heady Topper in the bottom right?

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    3. Hahaha no, those are a stack of kegs.

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  3. What target sulfate and chloride do you shoot for in your IPA? I've played around with some and haven't had satisfying results. Any recommendations?

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  4. Looks delicious! I wish you still posted recipes.

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    1. Thanks! I still will depending on the post... I'm just writing about specific beers less and less. There are a few things I'm not supposed to reveal, but for the most part I'm happy to share a recipe. My IPAs tend to follow a pretty basic format as far as the ingredients go, too. Usually about 8% wheat, 4 - 6% corn sugar, and the rest is Pilsner malt. About half the hop-bill in whirlpool, the rest dry-hopped.

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    2. I didn't see this till now. Thanks for the response!

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  5. Derek, I dig this glassware, what brand/style is the glassware? I'd be interested in ordering some of these up, thanks!

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    1. I wish I knew! I got these at a thrift-store in Pennsylvania for 50 cents each. I have no idea beyond that!

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