If there is one style that brewers love to tinker with in the search for “the next big thing,” it’s India pale ale. IPA is the most popular craft beer style, accounting for over one quarter of all craft beer sold, making it a lucrative target for experimentation.
In recent years we’ve seen Belgian-style, sour and fruit IPAs, and of course the hazy or milkshake IPA as variant styles. And now, a new IPA trend that recently originated in California is making waves: the brut IPA.
The term “brut” is borrowed from the wine world, where it refers to unsweetened, very dry champagne. And so it is with brut IPA, meaning an India pale ale that is highly effervescent, pale and bone dry. In order to be considered dry, it should be well attenuated — meaning there should be little to no residual sugars left in the finished beer.
It was with this goal in mind that San Francisco’s Social Kitchen and Brewery began experimenting with adding amylase enzyme to its standard IPA to reduce those sugars. Last November it released Hop Champagne Extra Brut IPA, the first result of this experiment. The beer was a hit among customers and other local brewers.
Word spread to other brewers around the country, who began producing their own versions of the new style. That now includes Central Oregon brewers.
In June, Boneyard Beer released DryPA Brut IPA, a collaboration with Single Hill Brewing Company of Yakima, Washington. Boneyard brewer Nick Murray worked with Zach Turner of Single Hill to brew the beer at Boneyard’s 20 barrel brewery on Lake Place.
“Brut IPAs are just another way that we as a brewing community can experiment and gain knowledge from the process while using ingredients we may not be familiar with,” Murray said via email. “It was a very interesting process.”
The process of adding enzymes to a beer might sound scary or unnatural, but in fact amylase enzymes are found naturally in malted barley and other grains. These enzymes are responsible for converting the starches in the grains into sugars during the mashing process.
Typically there are several types of sugars in the resulting wort, of which most yeasts can consume only the simpler types. Thus more complex sugars tend to remain unfermented and provide the finished beer with residual sweetness and heavier mouthfeel or thickness in the body.
“(Amylase) cleaves the sugar molecules, so it’s easier for the yeast to break down,” said Murray. “It doesn’t actually do any of the fermentation, but it makes it easier for the yeast to consume all of the sugars.”
By introducing additional amylase during the fermentation process, these remaining sugars are broken down for the yeast to consume. The result is dry and crisp, and thinner in mouthfeel. I had a chance to drink this beer in July at the new Boneyard pub, and found it to be fairly dry with a crisp snap, with a mellow hop bitterness.
“We swayed our hop additions later in the process to achieve higher levels of aroma rather than bitterness,” Murray said. “Going into this knowing that we weren’t going to have any residual sugar, we adjusted the malt bill so that we had ingredients that could assist in creating more body (foam retention, mouthfeel).”
You might still be able to find Boneyard’s DryPA on tap around town, but the brewery itself no longer has any available — for now. Murray plans to brew another batch in the near future.
More recently, Sunriver Brewing Company brewed The Brut Squad IPA, its first attempt at the style. Head brewer Brett Thomas confirmed the use of amylase enzyme in the process as well. I reached out to find out if the process was labor intensive.
“It wasn’t too heavy on the labor,” he said via email. “Those enzymes latch on to the yeast so we couldn’t harvest from that (fermentation vessel). Also, we did testing to ensure there was zero enzyme contamination in the FV, transfer lines and brite beer tank.”
I found The Brut Squad to have a mellow herbal hop character and a quite dry body that becomes more pronounced as you drink it. It finishes crisp with a lightly spicy hop aftertaste.
“We’re happy enough with it, especially as our first attempt at an emerging style,” Thomas said. “I’m sure we’ll make a few edits before we brew it again.”
Sunriver’s brut IPA was on tap during the writing of this column, but it may not be for long. However, Riverbend Brewing Company announced its own version, Big Bruty IPA, which is available on tap now.
If you haven’t had a chance to try this emerging style yet, seek it out at one of those locations, or just wait — there will definitely be more brut IPAs released by local breweries.
—Jon Abernathy is a Bend beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column runs in GO! every other week.