Martin Cizmar, arts & culture editor at Willamette Week, is right.
(Editor’s Note: Brian Yaeger’s views are not the views of The New School – Samurai Artist)
At least about IPAs. IPAs are dead. IPA, like shell art, like God in the eyes of Nietzsche, is over.
OK, IPA as a style isn’t dead. Even Mr. Cizmar acknowledged in the introduction to Willy Week’s impressive Beer Guide that “There may be commercial life left in the style.” That’s what he came up with after a heated phone call wherein I reamed him for not including even a single IPA in the Guide’s Top 10 Beers of 2012 list. I mean, c’mon, Hop Lava? Killer Green? Molten Lava? Oh wait, those are all Double Mountain Brewing, but there’s three right there that coulda made the list. I’d actually lobbied for 10 Barrel Brewing’s ISA since it’s one of the more awesome session IPAs (even if it foot-faults on the 5% line of sessionability) and that way he could hold his ground on the NO-IPAthing since it’s an S not a P.
The Big Papa of Portland beer writers, John Foyston, offered up 10 Barrel’s new Hop Project Mix Pack as “a resounding rebuttal to WW’s premature obit.” The package includes three bottles apiece of four alternate or hybridized iterations of their Apocalypse IPA (an imperial IPA, a brown IPA, a black IPA, and a wheat IPA), and the result regrettably corroborates Cizmar’s position. (I say that in theory as I haven’t tried any yet.)
Having said that, I can offer better proof that IPA isn’t dead. In retail parlance, the “category” accounts for 25.2% of the Oregon beer market (a stat gleaned from Rob Maletis of Maletis Beverage Distributing).More than one out of every four beers bought and drank in the Beaver State—total, not just among craft beers—is an IPA. If that stat was a superhero, it’d have to be Captain Insano, because that’s a crazy amount of India Pale Ale.
Furthermore, at the GABF, American-style India Pale Ale has been the most-entered category for a dozen years. No. 2? Imperial IPA. Fourth? American-style Strong Pale Ale, which is scarcely different that IPA. And rounding out the top 5 is American-style Pale Ale, which, let’s admit it, is still more IPAesque than a British IPA.
(Funnily enough, since I left out the third-most entered category, it’s Herb and Spice Beer. Maybe Mr. Cizmar’s affinity for chili beers isn’t so out of step with the brewers themselves.)
Clearly, the IPA category is running at a fever pitch and its popularity is potentially going to lead to its own demise, which I think was Mr. Cizmar’s actual point (but then again, he prefers chili spice to hop spice, so that’ll be my last reference to him, much to Ezra’s relief). See, because consumers are goo goo for IPA, brewers make more and more of them. As referenced above, Double Mountain makes three of them. A recent visit to Crux in Bend yielded six on tap. This all-IPAs all-the-time mentality can become dangerous, not to mention stifle creativity and exploration rather than nurture it, both among producers and consumers.
New Belgium, ostensibly a Belgian-inspired brewery, just introduced Rampant Impy IPA not terribly long after creating Ranger IPA. New Belgium’s branding director Greg Owsley copped to me, “Admittedly, we were the last brewery to do one in America. [Employees] all snuck out and drank IPAs after work. Our ‘beer rangers,’ the marketing reps out in the field, were pleading for one. We wanted [to expand our] portfolio.” Furthermore, they created the Hop Kitchen series, where all but one of the included brands will be an IPA. I recently received a goodie box from Boston Beer Co. filled with the Sam Adams “IPA Hop-ology” series consisting of a white IPA, Belgian IPA, German IPA, red IPA, a double IPA, and something called a Baltic IPA. Easily my favorite hybridization (bastardization?) of the IPA, among Stone’s many recapitulations including their new coffee IPA, is their Green (Tea) IPA! I’m waiting for Mikkeller to dry-hop with Smurfs to make a Blue IPA.
In conclusion, the problem lies not in these beers’ lack of great flavor, but in the seeming necessity to market every new beer by piggybacking off a killer style’s popularity. One key to CDA’s success is calling it a Cascadian Dark Ale instead of a Black IPA. One reason beers like Deschutes’s Chainbreaker will suffer an ephemeral life cycle is that it’s called a White IPA. White chocolate is not chocolate. It’s a derivative of chocolate containing cocoa butter, but chocolate requires actual cocoa! If I sauté broccoli in cocoa butter did I make green chocolate? White chocolate is an abomination used to sell a disgusting confectioner’s creation using a delicious marketing name. (Of note, RateBeer.com added four new style categories to the site’s listings but on the subject of White IPAs opined, “we could take the philosophy of getting excited about every trend of the week in American brewing, but instead we take the philosophy of being a little more timeless in our approach, favouring things with a little staying power.”) Likewise, just because IPAs entail a boatload of hops that doesn’t make every hoppy beer an IPA. It’s time brewing companies stop white-chocolatizing their brands.
Brian Yaeger is the author of Red, White, and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey. He contributed to the Oxford Companion to Beer and writes for All About Beer, Draft Magazine, CraftBeer.com, Portland Monthly, Willamette Week, and more. He earned a Master in Professional Writing (with a thesis on beer). Other than GABF, his favorite, can’t-miss event is the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest where he’s drawn to any band with a tuba. Along with his wife, Half Pint, he runs Inn Beervana Bed & Beer in Portland where he also lives with his baby boy I.P.Yae, and German Shorthair Pointer, Dunkel.
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