An IPA Whose Time Has Come
The acronym IPA seems to be quite a common one uttered around the restaurant. Not a day seems to go by where servers don’t get asked whether we have an IPA, or what do we have for IPAs. With that, we usually direct people more towards our Farmer’s Daughter Pale Ale, which even though it has a noticeable hop character to it, it is still far from what I and many would consider to be an IPA.
Whenever somebody asked me why I don’t brew an IPA, I simply pointed to the right selections of IPAs available from other Alberta Breweries. We truly are blessed in this province with a wealth of talent putting together some of the best beers in the world. At the time, we would use our own taps to showcase some of these Alberta produced IPAs. The Zero Issue Nemesis was always among one of my favourites.
Still, this wasn’t exactly the best excuse to not make one. I didn’t want to be just another IPA In the same way that I didn’t want any of the beers we produced to be just another beer of its respective style, I wanted to make sure that we were going to do an IPA it was going to be different. It was not going to be overly complex, but it was going to be a beer that was simply done well.
What many don’t realize is that to produce a good IPA takes a lot more than a grain bill and timing hop additions in the boil and dry hop. As a home brewer we learn a lot about the technical aspects of the malt, and rightfully so. All beer, IPA or otherwise needs malted grain, mainly barley in order to make beer, and the process of producing and using malted grain isn’t exactly simple. The grain profile was an area in brewing that I had always spent most of my time on. Hops were always an afterthought. Being the afterthought isn’t exactly a bad thing, even in an IPA. It is more of a question of what is being the afterthought. When learning to homebrew, I always understood hop additions in simple terms. Add hops early in the boil, you get almost 100% bitterness out of them. Add them later in the boil and you get less bitterness and more flavour. The classic understanding that bitterness doesn’t get extracted from the whirlpool or the dry-hopping part of the process is no longer true, which means as a brewer, we have to put a bit more thought into our actual processes and how it may have an overall impact on the flavour. In essence, I can’t brew an IPA using the same framework of recipe development that I would use for any of our other beers.
Luckily enough, this IPA wasn’t my first attempt at an IPA. Back in the winter of 2017, I had brewed a Cascadian dark ale, also known as a Black IPA, or just a very hoppy stout or porter. Not a true IPA, I know. I can never keep things simple. I also never intended on keeping things simple. In May of 2019, we brewed an IPA in collaboration with Red Shed Malting and Origin Malting. This was an IPA that I knew was going to be different for many reasons, and one of those reasons still carries on for our latest IPA, the Western Haze Prairie IPA.
The “Prairie” part is key. Since brewing Papa Bear, we use the term “Prairie” on our beers to indicate that the grain bill includes four staple Canadian Cereal Grains. Barley, Wheat, Rye and Oats. When we brewed the Coin Toss Brut IPA with Red Shed and Origin, the goal was to make a juicy filtered Prairie IPA, or India PRAIRIE Ale. What we discovered was that filtration does indeed strip some of the flavours out, regardless as to whether we put hop oils in the bright tank. We had discovered this when we made a cask version of the same beer that we tapped at Beer Revolution on 11th Ave in Calgary. It was super juicy, with lots of flavour that seemed to be missing in the drought version of the beer, which was packaged post-filtration.
Western Haze is a beer that hops became the primary point of research, not an afterthought. Not necessarily in what hops to use because I already knew what hops I wanted to use. It is specifically the 2019 Harvest of Cascade hops that we buy a lot of year from a grower in Quebec. We use them in Farmer’s Daughter and Fire N’ Fury, but I wanted these hops to be the centre piece of this beer. The main area of research was going to be in how I wanted to use them.
Being a Prairie IPA, I still wanted to keep a bit of a malt dominant profile with a hop bitterness that doesn’t overpower. Oh, and I still wanted it to be extremely hoppy. There is magic that can be done with the way the hops are used and the water profile to make this happen. Part of the process is just being aware that the amount of IBUs of bitterness your beer will have when you try to calculate it will be quite a bit lower than your actual IBUs if you are using a significant amount of whirlpool hop additions or dry hopping, so I brewed this to keep the calculated IBUs quite low.
Other areas of consideration for hopping are whirlpool hopping versus dry hopping. The long and short of this issue is that if you exclusively dry-hop, you will get lots of aromatics with very little dimension in the flavour profile. If exclusively whirlpool hop, you get a nice flavour while missing that added dimension provided by the aromatic contributions of dry hopping. With Western Haze, I decided to play the extreme, yet balanced approach. Yes, when I say extreme, I mean I used a LOT of hops in general, but balanced between whirlpool hop additions and dry hop additions.
Lastly, the yeast. I will have now produced three different hoppy beers with three different yeasts. For this one, I went with a London Fog ale yeast that was so graciously donated to us by Cabin Brewing who produces some fantastic New England Style IPAs (NEIPA). Of course, I also have this tendency to brew seasonal beers that don’t neatly fit into any one category. I wanted to produce a Hazy IPA, but using traditional west coast IPA hops, with a malt profile of Canadian Cereal Ale. Surely this fusion of concepts should hold some promise.
With the last major seasonal beer I produced in the Long John Saison, significant research paid off. When we brew a seasonal beer, there are no pilot batches. When we brew, we brew for keeps, and doing that research ahead of time has led to some of the best beers I’ve had the opportunity to brew here at Half Hitch. The Western Haze IPA is only the current chapter in my journey as a brewer. With a beautiful hop character, a complex malt flavour, and 7.1% alcohol by volume to balance it all out, this beer is sure to please hop heads and non hop heads alike.
At Half Hitch, our beer is brewed by family and shared with friends. I do hope you get the opportunity to try out the Western Haze Prairie IPA. It is an IPA that was a long time coming, and now an IPA whose time has come. Enjoy my friends.