Not Your Fathers IPA: Brewing IPAs Reminiscent of Todays Greats

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I, like others, have noticed a commonality among today's new and popular IPAs. It seems that the whole IBU Arms Race of the West Coast is finally subsiding and giving way to a new type of IPA. These IPAs all seem to share several characteristics: They have an intense, and almost juicy, hop aroma and flavor that is far removed from the typical grapefruit-geared flavor that defined IPAs for so long. They are pretty hazy as far as IPAs go. Most importantly, though, they have relatively low bitterness, considering how much hops are crammed in. There is a clean finish, which leaves you wanting to take another sip, instead of cringing as the intense bitterness slowly fades from your palate. This allows drinkers that don't like IPAs to finally be able to enjoy what today's new hop varietals have to offer.
The popularity of these hop juice bombs is precipitating numerous threads of homebrewers seeking to attain this elusive hop character in their own creations. This article comes from the lessons learned from my obsessive quest to craft an IPA that's perfect for my tastes. I could not have done it without the help from, and shared experiences with, the HomeBrewTalk community. I do not claim to be an expert on IPAs, and there is certainly more than one way to accomplish this type of hop character. I'm just simply sharing what has consistently worked for me.
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Sunny D-IPA 9%/23oz, with flour to create a permanent haze. Pic is after 3 weeks in the kegerator.
Grain Selection:
I know, get to the hops already. Well, I usually find myself designing recipes from the ground up, starting with the malt foundation. Ive come across a few helpful articles from Vinnie Cilurzo [1] at Russian River, and Mitch Steele at Stone[2], which I like to point people to when they are trying to get their hops to pop. I wont list them all here, but these are my main points I keep in mind when designing my IPA grain bill.
You want an IPA to be dry, that much is nearly universally agreed upon. According to the new 2015 BJCP guidelines for the style 21A - American IPA: Dry to medium-dry finish; residual sweetness should be low to none. Sweetness will clash with the hops. You can dry out a beer by mashing low (148-150 works for me), and adding some simple sugar (usually 5-10% by weight), but this also means minimizing crystal malts (less than 5% is recommended). Personally, I omit them entirely. I know, it can be hard to cut crystal out of the recipe, since it may seem uninteresting with just boring ol' 2 Row and sugar, but you aren't trying to make a balanced beer like an Irish Red, an American Brown, or some type of German Lager. This is an IPA, its not supposed to be balanced. Its about the hops. Before we get to that, however, there are two more little things Ive started doing which really bring out the juicy character of all these new, extra fruity hops. The first is to include a decent amount of wheat as well. It helps with the body since you want a dry beer, but not thin and watery. I like 20-30% of the grain bill. This can also help with the whole haze factor, if that's what you want. The second little secret is I have also been adding 2-3% acidulated malt to help with the mash pH, due to the absence of darker grains. There is no flavor contribution at these levels. Though I have gone up to 8% once, and still didn't get any tangy flavors.
[1] http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/how-to-brew/5-tips-for-better-ipas-from-vinnie-cilurzo
[2] http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/how-to-brew/5-tips-on-brewing-ipas-from-mitch-steele/
Hop Selection:
I see a lot of threads where brewers are overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices for hops in their IPA. The other common theme I see is brewers being concerned that their chosen varieties wont pair well. From my experience, as long as you are using IPA style hops (not noble or mild), you shouldn't end up with anything that's undrinkable due to poor hop pairings. However, there is something to be said about finding hops that pair beautifully with each other, and can really put an IPA (or any hop forward beer) over the top.
Personally, I like to choose a basic flavor, and flesh out my hop selections from there. In broad terms, I think of this as: citrus, tropical, piney, herbal, resiny/dank, floral, spicy, woody, and what I call generically fruity. I generally pick one or two of those basic flavors to focus on, and then select hops which display those characteristics of flavor and aroma. Another thing to keep in mind is the nuance of coaxing out that wonderful hop character. Certain hops will impart different flavors or aromas, depending on where you use them in the brewing process. One example (for me at least) is Chinook. I'm not a fan of the flavor and bitterness it gives when used in the boil, but I love it for dry hopping and flame-out additions. It seems much more clean and piney this way. Another example is Ella, an Australian hop, which adds mostly spicy notes for late additions, but at large quantities, it leans more towards a grapefruit-type citrus.
There's a number of online tools Ive found to be useful in this process.[3] Generally, any hop you see as a possible substitution for a certain hop will pair well with that hop. You can pick as many hop varieties as you want. There are many world class IPAs made with just one or two hops. The same can also be said of using upwards of five varieties, however. Personally, I find the hop character can get pretty muddled and generic the higher you go. I like to stick with three usually; four if I'm feeling adventurous.
[3] https://www.hopunion.com/aroma-wheel/ | http://www.barthhaasgroup.com/wheel/# | http://www.bear-flavored.com/2011/12/bear-flavoreds-ultimate-guide-to-hop.html
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Hop Aroma Wheel from HopUnion (see link [3] above)
Hop Schedule:
This is the biggest area I find myself giving recommendations about to those struggling with their IPA formulations. The good news is that you can achieve that super pungent, commercial hop character you are after at a homebrew level. The bad news is that its going to take a lot of hops. The worst news is that its going to hurt your wallet (I buy all my IPA hops in bulk to save money). The slightly better news is that when you take that first sip, you'll agree - it was totally worth it.
Yes, you can make a stylistically correct IPA with something like three ounces in five gallons. It may have the right amount of IBUs, but you will be sorely disappointed if you are on a quest for hop nirvana. Personally, I wouldn't attempt to brew an IPA if I had less than eight ounces on hand for my typical five-gallon batch. Calm down, you can yell at me all you want in the comments section.
So the amount of hops is important, but just as crucial is when you are using them during the brewing process. To get a hop character described earlier, I like to keep a few things in mind:[4]
  • Minimize bittering additions. One ounce at 60 minutes (or 90 minutes, if that's your thing) is plenty. I will just do a single bittering addition, and be done with it. I haven't noticed much of an advantage in spreading them out in order to try and get some minute amount of flavor from a 45 or a 30 minute addition.
  • Keep the flavor/late-boil additions in check. I have found that two ounces or so at ~15min from flame out works for me. In my experiments, I've found you are much better off just saving hops for the....
  • HOPSTAND (aka Whirlpool) additions. This is the biggest thing that improved my IPAs as soon as I started doing it. The idea here is to add your flame-out hops, and let them steep for some time (30-60 minutes usually) before chilling your beer. There's a lot of debate around how many IBUs this imparts, and what temperature you want to hold it at, but I will just say what I've been doing.
  • Feel free to go nuts with your amounts here. I haven't found that large hopstand additions impart much appreciable bitterness, and even the little that they do is very soft on the palate. What it does get you is loads of hop flavor and aroma, without bitterness. Could you get more hop flavor per ounce from a 10 minute addition in the boil? Sure, but it would bring more bitterness along with it. You could adjust your bittering addition if you are concerned with getting too much bitterness from the hopstand.[5] This is how I've been achieving the hop character described earlier: I divide my hopstand into two portions. First one goes in at flame out, and the next once the wort naturally cools to 180F, or so. The first one should theoretically pull out slightly more flavor, whereas, the second will give more aroma. I divide my hops according to what I want to taste verses smell. In my example with my preference on how to use Chinook, I would save it for the second addition.
  • Dry hops. Don't toss all your hops into the kettle at flame out just yet. Save some for dry hopping. It seems to help if you stagger dry hopping additions. I like adding some about a week before bottling/kegging, and then some more three to four days later. I usually like anywhere from three to six ounces. I haven't gone nuts with dry hopping like I have with flame out additions... yet.
[4] Note: Amounts given are for a five-gallon batch, and merely my experiences. Do what you want, its your beer!
[5] Although I will note, Ive consistently gone over 12 ounces just for the hopstand alone, and its still not as bitter as most commercial IPAs.

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Hops for my latest IPA, the two big Chinese takeout containers are the two hopstand additions. Notice the pattern of increasing size correlative to how late in the boil I add them.
Yeast Selection:
Yeast selection is one of the easier parts of making an IPA, at least for me. It seems pretty well known that you want a clean yeast that will let the hops take center stage. You also want yeast that is capable of a good level of attenuation. I will note that this is for an American IPA, not the maltier and ester-driven English IPAs.
Some common choices I see are US-05/WY1056/WLP001, WLP008, WLP051, WLP090, WY1712, WY1450, or even lager yeasts. However, you can select a not-so-clean yeast, provided it will produce flavors that will compliment your hop character. The infamous Conan strain in Heady Topper produces some nice apricot and peach flavors that go very well with tropical and fruity hops. In my experience, it is also capable of higher attenuation than most of the other yeasts listed above. On top of that, it provides a slight silkiness to the body, which helps with how dry an IPA should be. Win-Win-Win. Another common alternative I've used is WY1318. Supposedly, this is what Hill Farmstead uses in their IPAs, or at least it has similar origins.
You can also get into using 100% Brettanomyces to make things really interesting. I won't get too far into it, but the super fruity, clean character of an all-Brett beer works seamlessly with today's over-the-top, fruity hops. If you do it right, its simply impossible to tell where the hops end, and where the Brett begins.
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My yeasts I keep on hand, with my IPA ones arranged on top.
Water Profile:
Admittedly, this is where I fall short. I wasn't going to include this section, but I wanted to stress that your water profile can make or break your IPA. I haven't delved into water treatment just yet, since my filtered municipal water doesn't seem to have anything out of whack. I've also talked with the breweries around here that do regular water quality reports, and they told me that they don't see a need for adjustments for their beers. The only tip I will give here is that I've been adding about one teaspoon of gypsum to both the mash, and boil. My general notion is that this helps accentuate the hops. I do remember doing a side-by-side taste test once, with a tiny amount of gypsum stirred into half of an IPA. Could be placebo effect, but it seemed to help.
IPA sub-styles:
Most of what I've rambled about here can be applied to nearly any type of IPA. I have been picking up a few tips on making various types of IPAs though:
  • Session IPA. The low Original Gravity of these requires a few considerations. I will cut down (or cut out) the sugar addition to help with the body, and I like using flaked adjuncts for this purpose as well. Some Vienna (not particularly fond of Munich here) also works well. I also cut the hops back a bit. It's not as simple as scaling everything down to ~5% ABV.
  • Double IPA. Similarly, you cant just scale up for a DIPA. I typically use more hops here, as you'd expect, but Ive found keeping the beer dry is most important in this case. I will go up to 15% sugar, mash a bit lower, and keep specialty malts to an absolute minimum. Anyone can make what is essentially a hoppy barleywine, but a 9% IPA that is loaded with flavor, but also very drinkable? That takes skill. Another trick I've started employing is spiking my fermentation with a high attenuating yeast strain. I say spike because I will make a small starter and not add it until the main yeast has had a two- to three-day head start. This minimizes any potential flavor impact. Though sometimes, I actually want some of the flavor from my secondary yeast, like in my Orange Juice-inspired, hazy DIPA. I wanted some of the lemony zip of WY3711 to come across, in order to accentuate my citrusy hops. It worked very well, and even managed to go from an OG of 1.078, down to 1.006. My main point, though, is it was super drinkable.
  • Black IPA. These are tricky. My main goal here is to make something as far removed from a hoppy stout as possible. This means keeping it dry (notice a pattern here?), and minimizing roast flavors, while still achieving a pitch-black color. Unless you are using dyes, you will need some sort of roasted malt for color. De-bittered malts are definitely the way to go. I've used carafa III, blackprinz, and midnight wheat with success (midnight wheat being my preference). I've found one pound in a five-gallon batch will get you dark enough to not see through it at all. The thing is, even de-bittered malt retains some degree of roast. To keep this in check, I have been adding half of my darkening malt in the mash, and leaving out the other half until mashout. This seems to work very well. One other thing to note is the hop selection for Black IPAs. Not all hops lend themselves to the roasty flavors found in Black IPAs. I've found piney, resiny/dank, and citrusy hops work best for my tastes here.
  • Belgian IPA. I have only made a few of these, but from my experience (and some commercial examples), it really is as simple as switching your yeast with an expressive Belgian strain. Hop selection should be taken into consideration with yeast selection, though. In most cases, the hops will overshadow the yeast character. I like to pick hops that will work in tandem with my Belgian yeasts esters, so I usually go for fruity or spicy hops.
  • White IPA. Similar to a Belgian IPA, but crossed with a Witbier. These are pretty tricky to pull off, in my experience. Ive tried every commercial example I've come across, and I seldom think they are up to snuff. I see people making these 2 ways: they either take an IPA recipe, and incorporate a bunch of flaked wheat and malted wheat, or they will take a Witbier recipe, and add a large amount of hops to it. I see both American and Witbier yeasts being used. Personally, I like to use a blend of both my usual IPA yeast (Conan) and one of my Witbier yeasts (WY3944/WY3463). This seems to get that good tangy Witbier character, as well as the higher attenuation I need. I am a fan of using traditional Witbier spices, such as coriander and orange peel, to help the Witbier part of it stand out more. I've found that citrus geared hops are best suited to go along with the Witbier characteristics.
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Conan yeast starter, along with a bit of Saison yeast to lower the FG of my DIPA.
Kegging:
Aside from hopstands, kegging is the other thing that really gave my IPAs some oomph. Being able to limit the O2 exposure helps a great deal. The shelf life seems to be longer for kegged IPAs, even at room temperature. It also provides an opportunity for another hop addition in the keg. I am a fan of leaving the hops in for the entire life of the keg. So far, I haven't had any issues with grassy, vegetal off-flavors, even after four months sitting at room temperature. I'm not saying you cant make a great IPA without a kegging setup, but I am saying that kegging could turn your good IPA into a great one.
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Kegerator with keg hops for fermenting IPAs behind the tower.
That's all I've got. I'm sure many of you have other helpful tidbits on achieving similar results. I just wanted to aggregate some (hopefully) helpful information for those out there that are hunting the white whale that is commercial-level hop character. However, I've found if you employ the right techniques, its possible to surpass that level, given that you have the advantage of tasting your beer at its freshest.
Cheers and happy hopping!
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Wahoo

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@odorf I think that's just his tower-- in other words, the beer isn't actually touching the black steel.
 

m00ps

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yeah thats just my tower. I have 3/16 bevflex ultra (or whatever its called)lines running loose through it. I found the idea and parts list on a blog. I made a topic about it
https://www.homebrewtalk.com/showthread.php?t=542066
 

m00ps

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I ended up posting it in the recipe section due to the number of requests. Just a warning, do not look at it if you're even the slightest bit hop squeamish
https://www.homebrewtalk.com/showthread.php?p=7315158#post7315158
 

radwizard

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@mOOps Have you tried using Dark Candy Sugar in your Black IPAs? I am working on a CDA right now and think some of these IPA techniques would really kick ass for a darker IPA. I read your tips on a black IPA, but you didn't mention the use of sugars? are you using the same volumes in there as you IPA's?
Good stuff in the article. My IPAs have improved a great deal using some of this stuff.
 

masonsjax

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Great tips!
I also spent a lot of time chasing the huge hop flavor and aroma found in my favorite commercial examples. Two factors were key in getting me there:
1) Water chemistry
Get a test done and use software like brunwater or brewers friend to calculate your flavor ions and then balance the mash pH for each grain bill you make. This took my beers from very good to outstanding.
2) Warm dry hopping
I started warming my beer up to the mid 70s Fahrenheit when dry hopping and can now get amazing aroma from as little as a half ounce of pellets, depending on variety.
I also do hop stands and favor late additions over early. I only do a 60 min bittering while all other hops go in at 10 mins or later. With the above routine, I can be very stingy with my hops and still get astounding hop character. I rarely use more than 4 oz in 5 gallons these days.
 

cjteteak

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With 12oz of pellets in a hopstand doesn't that create a ridiculous amount of trub? I already lose enough wort with 1/3 that amount of hops. How much do you lose doing this? or do you have a method for dealing with that amount of hop particulate? Thanks!
 

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