By Philip Runco. Additional contributions by Sarah Grantham.
According to Ben Evans, an India Pale Ale should be an olfactory indulgence.
“One reason I love brewing IPAs is that the brewery smells amazing from the time the hops first hit the wort until the brite tank is opened for cleaning after we’re done kegging,” the Hellbender head brewer says. “For me, a great IPA has a moderate body, a good bittering backbone, and a hop aroma you can smell while the bartender hands you the beer.”
That hop aroma will permeate the air of Hellbender’s production floor in abundance on May 14, when the brewery hosts the second annual HOPFEST. A benefit for the D.C. Brewers’ Guild, the festival will draw together seventeen local breweries, and they’ll be bringing over twenty “old favorites, rare hard-to-finds, and one-offs.”
We’re happy to announce the HOPFEST line-up below, along with the backstories on a few of the rarer finds. Your $50 admission will buy you unmitigated consumption of these beers, which range from a Nelson Sauvin dry-hopped bière de garde to an imperial amber ale that clocks in at 104 IBUs. In between those poles, there’s a saison-kölsch blend fermented with Brettanomyces. There’s an India Pale Lager made with three fruit purées. And, of course, there’s plenty of IPA – white, imperial, single-hopped, and the like.
The range of offerings speaks to the exploration of hop varieties, brewing techniques, and flavor profiles that’s occurring in the hop-forward space. “I think IPA is continuing to evolve away from the race for the most bitter beer,” Evans observes.
On May 14, you’ll be able to taste for yourself. Pucker up.
Resinous Evil Double IPA
Brewery: Hellbender – ABV: 10% – IBU: 103 – Release: One-off
Description: Generously hopped with Nugget, Centennial, Columbus, and Galaxy, this Double IPA has intense notes of resin and tropical fruit with an assertive hop finish.
Backstory: Two themes run across the portfolio of Hellbender flagships: sessionability and dryness. From Bare Bones Kölsch to North x Northeast Coffee Stout, most of the brewery’s beers are designed for smooth, easy consumption.
“We love doing the big and crazy stuff – stuff that’s so hoppy you can’t have a second one, or so alcoholic it might not be safe to have another– but, ultimately, you’re just ordering the one beer,” Hellbender co-founder Patrick Mullane explained last August. “We want to make beers that folks are happy to order over and over again. Some folks will consider those ‘session beers’ and say, ‘There’s not a lot of flavor.’ We disagree with that. You can make full-flavored beers that aren’t high alcohol or have a crazy amount of bitterness. We saw that the craft brewing market was going to the extreme and leaving behind this widening hole of traditional session beers in its wake.”
But while such a philosophy may inform Hellbender’s year-round offerings, its limited releases have also included some of that “big and crazy stuff.”
For the example, there was its collaboration with Lost Rhino, Hell’s Horn, a slightly bonkers 8.2% Imperial India Pale Lager that combined a Czech lager strain, a 70% wheat grain bill, and a dry hop of Mosaic and Equinox.
Or look to later this week, when Hellbender’s tap room debuts a version of its 9% Wee Heavy Scotch Ale, Groundskeeper Islay, that’s been aged for six months in bourbon barrels.
It’s not exactly a surprise, therefore, that Hellbender would cook up an Imperial IPA just for HOPFEST. And this brew, Resinous Evil, is set to clock in at 10% ABV and over 100 IBUs. As Evans told me a few days ago: “It’s a big freaking beer.”
Devised by Hellbender brewer and jack-of-all-trades Giancarlo D’Orazio, the recipe utilizes a malt backbone similar to the brewery’s Ignite IPA, which has a light amber hue on account of its mix of CaraMunich and Crystal malts. But in place of Ignite IPA’s Equinox, Centennial, and Nugget hops, Resinous Evil will boast a blast of Columbus and Galaxy.
“I basically told Gian that these were some cool hops we have that are different from the other stuff we have going right now,” Evans shares. “He put together a pretty cool recipe and brewed it up on one side of the brewery last week.”
Made on a pilot system, the one-barrel batch will be dry hopped with those tropical Australian Galaxy hops later this week. It’s a lot of work for what amounts to a few kegs of beer, but so it goes with Imperial IPAs.
“The real challenge for most breweries is trying to pack more and more late-addition flavor through whirlpool additions and aroma from dry hopping,” Evans shares. “We continue to change our dry-hopping techniques to pack more aroma into our hop-forward beers, and as we grow, we will continue to explore new methods and get more equipment for this purpose.”
Still, at 103 IBUs, Resinous Evil hits the commonsense limit for bitterness.
Brewery: Adroit Theory – ABV: 7.3% – IBU: 70 – Release: One-off
Description: This White IPA is a clean and simple session beer (at least by Adroit Theory standards). Nice tropical nose from New Zealand hops, and in this case, spiked with extra fruit and hop.
Backstory: If you’re enjoying an Adroit Theory beer, the odds are that two general statements will hold true: You are drinking a heavy duty brew, and you’re unlikely to ever taste it again.
That’s just how it goes with the Purcellville, Virginia brewery, whose model is based on producing high ABV beers and rarely repeating itself.
“Generally speaking, we don’t make beers more than once,” owner Mark Osborne says. “Pretty much everything is a one-off. We have no flagships. We just crank out beers. It’s a never-ending idea factory.”
It’s hardly empty bluster: In a little over two years, Adroit Theory has produced 400 distinct beers. Sometimes it’s only a keg’s worth for the tasting room, other times it’s a 60-barrel batch to bottle and distribute.
Looking at those latter offerings, you’ll currently find a bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout, an oak barrel-aged Imperial Porter, brandy barrel-aged American Strong Ale, and a 10.7% barleywine. You will not find a session IPA. You won’t even find something under 7%. And that’s always the case.
Why the focus on such boozy offerings?
“Because that’s what we like to drink,” Osborne shoots back. “We have a brand that obviously very dark and metally. We like that kind of stuff. We like pushing the envelope and challenging people’s perceptions. We’re also a very, very small brewery, so it’s not like we have to sell beer to a wide audience. We’re very focused. We’re very niche.”
There is an occasional exception to what Osborne calls Adroit Theory’s “sipper beers,” though. Less than a month ago, it brewed one called White Noise. The beer is a White IPA – a “nebulous category,” per Osborne – that clocks in at 7.3%.
“We joke that it’s the closest thing we have to a session beer,” he shares, talking from the Craft Brewers Conference last week. “It basically goes down the hatch. It gives people a nice alternative to an imperial stout or a barrel-aged barleywine – you know, the normal stuff.”
In another twist, White Noise also holds the distinction of being a rare repeat recipe: Adroit Theory first brewed the beer last summer. But that doesn’t mean White Noise is exactly the same this go round.
“It was very good the first time, and we were happy with it, but there were definitely things that we wanted to tweak and adjust to make a second batch” Osborne says. “This time we got the appearance that we wanted. The first version we made was crystal clear. It was really more of an American Pale Ale or just a regular IPA This one’s got a nice cloudiness to it. The nose is much improved, too. It has a little bit more a natural bouquet.”
That natural bouquet comes courtesy of a Simcoe and Mosaic dry hop, which the brewery doubled this time around. (Both hops are used in the boil, along with Amarillo, too.) The cloudiness is the product of its primary grain, wheat, which is used in combination with Two-Row malt and a dash of Carapils.
Adroit Theory bottled White Noise in 22-ounce bombers, but it has something extra special on tap for HOPFEST.
“We figured a straightforward IPA was probably not going to blow anybody’s minds at a Hopfest,” Osborne says with a laugh. “We had done a cask of White Noise a couple weeks ago where we added honeydew melon and re-dry hopped it with Simcoe, and it was money.”
With HOPFEST around corner, Adroit Theory figured this tropical, fruity white IPA might be a good way to stand out.
“We took off one half of the cask, and blended if with honeydew melon purée and some honeydew essential oils,” Osborne explains. “Then we basically dry hopped the crap out of it with Simcoe.”
Osborne calls White Noise one of the easiest beers Adroit Theory makes.
If you say so.
Brewery: Lost Rhino – ABV: 7.0% – Release: One-off
Description: A mixed fermentation pale ale finished off with a glorious amount of dry hops and brettanomyces.
Occasionally, though, there’s the opportunity for “fun stuff” with brewing scientist Jasper Akerboom. Specifically, there’s the development of Lost Rhino’s barrel-aging program and the production of experimental one-off beers. Increasingly, the latter category has included blends of different brews. Case in point: Bretty McBrettface.
Bretty McBrettface – yes, a nod to the Boaty McBotface story out of the U.K. – is built on the combination of two existing Lost Rhino beers: Saison d’Anomaie and Meridian Kölsch. The blend of ales was added to an unjacketed fermentation tank, where it was eventually joined by six strains of Brettanomyces wild yeast (or “Brett”).
Like several pieces of equipment that Lost Rhino uses, the unjacketed tank is essentially repurposed. It wasn’t made for fermentation. It was made to be a serving tank. But wild yeast works on its own schedule, and Lost Rhino can’t afford to tie up proper fermentation tanks for months at a time, so it’s the tank that Lost Rhino uses for its Brett beers. The downside of using such a tank? No temperature control. That’s a problem when you’re brewing a Brett pale ale in the winter.
“It took a long time for the Brett to kick in and develop,” Garcia says. “We actually had to put warmers on the tank to get things started. But once we got the right temperature, the Brettanomyces started eating the remaining sugar that the two ale yeast strains don’t go thorough, which made it a really dry beer. It also gave it that great funky flavor that we love so much”
After over four months fermenting, Lost Rhino dry-hopped the beer with Mosaic, Amarillo, and Meridian hops. And Garcia is more than pleased with the final product. “We were kind of shocked how tasty it was,” the brewmaster shares. “Some of the earthy saison flavors are still there, and then the dry-hop punched up the aroma quite a bit.”
The lengthy process has yielded only 30 or so kegs of the Brett pale ale. Some of it will go to a few key account across Virginia and DC, some of it will stay in Lost Rhino’s tasting room, and of course, some will end up at HOPFEST.
Wherever Bretty McBrettface sails, it won’t last long.
Single Hop Series: Ella
Brewery: Flying Dog – ABV: 8.0% – IBU: 70 – Release: One-off
Description: The second release of Flying Dog’s 2016 Single Hop Series, Ella brings a unique blend of tropical fruit, floral and spice aromas and flavors.
Backstory: Rolled out in 2011, Flying Dog’s Single Hop Series challenges the Frederick brewery to make four imperial IPAs every year, each utilizing a single hop.
Brewmaster Matt Brophy told us last summer that the series is the product of Flying Dog’s annual pilgrimage to Washington’s Yakima Valley. “It’s about us finding and learning about new hops, and then trying to get enough to make a single-hop imperial IPA,” Brophy explained. “Once we do, the process is not the most complicated in the world.”
Brewing an entry in the series remains relatively consistent from batch to batch. The brew team targets the same bitterness levels (about 75 IBUs), which requires some adjustments in the bittering additions, but otherwise, the brew time and dry hopping are the same. This uniformity allows the variations each hop’s characteristics to shine through.
The second single-hop beer of 2016 showcases Australia’s Ella hop. Flying Dog head brewer Ben Clark says his interest in Ella was spurred by his affection for a different Oceania hop.
“At hop selection last year in Yakima Valley, our brewmaster Matt Brophy and I went to a dinner hosted by one of our hop suppliers,” he remembers. “I ended up sitting next to a second-generation Australian hop farmer. We talked about our mutual love for Galaxy hops, and he immediately suggested we work with Ella.”
The character of the hop, Clark explains, depends on the quantity with which it’s used: “In low doses, it comes off as spicy and floral, but used in larger amounts, it takes on a beautiful tropical fruit character.”
Of course, with this single-hop Imperial IPA, it’s the latter.
“One of the goals of this series is to expose our fans to new and innovative hop varieties, and we did just that with Ella,” Clark continues. “I have a hunch you’ll be seeing this hop a lot more in the future.”
To read more about the Frederick brewery, its Single Hop Series, and hop cultivation, revisit our Tap Takeover: Flying Dog from August 2015.
Brewery: Calvert Brewing – ABV: 10.4% – IBU: 104 – Release: Limited.
Description: A double amber ale generously hopped with Simcoe, Apollo, Columbus, Centennial, and Amarillo. Nectarine and pine on the nose, with bitterness balanced by subtle residual sugars and a crisp, lemongrass finish.
Backstory: At 10.4% and 104 IBUs, Calvert Brewing’s Double Amber is a massive beer, but when you ask Matt Ducey what inspired him to make it, his answer is brief: “Heady Topper,” he says with a laugh.
If you’re unfamiliar with Heady Topper, it’s one of the more coveted beers in certain craft beer circles. Produced by Vermont brewery The Alchemist, the Double IPA is only available in a 25-mile radius around the Waterbury production facility, which means you have to travel to the Green Mountain State to (legally) try it. More importantly, it is a wildly tasty beverage.
“I had gone on a trip to Vermont, and I fell in love with these full-bodied, flavorful beers, like Heady Topper and Sip of Sunshine,” the head brewer says. “I wanted to put my thumbprint in that direction, and I decided to go after the amber ale because it’s always something that I’ve loved.”
An amber ale was the first beer that Ducey ever brewed, back when he was still living with his parents. And many years later, in the summer of 2013, he set about making an imperial version of it.
“I wanted to find a way to exaggerate the flavors of an amber ale – the caramelness, the sweetness, the alcohol that’s underneath it – and then put a modern spin on it with a ton of hops,” Ducey shares.
The recipe he developed indeed called for “a ton of hops” – Magnum and Cascade and Simcoe and Galaxy and Citra and Centennial and Apollo and Amarillo. All in all, eleven hops made it into the boil and dry hop.
“I wanted to create a piney flavor with a little bit of grapefruit citrussness, and then get that resin and dankness that you associate with hops,” the head brewer says. “It’s also got a very smooth, sweet caramel taste from the malts, with a thick, full mouthfeel. And in the background, you can definitely taste a warming sense of the 10.4% ABV.”
Ducey first made Double Amber a few months after Calvert Brewing commenced production at its farm facility in Prince Frederick, Maryland. The brewer likens the space to a gutted chicken coop. “It’s kind of what you’d have if you were a really rich home brewer,” he explains. “It’s really rustic, to put it nicely, but that’s where we developed the brand and the idea of Calvert Brewing, and we built our recipes, and we started to supply the larger market.”
In January, Calvert Brewing opened a more modern, proper production facility in Upper Marlboro, but it still uses the farm set-up for piloting new brews. But no matter where it brews Double Amber, the process is a bear.
“When you’re taking the alcohol and IBUs so high, you’re going to need a larger quantity of grains and hops per gallon of water to get those high concentrations,” Ducey says. “With any system, you run up against physical limitations.”
Since only so many ingredients can fit into a tank, a batch of Double Amber typically yields over 30% less than a typical Calvert Brewing beer. Another complicating factor: When hops absorb water and take up space, they don’t give all of that liquid back.
“On top of limiting how much you can produce, hops also steal from you in the end,” Ducey says. “So, this not the most efficient way to make beer, but we really wanted those flavors to be there, at whatever cost it took.”
Understandably, Calvert Brewing only makes the beer every three months or so.
When the beer is in the market, though, Ducey says the beer often attracts an unusual audience: “Surprisingly, we find that Double Amber really wins with people who hate IPAs or aren’t into craft beer, especially older crowds that are forty and up.”
Perhaps that has a little to do with calling it a Double Amber, when it just as easily could have been dubbed a hoppy imperial red ale.
“To be truthful, it’s more of a red than genuine amber because of the 104 IBUs” Ducey admits. “But I just liked the way that Double Amber sounded, and it was an homage to the Amber Ale that got me into craft brewing. There will always be a soft spot in my heart for that.”
Bière de Garde
Brewery: Hellbender – ABV: 8.4% – IBU: 22 – Release: One-off
Description: Relatively light in body for a beer this big, this French style ale was aged on maple and dry hopped with Nelson Sauvin hops for a complex aroma and smooth finish.
Backstory: A bière de garde is not the likeliest beverage to show up at a hops festival.
The French style is meant to spotlight refined malt texture and alcohol strength. While these ales can range from blond to brown in appearance, the unifying characteristic is a smoothness derived from lagering the beer for three to six weeks. Hops, on the whole, are not a big part of the equation.
But according to Ben Evans, Hellbender approached HOPFEST as more than opportunity to celebrate IPAs. “We wanted to showcase different types of hops, and also the different bittering character you can get from them,” the head brewer says.
To those ends, Hellbender will be pouring a version of its forthcoming Bière de Garde that’s been dry hopped with Nelson Sauvin. Named after the Sauvignon Blanc grape, these New Zealand hops impart passion fruit and grape flavor and aroma.
When I speak to Evans earlier this week, the bière de garde is still conditioning. “We’re cold-crashing just a little longer in the kegs right now,” he shares. “The flavor is perfect, we just want a little more clarity in it. The minute we feel like that’s there, the regular version will go on tap.”
When Bière de Garde does start pouring in the tasting room, it will mark the end of a three-month “grain to glass” brewing process. In a way, the beer is an extended science experiment. “We wanted to see what Saccharomyces Trois would do with a bigger alcohol beer, because it has the tolerance level,” Evans says. “It just takes a while to get there.”
Saccharomyces Trois is a wild yeast strain that for years was confused with the popular Brettanomyces strain.
“It’s a really wild, weird yeast that makes a lot of really interesting tropical fruit flavors, specifically a nose of overripe pineapple when it’s done fermenting,” Evans observes. “Our bière de garde is bone dry, but it gives you a perceived sweetness from all the esters that yeast makes.” (Hellbender used the yeast earlier this year with its Hop Trois farmhouse ale, too.)
Once the beer completed fermentation, Hellbender aged it on maple stains. “It picked up a little more sweetness,” Evans notes. “The maple gives it a caramelly sort of sweetness, and a little less of the vanilla flavor that you get from oak and some of the other woods.”
The eight-barrel batch will produce about sixteen kegs. “It’s not a big production beer,” Evans notes. “It’s something that we did for fun.”
Brewery: Port City Brewing – ABV: 8.5% – IBU: 85 – Release: “Occasional”
Description: The Maniacal IPA is an extra hoppy version of a traditional American IPA. This beer is 8.5% ABV and boasts a golden color with a slight orange hue and bold flavors of citrus and pine. Port City uses a small percentage of caramel malt for color and flavor, which allows the hops to dominate. They “pre-hop” the beer by throwing hops in the brew kettle well before it boils to add extra hop bitterness and flavor. Then, Port City dry hops Maniacal IPA twice with CTZ, Chinook, and Simcoe hops with their unique and innovative Hopzooka to further enhance the hop aroma.
Backstory: “Monumental is our flagship IPA, but when you give it to some people, they’re like, ‘No, it’s not hoppy enough for me.’” Port City founder Bill Butcher told us last year. “Well, who are we to say what the right amount of hops is? If people want a Double IPA, then we’ll make a Double IPA for them.”
With Maniacal, Port City has given the area one of its best Double IPAs. “It doesn’t clobber you over the head with bitterness,” Butcher says of the beer. “It doesn’t taste like garlic and onions. It has a beautiful floral aroma, and a character that showcases the hops. That’s the fine line that all of our beers walk: Sure, it’s hoppy and super alcoholic, but it’s easy to drink, too.”
When we spoke to head brewer Jonathan Reeves, he marveled at the process required to produce the hop-forward style. (See the description above for the nitty gritty of how Port City makes its Double IPA.)
“I like the Maniacal. It’s a beer that I want to make,” he shared. “But it’s like trying to break the sound barrier.”
To read more about Maniacal and the Alexandria brewery, revisit our Tap Takeover: Port City from June 2015.
Brewery: Hellbender – ABV: 6.5% – IBU: 67 – Release: Special casks of flagship.
Description: An East Coast style IPA with strong earthy resin and citrus notes from Nugget, Centennial and Equinox hops; finishes hoppy and dry.
Backstory: Late last year, Hellbender set about developing a new flagship IPA.
First, it had to find the right hops to showcase. Experimenting with samples from its hop provider, Evans fell in love with a relatively new Pacific Northwest variety called Equinox. Introduced in 2012, Equinox was initially referred to as HBC-366, an indication that it was developed by the Hop Breeding Company – the same group that brought craft beer some of its most sought-after hops, most notably Citra, Mosaic, and Simcoe.
“Equinox hops are really complex, but they have some very specific tropical fruit and citrus character, and along with a little bit of resin,” head brewer Ben Evans shares. “It’s what brewers describe as dank, I guess.”
Looking to familiarize itself, Hellbender brewed a few small batches of single-hopped IPAs with Equinox, and the response in the tasting room was effusive. Encouraged, the two continued building the recipe, finally settling on one that combines an Equinox finish with a base of standard-bearer hops Nugget and Centennial.
Evans sees the beer that bridges the past and the present of hop cultivation.
“We’ve got Nugget, which was the big hop twenty years ago. We’ve got Centennial. And then we’ve got the newest hop in the U.S.,” he explains. “A couple of real classics and then the new player in the game.”
Ignite IPA hit taps around town in March. Since then, Hellbender has tweaked the recipe slightly, adding Mosaic and Columbus to the dry hop.
And for HOPFEST, Evans says the brewery will be pouring two special kegs of the beer: one dry-hopped with Australia’s Topaz hops (“That’s going to be really resiny and piney”), and another with Centennial and Columbus hops (“So, a lot of big grapefruit and citrus with some spicy, dank hop flavors in there”).
To read more about Ignite IPA and the DC brewery, revisit our Tap Takeover: Hellbender from March 2016.
Local Motion Imperial IPA
Brewery: Caboose Brewing – ABV: 9.0% – Release: Limited
Description: Local Motion Imperial IPA boasts a quadruple-hop dry hop, bringing big juicy hop aroma and flavor to balance out a robust malt bill to create a balanced, easy to drink 9% Imperial IPA.
Description: The line-up of beers at Caboose Brewing is designed to please the spectrum of palates.
“We have dark beers, light beers, lagers, hoppy beers – something for everybody,” says Meth Gunasinghe, the Vienna, Virginia brewery’s brand ambassador. “We try to have at least one style on tap that will appeal to each person, whether it’s a Brown Ale, a Vienna Lager or a Berliner Weisse for the sour fans.” (It doesn’t hurt to have a 15-barrel system that can brew eight styles at once.)
But for head brewer Chris Mallon – a veteran of Baltimore’s Heavy Seas – hop-forward beers hit the sweet spot. “He calls himself a hophead, so he takes pride in his IPAs,” Gunasinghe shares.
Caboose brews both an East Coast and a West Coast IPA, in addition to a rye Pale Ale and session wheat IPA, but the hoppiest of its offering is Local Motion, a 9% Imperial IPA that has been produced just twice since the brewery opened last fall.
“It’s such a big beer that we keep it kind of seasonal,” says Gunasinghe. “It keeps people wanting it a little more, too.”
This big beer is built on a boil of Warrior, Summit, and Amarillo hops. Later, it’s dry hopped primarily with Summit, in addition to Amarillo, Critra, and Simcoe. “Summit gives it that earthy, piney, almost green-oniony aroma, with a little bit of citrus,” explains Gunasinghe. “We do a really big dry-hop on it to give it that big, juicy aroma.”
What bitterness level do those hops add up to? Don’t expect an answer from Caboose.
“We don’t really calculate our IBUs, just because it’s a headache and we don’t really worry about the numbers too bad,” Gunasinghe says. “We just worry about how it tastes.” (He does ballpark it at 90 to 99 IBUs, though.)
Equally stout is Local Motions malt bill. “We have a pretty big malt bill, just because we want balance,” the brand ambassador shares. “We don’t want something that’s a super, uber-hoppy palate wrecker.”
“I think it’s one of the best beers our brewer has made,” he continues. “It’s super fresh, super balanced, but you got that big juicy, hop aroma. I’m a big fan of Amarillo and Citra and Simcoe, so you put them all in the dry hop and it’s perfect.”
Caboose will be sending its very last keg of Local Motion to HOPFEST, but it hopes to be brewing it again a few months down the line.
Well before then – this Sunday, in fact – Caboose will celebrate its one-year anniversary with a party in Strawberry Park.
“It’ll be a busy weekend,” Gunasinghe says.
On the Wings of Armageddon
Brewery: DC Brau – ABV: 9.2% – IBU: 100 – Release: Limited
Description: On the Wings of Armageddon is a single hop blend beer utilizing Falconer’s Flight. Brewed with just enough Pale malt, Cara-60, CaraPils and Malted wheat to carry the intense hop character onto the pallet. It has an orange hue with a viscus, rocky head. This beer has dominant aromas of citrus, white grapes and grapefruit with light bread and biscuit notes. It is moderately carbonated, deceptively smooth, refreshingly dry, and extremely heady for a 9.2% ABV beer.
Backstory: On the Wings of Armageddon is DC Brau’s most sought-after beer. It has a cult following, much like the beer it was inspired by: Russian River’s Pliny the Elder.
“Anyone who loves IPAs knows what Pliny the Elder is and the impact that beer has had on the movement as a whole,” brewmaster Jeff Hancock explained last year. “We kinda wanted to do our own version.”
At the time, DC Brau also knew that it wanted to make a beer tied to the Mayans’ apocalyptic prophecy of December 2012. Recognizing that they had yet to make a Double IPA, Hancock and DC Brau co-founder Brandon Skall rolled the two ideas into one. Lying around the brewery, according to Skall, was Falconer’s Flight, a citrusy blend of seven hop varieties that had initially been part of the recipe for DC Brau’s pale ale, the Public. “We had always liked its profile, and with a lot of these new hops, if you can get your foot in on a contracting level before they take off, you’re in a much better position,” Skall says. “So, we took a leap on it.”
Hackock says that the beer is all about a proper finish. “It’s made to leave a lasting impression,” the brewmaster observes. “We put a lot of the bitterness on the back end, because with a lot of these IPAs, you get so much up front that it almost shocks your mouth.”
To read more about On the Wings of Armageddon and the DC brewery, revisit our Tap Takover: DC Brau form March 2015.
Brewery: Devils Backbone – ABV: 11.1% – IBU: 111 – Release:Limited
Description: This is a culmination of all the IPAs our team has brewed over the years, our Triple Imperial IPA is hopped, hopped, and dry hopped with excessive abandon in mind.
Backstory: Devils Backbone’s Peak Series aims to combine “intensity, adventurous flavors, and special brewing techniques to reach the pinnacle of the brewers’ art.” Kabong is the first of its 2016 Peak Series. The Triple IPA is brewed with Simcoe, Centennial, and “a secret third hop.”
To read more about the Virginia brewery and its recent Adventure Collaboration Pack, revisit our Taste Test from February 2016.
In the Pursuit of Hoppiness
Brewery: Gordon Biersch – ABV: 8.5% – IBU: 72 – Release: One-off
Description: Balanced hop aroma with a unique flavor made possible by the use of a hop back prior to fermentation. Four C’s run the show here: Centennial, Cascade, Crystal, and Chinook.
Description: Will Golden and Adam Debower – two of the four founders of Austin Beerworks – are alums of Frederick’s Flying Dog Brewing Company along with DC Brau brewmaster Jeff Hancock. Both breweries opened around the same time, and the trio figured this was the perfect opportunity to collaborate on a brew. They decided to put a fun riff on the traditional India Pale Ale style with an IPL that incorporates 3 types of fruit puree (apricot, pear, and tangerine) to the brew.
Backstory: When DC Brau reached out to Austin Beerwork to collaborate for its fifth anniversary collaboration series, the two breweries settled on a style that combined their two interests of, in Golden’s words, “hop-forward stuff and really cool lager beers” – the India Pale Lager.
An emerging style – not even recognized by the Brewers Association currently – India Pale Lagers combine a lager’s yeast with the generous hopping of an American IPA. It’s something that sounds unusual on paper but its gradually winning over brewers and craft beer drinkers alike. Case in point: Austin Beerworks head brewer Will Golden.
“In the beginning, when I had other brewers talking about stuff like that, I honestly thought I would hate it,” he remembers. “I thought lagers had their place, and putting American hops in them in large quantities wasn’t really part of it.”
That stance changed a year ago, when Austin Beerworks – at the behest of another brewer – made an IPL for its fourth anniversary called Griddlebone. “It was light and crisp, but the type of malt that we used gave it enough backbone to support those hops,” he recalls. “It was just an amazing, 7.5% crush-able IPL, and one of the few beers over the past five years that I’ve truly been blown away by. So, that flavor profile has been jammed in my brain since.”
When Golden suggested making an IPL, Hancock was not a hard sell. The DC Brau head brewer has been a fan of the style since trying one from Massachusetts’s Jack’s Abby. “I loved the hybridizing of the two styles,” Hancock shares. ”I thought it was a cool concept. Everyone thinks of lagers as very bland, traditional beers that have no flavor, and that’s completely not the case.”
This won’t be DC Brau’s first foray into IPL either. Last October, it brewed one called Magic Number in collaboration with UNION Craft and Stillwater Artisan Ales for Baltimore Beer Week. But, as the name of this collaboration with Austin Beerworks hints, there’s an additional wrinkle with Celestial Garden.
“We’re starting to experiment with a blood orange IPA here in Austin so I floated the idea of adding a fruit puree to beer,” Golden shares. “I thought Jeff was going to shoot it down, but he was like, ‘No, that sounds awesome, let’s do it.’ I threw out apricots, then he threw out tangerines and peaches, and then I shot him back an e-mail that said, ‘Let’s just do all three.’”
These organic apricot, tangerine, and peach purees accentuate the fruity notes of Celestial Garden’s hop varieties: Columbus, Citra, Simcoe, and Amarillo. (The latter two are the primary aroma hops.)
“It was an easy one to put together,” Golden says in retrospect. “If collaborations are tough to do, the flavor of the beer will probably show that.”
To read more about Celestial Garden, revisit our Tap Takeover: DC Brau’s 5th Anniversary Collaboration Series from April 2016.
Two to the Dome
Brewery: 3 Stars Brewing – ABV: 8.9% – Release: Limited
Description: Juicy, dank Double IPA dry hopped with Azacca, Galaxy and Columbus Hops.
Backstory: Earlier this year, 3 Stars unveiled a revamped version of its Double IPA, Two to the Dome. The original version rose on a foundation of Citra hops, alongside the more common varieties of Centennial and Columbus. The redux swaps out Citra and Centennial for increasingly sought-after, more tropical hops: Australia’s Galaxy and the Pacific Northwest’s Azaaca. And the beer has been dried out to place more of a focus on them.
“It’s a completely different beer,” head brewer Mike McGarvey told us in February. “In some ways, we’ve made Two to the Dome a little unbalanced, but that’s kind of what a big, Double IPA should be. We loved the old Dome for what it was, but over time there was a change in our palates and opinions, so we felt like we wanted the flavor profile to change, too.”
“We stripped it down and rebuilt it,” co-founder Dave Coleman said.
“The first version of Two to the Dome was almost an old school Double IPA,” Meridian Pint beer director Jace Gonnerman observed. “Even though it used Citra – which is still relatively new – it had quite a bit more caramel malt. It was a little bit sweeter and darker in color. It was very, very good, but the trend in IPAs right now is that they continue to get drier and lighter in color, with bigger aromatics and less bitterness, and that’s exactly the route 3 Stars has gone with the new version.”
To read more about Two to the Dome and what’s new at the DC brewery, revisit our Tap Takeover: 3 Stars (Update) from March 2016.
Brewery: Bluejacket – ABV: 7.0 – IBU: 64 – Release: Seasonal
Description: Mosaic, Mandarina Bavaria and Amarillo hops. A bright array of citrus/tangerine, grapefruit and orange, punctuated by dank, herbal, earthy notes.
Brewery: Denizens Brewing – ABV: 7.2% – IBU: 69 – Release: Flagship
Description: This American-style IPA substitutes a portion of the barley malt bill with rye, 15% in ours. IPA being a hop forward style, this beer has strong notes of red grapefruit, orange marmalade, and pine. Malt flavors of soft caramel, biscuit, and spicy rye lay the groundwork for the American hops to shine. Hops include Cascade, Amarillo, Chinook, and Azacca.
Brewery: Right Proper – ABV: 4.5 – Release: Seasonal
Description: A rustic pale ale is fermented in 45 hl French oak foeders with Right Proper’s house mixed culture of wild yeasts. Kettle and dry hopping with Equinox and Comet offer tropical fruit and sticky resins from the expressive yeast.
Brewery: Atlas Brew Works – ABV: 7.3% – IBU: 62 – Release: Flagship
Description: An American IPA hopped with criminal disregard. Featuring generous additions of Cascade, Centennial, Amarillo, and Mandarina hops, followed by hints of Munich malt, Ponzi’s aroma writes checks that its flavor cashes.
Background: Early last year, former head brewer Will Durgin hinted that Atlas would be adding a flagship IPA. “Nothing is for certain, but we’re hoping to release that beer in late summer or fall,” he intimated carefully. “It’ll probably have a fairly generous hop bill.”
Sure enough, Atlas introduced Ponzi IPA last July. This April, it started putting it in cans, too.
To read more about the DC brewery, revisit our Tap Takeover: Atlas Brew Works from February 2016.
The Sunless Land Black Rye IPA
Brewery: Capital City – ABV: 7.3% – IBU: 61 – Release: New
Description: Deep, dark, ruby-brown ale brewed with rye and debittered black malt. Heavily hopped in the kettle with Summit, Columbus and Cluster, then loaded with three dry hop additions of Ahtanum, Columbus, and Citra. Lots of Rye Spice with just a hint of roast followed by dank citrus.
Brewery: District Chophouse – ABV: 6.8% – IBU: 55 – Release: Special cask of flagship
Description: Chophouse’s IPA . Medium-bodied and copper colored. Brewed with Nugget, Crystal, and Centennial hops, and just for Hopfest its dry hopped in the keg with Amarillo and Mosaic.