I’ve let myself go for far too long without posting anything once again. I have decided to rectify that by writing something about one of my favourite (if not THE favourite) beer styles and how I have watched it evolved in this province. This is the IPA (India Pale Ale) and all of its many sub-styles.
For those of you who have had the (dis)pleasure of drinking with me you have probably noticed that I am partial to hop-forward beers. When I moved to Alberta I sought out a good local IPA. That turned out to be the Wild Rose IPA. This is a bit more of an “old school” IPA. It has a fair amount of caramel from the malt profile which helps to balance the bitter kick that comes in on the back end after you get to relish in the wave of citrus & pine from those glorious West Coast hops! This became the beer that I would seek out in Calgary. It even led me to go to the Currie Barracks for my first ever brewery tour in Alberta. I think that I will always have a soft spot for this beer because I feel a strong bond with it and my entrance into the local craft beer scene.
Other than the Wild Rose IPA and the occasional Brew Brothers Amarillo IPA, whenever I could find one, there were not too many local options back in 2013. Luckily we had some stellar imports that were able to fill that void. However, as much as I love getting incredible IPAs from around the world there is no substitute for a really good fresh IPA. This is because hop aroma and flavour are the first things to deteriorate in beer; remember, beer is a delicate thing. That was why I was blown away when I first tried the Last Best IPA at Midtown Kitchen & Bar. Now, full disclosure, I currently work with a family of brewpubs that includes Last Best Brewing & Distilling. When I first tried this beer I was still in accounting and just a beer geek with a blog that focused on local craft beer (a rare thing back then). The impact that this beer had on me was quite significant. It was just so vibrant and fresh, it really was like drinking spring in a glass (that line’s for you JVR) with ohhhh so much grapefruit and tropical fruit leaping out to greet me. This is still one of my top beers to drink from LB, although Tokyo Drift, a NE style IPA, has really come to rival it.
IPAs were not the most popular style of beer in Alberta back in 2014. As someone who worked/works a little on the sales side of thing I can say that it was not the first choice to put on tap for most bar & restaurant owners. But things really changed and they seemed to happen pretty fast. I would say that over the course of roughly six months to a year it seemed as though IPA became the “hot” style for places looking to throw on a cool craft beer. I would say that we have some solid local IPAs out there to prove this.
I would be doing a pretty crappy job if I didn’t mention Ribstone Creek;s summer seasonal, Great White Combine. This is a White IPA which I like to describe as basically a mash up of a Wit and an American IPA. These are both great beers to drink in the summer, IMO of course, so I find that this style just screams “Patio pints” at me. The use of wheat is what gives it that cloudy (whiteish) look and this protein will also give the beer a nice soft/pillowy mouthfeel. The Belgian yeast adds a sort of citrus, juicy fruit bubblegum flavour and a slight clove-like spiciness. The hops will really accentuate that citrus and fruit character making it extra delicious. This beer has replaced Deschutes’ Chainbreaker as my go to WIPA.
Again, many of you who know me probably know that Bench Creek is one of my favourite Alberta microbreweries. This is largely due to the fact that their Head Brewer, Warren, is an incredibly talented brewer and just a really good dude….plus he loves him some hops! That love affair probably explains why they have been focusing so much on brewing hop-forward beers. Let’s just take a look at some of their repertoire.
Flint and Steel is a Session IPA (or ISA if you prefer) which is a beer that takes the hop-forward flavour and aroma of an American IPA and puts it in a beer with a low ABV, light body and minimal hop bitterness (so little to no bittering additions). This makes it easy to sit down for a “session” and drink this one beer continuously without wrecking your pallet or getting obliterated. Their White Rave IPA is their flagship IPA and I would say that it is easily among my top IPAs in the province. Northern Grace RIPA is a new addition to their core lineup. It is a Rye IPA so there is a percentage of rye malt in the grain bill. Rye is also higher in protein so it will make the mouthfeel a little fuller and softer; plus rye has a subtle spiciness to it which adds another dimension to the beer (you can get this slight spicy note in rye whiskey as well). And then there is their seasonal Double IPA, Apex Predator. This guy is a big one coming in at 8.2% but you would never know it from the taste because it really hides that booze well. The overwhelming notes of tangerines, ripe pineapple and wonderful piney dankness might make you want to drink too many of these DIPAs so take this as your warning!
I really should mention Troubled Waters NE DIPA. This was another of Warren’s babies that was actually brewed as a three-way collab with two other stellar local breweries, Troubled Monk and Blind Man. This is a New England style DIPA so it was pretty hazy from the use of grains like oats and wheat which gave it a pillowy mouthfeel as well; plus there were zero bittering additions meaning that the focus was on the flavour and aroma aspects from the hops that they decided to use. And they chose some beauties to showcase here, again think really ripe pineapple, melon and citrus fruit. This use of hop varietals with flavours reminiscent of fruit and the noticeable haze (it can look like a glass of orange juice) is why NE IPAs are often referred to as “juicy”.
I need to mention two more IPAs before I force myself to stop rambling on; so bear with me! Blind Man’s Longshadows IPA has developed into another one of my top Alberta IPAs. It is also based off of a NE style IPA, so more focus on late addition and dry hopping to accentuate hop flavour and aroma rather than bitterness. I quite enjoy the blend of piney spruce notes with citrus fruit. The other one is Banded Peak’s Southern Aspect. Well holy shit did this beer ever make a big impression on me. I can remember getting a sample of it from Colin off of the CT. It is pretty big at 7% but it is good at hiding this strength as well. The insane amont of dry-hopping makes it unbelievably aromatic and flavourful. Plus Ekuanot and Mosaic, so all kinds of deliciousness going on in there! Any hop heads out there who have not yet tried this one out need to head over to the brewery…..NOW!!!
I couldn’t mention all of the IPAs being made by local breweries, I couldn’t even mention all of the ones that I wanted to without turning this article into a novel. So I welcome anyone & everyone to chime in with a comment about their favourite Alberta IPAs and why they adore them. Come one everyone, grab a glass of IPA and raise a cheers to local craft beer!