India pale ale used to be a beer style. Now it’s a broad category encompassing an ever-increasing array of styles, all of which have one common denominator: They’re highly hopped.
IPAs can be any hue from straw gold to ebony; they can be brewed to double or triple the normal alcohol and bitterness level; they can be fermented from wheat or rye along with barley.
The latest permutation: spiced IPAs.
Samuel Adams Whitewater IPA from Boston Beer Co. is actually a witbier/IPA hybrid. It’s brewed with a portion of malted wheat and flavored with the traditional witbier condiments of orange peel and coriander, along with some essence of apricot. That this odd mix works so well is due to the careful choice of complementary hops, including Chinook (a variety sometimes described as “peachy”), Citra, with its nuances of orange, and the grapefruity Simcoe. As of February, this fruit salad of a beer is available year around.
Wildeman Farmhouse IPA, from Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, is an IPA fermented with a Belgian saison yeast and seasoned with a secret spice that the brewery declines to identify. It was originally brewed for In de Wildeman, a beer bar in Amsterdam. The reintroduction of the beer, this time as a year-around brand, gives Flying Dog two Belgian-style IPAs. Raging Bitch is fruitier; Wildeman has a dry, peppery, almost tannic finish.
Widmer Brothers Brewing Co. in Portland, as part of its Rotator series, has released Spiced IPA, a collaboration with Paul Sangster and Chris Stawney of the San Diego-based homebrewers club QUAFF, Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity. “A year ago, we asked the members to develop a new IPA. We didn’t tell them who we were, just that it was a big national brewer,” said Widmer brewmaster Joe Casey.
The winner, chosen from among 25 recipes, includes malty Assam black tea, ginger, cinnamon, clove, star anise, black pepper and cardamom. The flavorings are blended by a Portland company called Tao of Tea. In their raw form, the ingredients are immensely fragrant, like a freshly baked fruitcake. In the beer, the ginger emerges strongly up front, the black pepper dominates the finish.
Widmer adds a boatload of hops to the beer, including a new variety called Teamaker. According to Casey, it adds an “iced tea type of aroma” to the beer without contributing any bitterness. The strain was developed primarily for its anti-bacterial properties, as a kind of probiotic to mix into cattle feed to prevent harmful germs from gaining a foothold in the cows’ gut. (The alpha acids, the primary bittering agent in hops, had to be bred out to make the hops palatable to the animals.)
Next up in Widmer’s Rotator series is Shaddock, an IPA flavored with grapefruit peel.
Avatar Jasmine IPA, a regular offering from the Elysian Brewing Co. in Seattle, disappeared soon after Elysian moved into the District late last summer. The supply of dried jasmine flowers from China mysteriously vanished, says Matt Thompson, Elysian’s director of sales and remarketing, and only recently was the importer able to restore the pipeline. To safeguard against any future interruptions, “we ordered 1,000 pounds, enough to get us through the year,” assures Thompson.
The sweet, floral quality of the jasmine dominates the beer. “You really lose a lot of the hop aroma,” says Thompson, who advises pairing Avatar with Indian cuisine or other spicy Asian fare.
DOPS, the local distributor for Elysian beers, has also been allotted a small amount of Nibiru, one of Elysian’s “Twelve Beers of the Apocalypse,” commemorating the end of history on Dec. 21, 2012 (according to the Mayan calendar). Nibiru is a Belgian-style triple brewed with yerba mate, a South American herbal tea obtained from a shrub related to the holly plant.
Yerba mate is also a flavoring in the beers of MateVeza Brewing Co., including its Yerba Mate IPA, in which the tea’s grassy, herbal flavor meshes nicely with the hops. The tea is a source of caffeine: A 12-ounce serving of the beer delivers as much a jolt as half a cup of coffee. So far, MateVeza beers have eluded the FDA’s crackdown on caffeine in alcoholic beverages, although founder Jim Woods says his beers were briefly banned by Michigan (even though he’s never sold them there).
Woods contract-brews his beers at Mendocino Brewing Co. in California and markets them only in California and four other Western states. Last year, however, MateVeza received a $10,000 loan under Boston Beer Co.’s Brewing the American Dream program to assist small start-up businesses. Later this year, Woods plans to brew a collaborative beer with Boston Beer that will likely be marketed throughout the Northeast.
Tea for brew? Given the popularity of coffee stouts, why not?