01 Aug The Future of the IPA Part 1
The Future of the IPA Part 1
One small step for man, one giant leap for
West Coast was big for years. North East is popping now, but we all know hops are here to stay. What comes after this?
To answer this question, we reached out to a small handful of Houston’s best. Today, Jeff Handojo of 11 Below Brewing in North Houston.
“The national growth in the craft brewing industry over the last 10 years has been phenomenal on many fronts, not the least of which being the depth and breadth of brands and styles that are available to the consumer. Couple that with even more growth in THE GREAT STATE OF TEXAS and what we have is essentially a fantastic time to be a craft beer drinker.
In general, consumer palates are expanding past the ABC macros as more and more people turn to craft beers as their go-to libation. But along with this comes something a bit unexpected; both new and discerning craft beer aficionados are calling for newer styles at a faster pace than what we’ve seen before, and the IPA is no exception.
Let’s go back about 7 or 8 years when American IPAs were generally dominated by West Coast styles.
For those of you that have forgotten, we’re talking about beers that have large, early hop additions in the process for unmistakable bitterness often coupled with a decent ABV percentage.
Brewing permutations abound from there for sure, but there’s a reason that craft IPAs carry the stigma of “oh that’s too bitter” to the uninitiated. It’s just how they were.
Then from there who could forget the brewing industry’s arms race for who could make an IPA with the most IBUs. Balance and drinkability went out the door in an effort to try and melt the consumer’s face with bitterness. Was it a bad thing? Not really, but then a funny thing happened in that the next IPA craze was for something that was diametrically opposed to the shock and awe bitterness show: the Session IPA.
The Session IPA was a true chimera: low(er) alcohol contents, big, bold, juicy flavors and hop bitterness turned down from its war-crazed older brother. You could make a case for Session IPAs crossing into glorified pale ales, but let’s not argue semantics while we’re speculating, shall we?
Fun beers for sure, but Session IPAs definitely weren’t as long-lived as the West Coast dynasty. It seemed like everybody was making one and then sure enough, the beer drinkers found the next “big thing”: the New England IPA.
Beer nerds and traders notwithstanding, this is a style that’s pretty new to the masses, especially in Texas. Fluffy, juicy, cloudy, a face-punch full of aroma and generally not bitter, the NEIPAs have made their arrival known.
You’ve no doubt already seen numerous local breweries brew them (and brew them very well, I might add), and why not? For the most part they sell themselves and it’s not a stretch to say that many people who generally don’t like IPAs will give a NEIPA a spin because of how unique it is relative to the old guard.
But if history is any indication, the call for the next new/big thing for IPAs will come. The question is, what will it be?
I’m old enough to have seen fashion trends that were alive and well in I was in high school die and come back for today’s high school kids (GET OFF MY LAWN), so if I had to guess on what’s next I’m putting my money back on a return to the beginning.
We’ve seen a run on lower bitterness IPAs over the last few years and I think that palates will call for a return for higher IBUs. I’m thinking about a well-balanced, non-adjuncted dry IPA with plenty of hop flavor, aroma, and bitterness.
“But Jeff, we already have those” you might say. And you’d be right.
There are still a good number of said options available, but those aren’t capturing the hearts and minds of beer drinkers like they used to.
And then after that? Hell I don’t know, but a return to the IBU arms race wouldn’t surprise me. It’s like that kids book about giving a mouse a cookie or the one about giving a moose a muffin.
I still think we have a ways to go before NEIPAs wear thin as the style du-jour (and yes it will happen), but regardless of what’s next for IPAs let’s just kick back and crack open a beer and enjoy what we have: a vibrant beer scene in Houston with breweries that work their butts off to make good beer for God’s Country (talking about Texas again).
So what do you think? I’d love to hear from you in the comments! Beers to you, Houston!”
Jeff Handojo is one of 11 Below Brewing’s Co-Founders. He’s a native Houstonian and UH Coog that fantasizes about taking over the world with beer as his weapon. He digs sours, and when he’s not at the brewery or writing for us, he’s enjoying time with his family.
You can read more about Jeff and the 11 Below gang here, or check out their site. They’ll also be in attendance at BrewMasters Craft Beer Fest Galveston on Labor Day. Use code “BC” for $5 off BrewHaHa General Admission (valid through 8/10)