When we made Relapse IPA to commemorate Relapse Records’ 30th anniversary in 2020, I never imagined that it would cause such controversy.
I came up with the recipe mainly as a lager brewer’s answer to the brut IPA trend. The term “cold IPA” was certainly cheeky, but it really was a great way to describe a lighter and more refreshing IPA. We had a meeting where we brought up the obvious complaint that all IPAs are cold and it doesn’t make sense—but in my view, it does makes sense. Asahi Super Dry is actually super-wet. There is no milk in cream ale. Hell, even India pale ales aren’t made for shipping to India anymore (and some of them aren’t even pale). It’s all just a way of communicating to the customer what they’re going to get.
The biggest fan of the trend is Shaun O’Sullivan, brewmaster at 21st Amendment in San Francisco. He’s ended up making many of them. (I really need to spend some time down in the Bay Area and brew some with him.) After that, I really saw a lot of them being brewed everywhere. Emails came in from brewers in Spain, Poland, Japan—even Florida—asking about how to make it. I think the tipping point was when we made the iconic one with John Harris at Ecliptic Brewing here in Portland. That’s when the internet collectively loved or bashed the style. The beer was fantastic. It sold really well, too. He has since re-brewed it.
Somewhere in there I called Kim Sturdavant at Pacifica Brewery in Pacifica, California. (Previously at Social Kitchen and Brewery in San Francisco, Sturdavant gets credit for the invention of brut IPA—see “The Birth of the Brut IPA,” beerandbrewing.com.)
I told Sturdavant some of my fears:
Did you not have a super-clear idea of what brut IPA was before everyone started brewing their own?
“I had a clear vision and had been making them for a while when brewers reached out on how to brew them,” he told me. “But when I gave them clear parameters of what constitutes a brut IPA, they would go off and make something else completely.”
So, a lot of brewers misinterpreted how to make it?
“Oh God, yes.”
Do you think, therefore, that lots of crappy beer was made that you ended up taking the heat for?
What should I do about it?
For his part, Kim made a website describing the process that defines the style and linking to some of the first examples.
After that conversation, I was on a mission to figuratively “pee all over it” and claim cold IPA as my own before it got out of hand. We added a description to the website. I went on every podcast I could. We changed the name of Relapse to Original Cold IPA. I made a bunch of memes.
The fact is, cold IPA is complicated to make well. There are going to be plenty of crappy versions out there. I remember when New England–style IPA got popular in Portland, and we were hearing all the pushback from beer nerds and brewers. (I was certainly one of them.) Yet the beers that define the style are great. It’s a unique way of making IPA, and it can be wonderful.
Hopefully, cold IPA will be remembered in a similar vein.
The Elements of Cold IPA, According to Kevin Davey
The grist is based on American adjunct lagers: 20 to 40 percent rice or corn, mashed with all-American two-row pilsner malt. There should be no caramel malt. The finished beer should be incredibly dry, fermented to 82 to 88 percent apparent attenuation.
Lager yeast ferments the beer, but at relatively warmer temperatures, use faster-fermenting strains that produce low ester and low sulfur (such as Fermentis SafLager W-34/70). You can substitute clean-fermenting ale strains such as Chico, Kölsch, or California Common, as long as the sulfur and ester notes are low. “Cold IPA is a canvas for IPA hops,” Davey says.
Dry hops go in “warm” before fermentation is complete, during spunding or kräusening. “This achieves biotransformation while negating oxygen pickup,” Davey says.
The beer should be filtered to crystal clarity and well carbonated. “Cold IPA is the antithesis of New England–style IPA,” Davey says. —Joe Stange
Cold IPA Style Parameters
OG: 1.055–1.065 (13.5–16°P)
FG: 1.006–1.009 (1.6–2.4°P)
Color: 2.5–5 SRM