It isn’t like we couldn’t have seen this coming.
Brewers are an almost painfully creative lot. It’s like Murphy’s (Irish Stout?) Law: if it can be brewed, it will be brewed. That includes the likes of beer made with brains (thanks, Dock Street), scrapple (Dogfish Head), every food product one could name, and all manner of exotically sourced yeasts (beards and…elsewhere). So, it really comes as no surprise that we witnessed the advent of the “Milkshake IPA.” Heck, by the standards of “weird beers,” it’s not even that unusual.
What is somewhat unusual is just how popular these (and similar) beers have become. By seizing on the galloping popularity of IPA and adding ingredients and processes that enhance highly approachable (or, in the words of Jean Broillet of Tired Hands, “whimsical”) flavors and textures, a few breweries began a fad that evolved into a trend. Dozens of Milkshake IPAs are now available from domestic and international breweries. Even breweries that aren’t jumping in with both feet are pushing out hazy, cloudy IPAs and pitching them as fellow travelers to the Milkshake IPA, while older breweries brag that they’ve been making cloudy, thicker beers for years. And yet…
This is a controversial approach to beer. Many argue it isn’t properly IPA. Some argue it isn’t even properly beer. Others simply think it sets a bad example and encourages sloppy breweries to rush out mediocre products and then revel in the pearl-clutching from “traditionalists” who think that all beer must be crystal clear (except Hefeweizen, of course).
We’ll start by getting into just what goes into a Milkshake IPA, discuss approaches you might consider for making your own, and then address the ongoing debate of its appropriateness, persistence, and value. Is “clear” a stale fashion in a cloudy future?
The Milkshake IPA
So, what is this thing we call the Milkshake IPA? Interpretations vary, of course, but there are some common threads that we can knit together to come up with a description of the “style.”
The IPA moniker suggests that it shares some features of that style, which is certainly true in one way: Milkshake IPAs routinely feature prominent hops flavor and aroma, generally (though not necessarily exclusively) using American hops, and particularly the fruitier, tropical varieties. They are also, of course, hazy; some are flat-out opaque, exhibiting a solid wall of beer behind the glass. Along with this usually comes a thicker mouthfeel and more body than one might expect out of a traditional American IPA. The source of that extra body and a background sweetness that is relatively high compared to other IPAs is lactose (milk sugar), an unfermentable sugar common in the style. So, we have a thick, sweet beverage with milk sugar and high levels of hops flavor. Voilà. Milkshake IPA.
Beyond that, the parameters and attributes start to fan out. Some feature the high-to-absurdly-high bitterness that can be found in other IPAs/DIPAs, while others have markedly low bitterness. In fact, one helpful brewer informed me that it was not only possible but desirable to make a beer of this type with zero IBUs (which momentarily broke my brain, since one of the defining characteristics of IPA is bitterness, but we’ll get back to that later). Some use fruit as a source of body and haze, taking advantage of pectin in the fruit to not only add body but also to add a fixed “perma-haze” to the beer that won’t drop clear over time. A wide range of examples use fruit as a direct flavoring agent, and we see strawberry, blackberry, kiwi, peach, and other fruit Milkshake IPAs on the taps and shelves. Some have spices added (vanilla is popular). And a wide range of grist additions (oats, flaked barley, wheat malt, and the ever-controversial flour), unique to each brewery, add a range of grain flavors and textures to these beers.
We don’t yet have a crystal-clear picture (pun accidental) of this style, but it’s at least as well defined as many other beers that we already recognize. So, is the Milkshake IPA a real style? I would have to argue “yes.”
Making the Milkshake
So, how do professional brewers (and you) make these things? There’s a traditional approach (if that’s not too much of a contradiction here) and a non-traditional approach, and you can decide for yourself just how far you’re willing to go down the heterodox road! The important thing to remember is that our principle goal is to add body and opacity, prominent hops flavors and aroma, and probably a bit more sweetness than might be the norm. One note before we proceed: this is not intended to be a clone recipe of any particular Milkshake IPA.
Grist. For a start, we need to consider our grist. In terms of base malt, I’m of two minds. On the one hand, if we’re talking about a hops-centric beer, it might be best to go with a clean, simple American 2-row. On the other hand, though, we’re not talking about a typical hops-forward IPA, so something breadier/grainier such as Pilsner or Maris Otter might be a better choice. It’s your call, but I’d stick with the plain old 2-row on this one, at least for the first few attempts: you’re going to have enough variables to play with! To bulk up and smooth out this beer, you’ll also want to add a hefty dose (up to 30 percent of the grist) of things such as wheat malt, oats, flaked barley, and flaked corn. Also, it might be a good idea to add a pound of rice hulls to the grist to avoid a slow or stuck lauter/sparge, downstream.
Mash. Second, let’s go with a high saccharification-rest temperature in the mash. Since body and sweetness are features, not bugs, in this style of beer, there’s some value in mashing high (say, around 155°F/68°C) because it will result in a less-fermentable wort with a higher percentage of long-chain sugars that will bulk up the resulting beer. You might also want to take a look at your water chemistry. Check out your chloride levels: if they’re relatively low (below 100 ppm), especially if they’re lower than your sulfate levels, you’ll want to bump them up to at least 100 ppm, and maybe as high as 200 ppm (your local homebrew shop can point you in the direction of some calcium chloride, if you’re not used to adjusting your water). It will be important later on, when we’re trying to limit any harsh bitterness from our hops.
Hops. Third, we need to secure a load of hops. Then we need to hide them so they don’t get anywhere near the boil kettle. Well, not really, but most (maybe even all) of your hops additions are going to be late-boil, flame-out, and dry hops. The selection, weights, and timing are up to you, but I would recommend a large 10-minute addition, an equal-sized flame-out/whirlpool addition, and the same again as a brew-day dry hop (this should yield you something in the range of 20–30 IBUs, enough to act as a balance but not enough to make your beer properly “bitter”).
After that, a late-fermentation dry hop (say, 7 days in) and a post-fermentation dry hop are also warranted. This will add an obvious hops presence, particularly in the aroma, and will contribute some haze as well (odd, writing that as though it’s a good thing). In terms of which varieties to use, it’s hard to argue with the pure fruit power of Citra, Amarillo, maybe some classic “C” hops (Centennial, Cascade, Chinook, and Columbus), and for those with an exotic bent, maybe some of the fruitier New Zealand varieties to add some interesting stone-fruit and lime flavors. We’re talking about roughly 0.5 pound (227 g) of hops (maybe up to 1 pound/454 g!) for a 5.5-gallon (20.8 l) batch.
One thing I would definitely recommend, though, is to avoid the impulse to blend ten different hops. Stick with three or four. No need to color with all of the crayons in the box just because we can (and you know what color that results in, right?).
Yeast. Finally, for yeast you could consider using a low-flocculating yeast if you’re paranoid about clarity, but frankly, I wouldn’t. First, these beers should not taste particularly “yeasty.” If that’s where you’re getting your haze, then you’re probably doing it wrong. Second, there should be plenty of haze-producing proteins, polyphenols, and particles already in this beer—no need to un-gild the lily.
Adjuncts. Now, let’s get into some of these other ingredient additions. The most obvious is lactose. It isn’t necessary, per se, but it’s very commonly used and it will, without question, add sweetness and body to the beer. One option is to add somewhere between 0.5 and 1 pound (227–454 g) to the wort about 10 minutes before the end of the boil (remove from the heat, stir in, and bring back to a boil). You can also add it to taste post-fermentation or at bottling (if you’re going that route). My advice is to at least try some lactose, but use it sparingly. Too much sweetness can wreck the overall flavor profile, driving it too far out of balance.
Pureed apples (three or four should do fine, for our batch size) in the mash add a bunch of pectin to the beer, really filling in the nooks and crannies of the mouthfeel and adding some haze. To which I say…sure, why not? You won’t actually taste the apple—what small amount of flavor would survive is easily masked by everything else and just tastes like ethanol anyway!
But if you want to make this a fruit Milkshake IPA you’ll need a real fruit addition somewhere along the way.
As for that wheat flour addition, it’s your call. Ardmore, Pennsylvania’s Tired Hands Brewing swears by it, and there’s no doubt that it will act as a thickener, just as it does in my ham gravy. It’s generally added in the boil, and if you’re going to go that route, I recommend an amount not more than three percent of your total grist weight. Try it without, first, perhaps. Then, on a subsequent batch, cross your fingers, toss it in, and see what you get!
Can vs. Should
This beer rouses some feelings on the part of beer drinkers and brewers. Just because we can make this beer, should we? The debate seems to boil down to three questions:
1) Is this really an IPA? 2) Is this really a beer? 3) Is it risky to deliberately abandon clarity as a goal of brewing?
How you answer each of these is entirely up to you, of course, but each is worth considering.
Is this an IPA, or is that a misnomer? We clearly live in a time when the definition of IPA has become fluid. The clearly hops-forward character of this beer means that it certainly shares some DNA with traditional IPAs. Is this, though, stretching the IPA brand a bit too far?
Is this even beer? This was a question I hadn’t even considered until a friend raised it, pointing out that beer cocktails aren’t “beers,” so there’s clearly a point beyond which we need new names for things. Does the addition of apples, flour, oats, strawberries, bananas, coriander, and more to a beer eventually make it something new and different? An alcoholic malt smoothie, perhaps?
Finally, and this is by far the most common concern raised: Are we encouraging bad copycats? Not all clear beers are good, and not all cloudy beers are bad, but haze, turbidity, cloudiness, and opacity certainly can be signs of a rushed beer, a bad process, or a misused ingredient. Erik Walp, lab manager at Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company in Croydon, Pennsylvania, notes that what we’re often seeing are remnants of yeast, trub, and flour, and that it often indicates a beer that is mistreated, rushed, or flawed. Strange as it sounds, celebrating such beers as the Milkshake IPA could mean an overall degradation of quality among craft beer by normalizing turbidity. Is this style an invitation to laxity?
The answers to these may be moot because…
Whatever the concerns, there’s no question that beers of this type sell. They’re popular. Not with everyone—as noted, the purists have objections that may well keep them from partaking—but certainly with enough beer drinkers to justify their regular production, rampant imitation, and continuing evolution: at the time this was written, Tired Hands had a Fluffernutter Milkshake IPA on tap. Unless this is an elaborate prank, no brewery does that without seeing some kind of black ink at the end of it. Even those who might be skeptical are likely to adapt to consumer demand; Scott Rudich, owner and head brewer of Round Guys Brewing Company in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, says that they’ve upped the dry hopping on many of their beers, haze be damned, and their guests seem to love it. Where dollars go, in almost any industry, so goes the product. All evidence points to a cloudy forecast.