Hopnotized: Exploring the Future of the West Coast IPA

A recent release at California’s Firestone Walker may be a window into where IPA is headed, going for clarity and lean fermentation while borrowing hop-saturation hocus-pocus from the hazy grimoire. Brewmaster Matt Brynildson explains.

Matt Brynildson Dec 12, 2022 - 6 min read

Hopnotized: Exploring the Future of the West Coast IPA Primary Image

If you follow IPA in the craft space, you’ll hear a lot about the pendulum swinging from New England–influenced hazy IPA back toward the West Coast style.

To be honest, from my “Left Coast” perspective, clear West Coast IPA never really fell out of favor or slowed down. Brewers such as Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, Beachwood, Alvarado Street, Green Cheek, and Liquid Gravity have been consistently pumping out an array of clear and focused IPAs, and I see them on tap up and down the California coast.

That said, it would seem that brewers across the country are back to geeking out on West Coast IPAs and the new-school elements that they’re applying to them. Of course, this moment of clarity could be derailed by thiolized hazy strains and freeze-dried grape skins at any moment. (The latter are rich in the thiol precursors that can boost tropical aroma; see “The Complex Case of Thiols,”

At Firestone Walker we’ve seized the chance to take another deep dive into the world of West Coast IPA, this time with heavy influence from our hazy IPA exploits as well as from other research and practical work being done within the industry. The result is Hopnosis, our latest West Coast IPA release. Here I want to share some background about how we developed this beer and landed on its final formulation—a window into the resurgence of the West Coast style.


Borrowing Techniques from the Hazy and the Cold

The key element that I’ve come to love and strive for in IPA is a saturated hop flavor that finishes clean. So, how do we get there?

Brewers have been using a lot of tricks learned through hazy IPA, such as omitting cara-specialty malts, cooling down the whirlpool, lowering hop bitterness, and loading up on new-school hops to showcase a soft tropical fruit character. We bring all of that into play.

We also deploy our lager yeast into IPA service, in a way giving a nod to the cold IPA concept developed by Kevin Davey at Wayfinder but maybe paying even more homage to Bob Kunz and the beautiful beers of Highland Park in LA.

In fact, using our lager yeast in hop-forward beers has been a curiosity of ours for a long time. This is what allowed us to move away from our house ale-yeast character without having to bring in an entirely new strain. At Firestone Walker, we don’t use Chico-type yeast in any of our beers; our ale strain is of English origin, with a distinctive ester-driven profile that has become a big part of our house character. With this beer, we wanted to step away from that. After a lot of experimentation, we found a way to conduct our lager fermentation a bit warmer, cooling in at 54°F (12°C) with a ramp up to 64°F (18°C), fermenting clean and relatively neutral. Just a little yeast-derived sulfur lends a bit of alluring dank character, complementing the hop bill. As an added benefit, that small amount of SO2 produced by the lager yeast should improve our flavor stability.


Let’s Talk Hops

Our hot-side hop program consists of Simcoe at the start of the boil and again 30 minutes later. We then finish in a cooled-down whirlpool with a large charge of low-alpha German Callista, booming Talus, and more Simcoe. The idea is to bring some fresh, new-wave hop character to a Simcoe-dominated brewhouse program.

With Hopnosis, we also incorporate a mid-fermentation addition of Cryo Hops made from Mosaic that we selected. We ensure good mixing, yeast contact, and full extraction in a saturated CO2 environment. The fermentation may scrub off some of the top notes, but we believe it results in a deliciously saturated hop flavor. As Laura Burns of Omega Yeast has explained, this mid-ferm addition also helps to clarify the finished beer.

At terminal gravity, we do a second dry hop with a blend of fruit-forward hop varieties, including El Dorado and Idaho 7 from the Pacific Northwest and Nelson Sauvin and Riwaka from New Zealand. The contact time is relatively short prior to hop-out and cooling.

In the end, Hopnosis comes in at 6.7 percent ABV; the color is 5.5 SRM, and the IBUs are in the mid-40s. To me, the aroma is all New World hops, with their fresh, tropical top-note goodness, while the flavor is saturated with familiar, firm, friendly Simcoe and Mosaic. (No Citra was harmed in the making of this IPA.)

We also managed to create a new, unique beer that nestles into our Firestone Walker portfolio even without our house ale character. Cans of Hopnosis have been in my own fridge since Day One, right next to my beloved Pivo Pils—a match made in heaven.

Firestone Walker is a media parter of Craft Beer & Brewing.