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Make Your Best American IPA

There are so many versions, varieties, and approaches here that it would be arrogant to claim this will be your best American IPA, but it’s at least a very, very good one that has held up well to the test of time.

Josh Weikert 7 months ago

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I knew this day would come. Not the day I write about American IPA for this column – though, clearly, that day has arrived – but the day I was called on to brew a New England-style Hazy IPA. I feel like Victor Frankenstein creating his monster. It’s brewing up as we speak, possibly-faddish monstrosity though it might be, and perhaps in a few iterations I’ll share the recipe here. In the process of creating that recipe, though, I came back to my standard American IPA recipe as a base. American IPA isn’t a style I brew all that often – there are so many good commercial versions out there that I don’t typically feel the urge to make my own – but there’s no doubt that it’s ubiquitous among brewers of all kinds. There are so many versions, varieties, and approaches here that it would be arrogant to claim this will be your best American IPA, but it’s at least a very, very good one that has held up well to the test of time.

STYLE

On one level, American IPA is extremely well-known as a style: I mean, after all, they’re everywhere. Who doesn’t know American IPA? On another level, though, it’s a surprisingly not well-known style, in that very few have taken the time to see what the style describes, and instead treat it as a catch-all moniker for a wide range of hoppy, pale ales. It is that, of course, but the commercial tendency towards “more” to meet consumer demand has led to a substantial amount of style “drift.” Our BJCP-derived American IPA is surprisingly modest in alcohol, ranging from 5.5-7.5 percent. It is rather immodest in IBUs, however, with a gravity-to-IBU ratio of roughly one-to-one. And, while it can range in color from gold to a deep amber, most examples will be on the paler end of the spectrum. It has some light malt character, but nothing overly bready or rich. Beyond that, this is a hops showcase: flavor and aroma both should have a substantial level of hops character, but that doesn’t require you to use a fantastical amount of hops in the recipe. If there’s one thing I know to be true, it’s that it’s possible to wreck an IPA with too many hops in too great a quantity – I’ve done it. Overkill might be harder to spot in most IPAs, but it’s still overkill; we’ll use what we need here, and no more.

RECIPE

I tend to brew all of my “American” beers – IPA, Pale, Amber, and Brown – to the same 1.060 gravity. I don’t know why, but I started with that, and it just stuck. In a way, though, it’s freeing because it lets me focus on the relative flavor contributions of the ingredients themselves.

Start with nine pounds of American 2-row and one pound of Munich as a base: I don’t use the plain 2-row very often, but when I make this with Maris Otter it didn’t have the same brightness in the hops! So, plain, clean 2-row it is. For a bit of malt character, though, add half a pound each of Crystal 20 and British Crystal 45: they’ll add just a touch of sweet biscuit flavor to offset the bitterness that’s coming.

Hopping doesn’t need to be complicated to be good. Add 52 IBUs in a 60-minute addition (I like one ounce of the Nugget I typically have on hand), then one ounce of Simcoe at five minutes, one ounce of Amarillo at flame-out/whirlpool, and one ounce of Citra for dry hopping.

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Finally, just as this is one beer where I don’t default to my beloved British pale malt, I also keep the German Ale yeast in the flask: instead, I pitch good old-fashioned Wyeast 1056, American Ale. It’s clean, simple, and lets the hops shine.

PROCESS

Mash and boil as usual, here, but be conscious of the fact that you’re adding three ounces into the kettle. That’s over my limit for free-adding hops (too much and I start getting hop matter into my plate chiller), so I bag the bittering addition. Take whatever steps you need to ensure that you can leave the hops behind when you’re done boiling! Post-boil, I give the wort a good stir and let the temperature drop to about 190F before adding my whirlpool hops, which I then leave for twenty minutes to steep.

Fermentation is at 65F for the first 2-3 days, followed by a free-rise to anywhere between 68-70F. After active fermentation stops, I add the dry hops, and wait five days. Experimenting with differences in flavor between cold-crashed dry hopping and final-fermentation-temperature dry hopping yielded no discernible differences, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it!

Rack out from underneath any floating hops, package, and carbonate to 2.5 volumes of CO2.

IN CLOSING

Like most IPAs, this one is at its “biggest” in terms of hops aroma and flavor when fresh, but don’t let that make you rush through it. Stored cold, it will retain its orange, peach, and pineapple hops character for quite a while, just at a slightly lower magnitude. I should also say that you can, of course, ignore my hopping choices here – I find that these play well together, and the flavors in each seem to complement the others in ways that make it easy to enjoy the fruity character without feeling like you’re drinking a mimosa!

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Now, if you’ll excuse me, Dr. Frankenstein has to get back to his NEIPA creation before it frames someone for murder.

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