Fair warning here: I think this is my (and your) best India Pale Lager, but as it’s a “style” that doesn’t yet have much (any?) definition, you may need to adjust this if the brewing community starts to coalesce around a different interpretation! For my part, though, IPL is really about making sure the “L” part (lager) is getting its due. I’ve never thrown my standard IPA recipe against a lager yeast (until today—right now, as a matter of fact, as I’m mid-mash) because if you’re going to justify a shift from ale to lager and think of it as a distinct style, then the defining characteristics shouldn’t just be “my IPA, minus some esters.” So, in that spirit, let’s dive in with the goal of making something that’s clearly a lager but also features hops in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the palate or the grist.
So, what makes a lager a lager? Lordy, we could go ’round and ’round on that one for days, I’m sure, but let’s take as our guiding light both the attributes of common lagers and the flavors produced by lager yeasts (and they do exist). Hops vary in intensity in lagers, from the high of Pilsners through the balance of Dortmunders to the low, low lows of generic Continental and American lagers. The common thread, though, is usually something to do with rounded, low-intensity-but-still-present malts and a touch of atypical fermentation character. German Pils is probably the hoppiest lager, but even it calls for clear grainy flavors and allows for a touch of sulfur. Bohemian Pilsner, by comparison, allows a bit of diacetyl and is bursting with Saaz flavor backed up by “rich, complex maltiness.” With that in mind, it seems consistent to say that if we’re making an IPL, then we should, by all means, feature hops, but that we should also produce a beer with complex (but soft) malts and a bit of fermentation character. This isn’t just some stripped-down IPA with all hops and no esters.
Begin with a 50/50 blend of Maris Otter and Munich malts (if you want to go lighter in color and aim more for croissant than biscuit, swap in some Pilsner for either/both), up to a target OG of 1.050. On top of that, add 0.5 pound (227 g) each of biscuit malt and Caramunich malt. Those grains will give you a rich and complex light-malt flavor, and while in other recipes I might recommend something to “dry” that mix out a little, here we’re going to let the hops handle that. You should end up with a target gravity of about 1.060.
Speaking of hops, you can use most any hops here, but I want to recommend that you avoid excessively resiny, piney hops in favor of the more tropical and/or earthy. For a great balance, I love German Polaris for its huge alpha-acid potential, pineapple and woodsy flavors, and only a touch of herbal balsam. To get the same profile I used to use a blend of Amarillo (or, later, Citra) and Northern Brewer, but those wunderbar folks at the Hull Hop Research Center simplified my life. Aim for 45–50 IBUs, all coming from 30-minute or later hops additions (I do 30, 5, and flameout). Be creative. You can go with blends of English/American/noble hops, use all of one region, or most any combination thereof—just leave the pine tree at the door.
For yeast, though, I have a definite recommendation: Wyeast Bavarian Lager (2206). When I first tried this, I went with Bohemian Lager specifically for its crisp, drier finish, but it was just too much with the IBUs and hops flavor, and the malt characters were lost. It was indistinguishable from an American-style German Pilsner, with straight grain and big hops (in the vein of Victory Prima Pils—a great beer, but not what I was going for!). Instead, the 2206 provides a much more prominent maltiness even in the presence of the high hopping, which was just what I wanted.
Mash and boil as usual here, maybe making an addition of chloride to your mash water if your sulfates are particularly high; you want a definite advantage for the chlorides in this style to limit the sharpness of the bittering. The short version is if you have particularly hard water, consider diluting with distilled/RO water and adjusting from there (or letting it ride in its “cut” form with no further adjustment).
In fermentation, go a little warmer than you ordinarily would—I like 55°F (13°C). It will produce a bit more fermentation character in the form of a lick of diacetyl and a bit of sulfur, but both will “work” with your malts and hops and will also trip lots of sense memory triggers for “lager” in your brain! Give this a solid two weeks to finish up primary fermentation, then give it another week just to be sure. Crash, carbonate to 2–2.5 volumes, and you’re good to go.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention dry hopping. I can’t recommend it, in good conscience. The grassy, resiny flavor just seems odd and out of place and pushes the hops over the top. It’s your beer, so do what you like, but at least try it without just once! You can always increase late hopping in later editions if you think you’re not getting the hops aroma/flavor you want.
When sitting down to work up a recipe for an IPL, make a lager first, then fit an amplified hops character to it. Otherwise, you run the risk of simply making a boring, ester-free IPA! You can also make variations on this recipe by adding roasted malts for a black IPL (like an imperial, hoppy Schwarzbier), a super-herbal-hoppy (and maybe even spiced) white IPL, and more. Have fun!
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