The first time someone presented me with a cold IPA, I didn’t know what to think. I hadn’t heard of it—I thought “Cold IPA” was the brand name. So, I was not prepared for what I was about to taste.
It was crisp on the palate and chock-full of hop aromas and flavors; this particular beer had hints of mint and lemon zest along with a layer of fresh pine needles. The malt seemed to play only a background role, taking a back seat to the hops. It was brilliantly clear, pale straw in color, and it finished exceptionally dry and quenching. It had me wishing for a warmer day so I could have another (and maybe another), despite the 7 percent ABV.
The body was light and the mouthfeel spritzy, like my favorite mass-produced light lager, but then the bitterness was a welcome surprise—since many of the IPAs these days seem to lean sweet, murky, and soft. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m from the West, and we have West Coast IPA in our blood ... but I digress. In the end, this beer reminded me of a cream ale or light lager, but amped up in alcohol and hops. I knew I had to find out more.
Cold IPA hails from Portland, Oregon, which makes sense—we know our IPAs in the Pacific Northwest. I had to laugh a bit when I learned that a brewer—Kevin Davey, formerly of Wayfinder, now with Heater Allen—was responsible because I’m generally a skeptic of claims that any one person can really invent a new style. Online, I found much debate among brewers and geeks about whether cold IPA was really a new style, a sub-style, or a just new form of IPL, et cetera.
In the end, I decided I would call Davey a “continuous improvement brewer.” What does that mean? In my view, he developed a strategy based on the evaluation and revision of the processes, methods, and practices of brewing West Coast IPA, and the beer he called “cold IPA” grew out of that. There are enough process changes to call it a new sub-style, and then he gave it a brilliant marketing handle by adding the word “cold.” Because, let’s be honest, a crisp, cold IPA just sounds great.
Okay, but what is it?
A cold IPA is an IPA with a grist similar in composition to a cream ale or adjunct lager. It may get as much as 20 to 40 percent rice or corn, with the rest typically being American two-row pale or pilsner malt. That adjunct portion is what sets it apart from typical India pale lagers, which have usually been all-malt IPAs in form but fermented like lagers. The intention here is high attenuation, light body, and dry finish. That grist should yield a very pale color while adding just enough sweetness to accentuate and balance a big hop punch.
That punch comes from ample bittering additions as well as late and cold-side additions for flavor and aroma, featuring varieties you’d expect to find in a West Coast IPA—think Pacific Northwest—but they could also include some from the Southern Hemisphere. Clarity also matters here—cold IPA is, in part, a response to the haze craze.
Besides the grist, here’s the other key difference: The usual thing is to ferment a cold IPA with lager yeast—often the popular 34/70 strain—at slightly warmer temperatures than you normally would for a lager. However, other strains (such as Kölsch yeast, California lager, or even Chico ale) can achieve similar results. The goal is clean fermentation without a lot of sulfur or esters—you want a clear stage for the hops.
From the grist through fermentation, cold IPA is all about process control.
Cold IPA, Extracted
This is a style where you can get down and dirty with cereal mashes and decoctions if you want, but I also see it as an excellent candidate for partial-mash brewing. To tackle it that way, I decided to alter my favorite IPL recipe, Sandy Beaches, because I love its hop profile—but just about any West Coast–style IPA recipe can work. Just stay away from the more old-school American IPA grists that feature crystal or caramel malts—they do not belong in this beer.
For the grist, start with light pilsner malt extract, liquid or dry, with an addition of flaked rice or corn. If that seems simple, that’s because it is—ingredient-wise, hops will be the star. If you want to get into gelatinizing your own rice or corn, go for it (and check out my earlier article, “Rice and Easy: Extract Brewing for Maximum Crispness,” beerandbrewing.com). Personally, I like pre-gelatinized rice because it imparts no color while leaving a neutral sweetness. Corn is another option but comes off a tad sweeter.
For a bittering charge, I like HopShots—these are easy-to-use syringes of CO2-extracted hop resin, often available from homebrew shops. They provide bitterness without adding plant matter, so they’re efficient and clean. If you can’t get a bittering extract or just prefer hops, go with a clean, high-alpha bittering hop such as Summit or Warrior. I’m looking for about 35 IBUs from this addition, and I’ll add the rest of the hops late in the boil and at flameout, plus dry hops.
For the fermentation, I start cool at lager temperatures, but over the course of a day I allow it to free rise to more typical ale temperatures. When fermentation peaks at high kräusen, I add dry hops, allowing some biotransformation to occur while limiting any oxygen pickup. Beyond that, allow the fermentation to finish and take your preferred steps for clarity and carbonation.
Cold IPA is the antithesis of soft, juicy New England–style hazies. Yet if you love hops, this is a beer in which they can really shine—a crisp, clean, and clear platform for the full spectrum of their character. Try brewing this side-by-side with your favorite American IPA recipe, and I think you’ll agree that this approach is here to stay.