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The Brut IPA Comes to Portland

Baerlic Migration Hi-Li Brut IPA
Hi-Li Brut IPA – a Baerlic Brewing and Migration Brewing collaboration.
Craft beer trends, as with anything in our low-attention span, information driven world these days, seem to come and go. Pumpkin Beers, India Pale Lagers, Black IPAs, Milkshake IPAs, Peanut Butter beers… the list goes on.

And even the trends that do stick took time to establish themselves. Look at Alchemist’s Heady Topper, considered the first Hazy IPA. That’s been around since 2003, yet the haze craze didn’t really hit hard until the past few years.

The new style everyone’s freaking out about, the Brut IPA, just showed up on taps in Portland this week. Is it a flash in the pan or will it be the next big thing in craft beer?

To be honest, I first learned about this phenomenon on Monday. So over the past few days I’ve tried three of the five known versions in the area and found that maybe this isn’t just a gimmick. There might be something to this new wave of IPAs.

History and Process

Thankfully, by all the accounts I’ve read, there is only one brewer by which this style can be attributed to in it’s origin – Kim Sturdavant of Social Kitchen and Brewery, in San Francisco. He first put his Brut IPA on tap towards the end of last year and the style has quietly taken root across the country over the past few months.

The biggest surprise to me is that since the beginning of the year, brewers in Colorado, Michigan, New York, Virginia, Florida and many other places throughout the country have already created one or more versions of their own take on the style.

The real difference with this beer, one that seems diametrically opposed to the murky, sweet, and minimally conditioned Hazy IPA, is that it’s made to be clear and fully attenuated.

To remove that residual sugar naturally present after conditioning, an enzyme called amylase (traditionally used to reduce the body of stouts and porters without reducing ABV) is added during fermentation.

The result, based upon the research and tastings I’ve done, is a lightly straw colored, crisp and clean tasting ale that features a more floral hop flavor as well as a wine wine presence, with a strong dryness cutting the hop bitterness, all residing in a much lighter body.

So what would normally be a sturdy 7% abv IPA now exhibits a more champagne like crispness and a unique flavor profile all it’s own.

Brut IPAs on Tap in Portland

Culmination Brut IPA with Peaches
Culmination’s Brut IPA with Peaches goes on tap Friday.
The first one I was made aware of is Baerlic Brewing and Migration Brewing’s collaboration, aptly named Hi-Li Brut IPA (just think of “The Champagne of Beers” – shown up top) which I tried Tuesday afternoon. Of the three I’ve tried thus far, this seems the most dialed in based upon everything I’ve read about the style. Floral nose and flavor upfront, subtle white wine grapes, finishing dry and crisp, and so drinkable. But at 7.6%, that drinkability might also provide for a delayed champagne-like buzz as well. Be sure to seek this one out, if you can.

Conrad Andrus Warren Wills Culmination Brewing
Speaking with Conrad at Culmination last night.
Last night, I ventured in to try Culmination Brewing’s version, which is still conditioning in the Brite Tank (thanks for the tip Mike!). Made in collaboration with Bailey’s Taproom and Bauman’s Cider which is expected to be on tap for Growler Guys SE’s 4th Anniversary, it’s a Brut IPA with Peaches.

Being that it isn’t done conditioning, it’s hard to say exactly what the final result will taste like. In comparison to the others I tried though, it seemingly has a stronger hop bill (8 pounds of various hops were added in the whirlpool), was dry hopped with Mosaic, features 60 pounds of peaches (though still subtle at this point), and a slightly sturdier malt bill.

In speaking with Culmination’s Head Brewer Conrad Andrus, there was a deliberate focus on keeping the malt bill higher for fear of the end result approximating something closer to “hoppy water.” Most who have attempted the style and come away with mixed results were often disappointed with imbalanced, overly hopped outcomes.

Great Notion Bubbly Brut IPA

The last of the three I tried was Great Notion’s Bubbly, seen above. This version of the style closely resembles what I first imagined the beer to taste like, something more akin to a Hoppy Lager. I also found it quite drinkable, though less dry and more bitter than the Hi-Li from Baerlic/Migration. It weighs in at 7.1% and offers a subtle white wine character due to a dry hopping of Nelson Sauvin.

During my research over the past few days I was also informed that Sasquatch Brewing (reportedly the first brewery in the area to put the style on tap, roughly 4 weeks ago) and Brothers Cascadia Brewing in Vancouver each have a Brut IPA available on tap as well.

I also noticed that Ruse Brewing will be featuring an Extra Brut IPA at the Portland Fruit Beer Fest in a few weeks. Called Invisible Machine, it will feature Pinot Gris grapes and dry-hopped with Mosaic. Additionally, Hopworks Urban Brewery is working on a Brut IPA as well, set to be released at their Vancouver location June 17th. It’s a collaboration with Imperial Yeast and will feature a hop-bill of Lemon Drop, Jaryllo and Mosaic.

Furthermore, on Monday I spoke with Sean Hiatt, the owner of Woodstock’s Proper Pint about the style and he seemed to think it’s going to be on tap everywhere in the next few weeks.

Why It’s a Trend

In watching the mad NE Hazy Pale/IPA/DIPA style sweep the country of late, this dry, well-attenuated style definitely feels like a direct counterpoint to those often sweet, tropical, fruit-juice-like offerings. And I know that some brewers aren’t fans of that style, and a number of beer folks just don’t get it either.

I really don’t know that the Brut IPA will dethrone those hazy beers, though I wouldn’t be surprised if this became a primary warm-weather seasonal offering, counterbalancing the colder months that have really become inhabited by those bigger, juicier options.

Also of note are the assertions made about this style being a “low-carb” option. Sure, it only makes sense that with an enzyme removing excess sugars it would result in a beer sporting fewer carbohydrates. If indeed that’s the case, especially if it’s a significant enough amount to draw in casual Michelob Ultra type drinkers, this style could really catch fire.

So keep an eye out for the Brut IPA style the next time you visit your local taproom or brewery. You might just find a new go-to summer beer.

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