Tuesday 18 June 2019

Not quite the Endgame yet for IPA

Captain Milkshake IPA’s
fiendish disguise as a signboard
What are you drinking? Chances are that it is an IPA. Possibly, West Coast, maybe New England or even sour, with added blueberry and peach as I (sort-of) enjoyed the other week. Even though it’s been the case for the best part of a decade or more, the IPA in all its guises is still the leading beer style at the front of the craft beer bar-top — as well as at other bars, if the amount of times I have overheard ‘what’s your IPA’ being asked in ‘normal’ pubs is any indication. There are even jokes doing the beer social media round that black IPA is making a comeback; meanwhile on the other hand last year’s sensation, Brut IPA, seems to have crashed and burned already.

I am not surprised. When I was over in Columbus, OH, in February, I was in the Elevator Brewery tap and had their Brut IPA. It was sweet, slightly champagne-like, sickly almost, whereas the ones I had tried from other breweries in 2018 were dry and rather appealing — I’m not seeing so many brewers having a go at producing one either, so perhaps it has gone the way of all flesh. Meanwhile back in the USA, as I drank the beer and considered my disappointment and recalled how someone had told me about Rose IPA, I began to mull on how IPA has splintered into so many different sub-styles, some of them as distant from what we once knew as an IPA as a Model T Ford is from the latest hybrid car (but then you could still say both are cars, of a kind). 

So far, so typically beer-flecked navel gazing and then I went to see The Avengers: Endgame. After sitting through three hours of plenty of action, with a lot of it referencing other movies in the canon, it dawned on me — the IPA style has become the beer world’s version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For those of you who don’t know your Ironman from the rag-and-bone man, the MCU is a media franchise and a shared universe that revolves around a series of superhero films, such as Ironman, Captains America and Marvel and the Black Panther. 

Some are excellent, some good and several I’d wouldn’t even watch if it was the only movie on a long transatlantic flight. The main thing is though, that they take place in this Marvel world, where Thor might pop up in an Avengers movie as much as his own and even Spiderman, who we always thought lived in his own world, makes an appearance elsewhere. 

To take the analogy further, I would argue that the first film in the franchise, Ironman, was Hollywood’s version of an American IPA and then the following sequels were representations of each different IPA. Thor perhaps was a brutish West Coast hop bomb, while Dr Strange has got to be a Milkshake IPA, style over substance; meanwhile Captain America is an uncomplicated DIPA, forceful and no messing about. 

However, there is also a fashion within Hollywood, for prequels, origin stories for the many sequels (and Marvel is not alone in being guilty of this) that are pumped out into our multiplexes. And I have a very good idea of what a prequel IPA would be about — the English style IPA, the one that seems to be forgotten about, languishing in the fleapits of beer history, often declared not to style because it doesn’t look like Sunny Delight and taste like a can of Lilt. 

There are English IPAs being made, but they seem to be far and few between. Cheshire Brewhouse’s Govinda is one of my favourites, with brewer Shane Swindells making two expressions of the beer, with each one using a different heritage malt. And of course, there’s Worthington White Shield, which I had several times on cask at the Kings Arms near Waterloo last year — this still remains an excellent beer, which I first encountered in college when a friend bought a bottle in a pub we were in and bored me rigid about the yeast in the bottle. How times change.  

The Burton link neatly takes me to the news that during May an IPA was brewed for the first time ever on Marston’s famous Burton Unions, which up until now have been used for Pedigree and various pale ales. It will be brewed by Marston’s ‘playground for brewers’ DE14, called No:1 Horninglow Street IPA, and will be 7.4% and bottle-conditioned. The beer’s raw ingredients are low-colour pale ale malts, and it will be late and dry hopped with four hop varieties, Goldings, Sovereign and the splendidly named Ernest from the UK, as well as Cascade from the USA — the latter being perhaps a nod towards modern tastes, but we must also recall that American hops were common in English breweries before the First World War. 

I for one am looking forward to trying this beer, which certainly does seem to be more of a prequel than a sequel to the IPA universe. With the release of The Avengers: Endgame, I might have had enough of the MCU for a while, as I do with each new IPA, but with No:1 Horninglow Street IPA (as well as the likes of Govinda) perhaps we are on the verge of a whole new sequel-free IPA universe being created. 

This was originally published in the current issue of Brewing & Beverage Industries Business (which can be read here), where I write a regular column. I would like to thank Chris Freer for allowing me to reproduce it. 

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