Piney River Brewing Company

Archive for December, 2012|Monthly archive page

Crafting a Better IPA

In The Beer on December 29, 2012 at 11:05 pm

We love India Pale Ale.

A fermentation vessel full of Missouri Mule India Pale Ale

A fermentation vessel full of Missouri Mule India Pale Ale

When we envisioned a craft brewery in the Ozarks, we knew that India Pale Ale, commonly referred to as IPA, would have to be part of our beer line up. In those first few months operating as a nanobrewery, we knew that IPA would have to be one of those beers that was packaged for distribution at the beginning.

India Pale Ale gets its name from the time in history when the British colonized India. The Brits would travel to India by ship, around the horn of Africa—a really long journey. Hops are a natural preservative, and the British found that by adding additional hops to their barrels of pale ale, the beer would be preserved to make the lengthy trip to India. Thus the name “India pale ale”.

I’m positive that the IPAs we drink today aren’t anything close to what they were drinking on those ships from England to India, but the name has persisted. India Pale Ale is known for its intense hop forward flavor, and there are many different types of IPA being produced by America’s craft breweries.

Back when we were a nanobrewery, our 10-gallon batches of IPA were well loved by our customers with a palate for IPA. Our IPA was made in what we would call a Midwestern style—strong malt backbone to stand up to a lot of hops. The result was a 7% ABV beer with some kick—Missouri Mule India Pale Ale.

Then, we got into brewing for production, and our IPA changed. There is tweaking that has to take place any time you change the size of the brew you are making; you can’t just take the same ingredients and increase the amount according to the size of beer being brewed. Plus, IPA is a “bigger” beer for us…it takes longer to produce.

A pallet of Missouri Mule IPA ready to be shipped to a distributor.

A pallet of Missouri Mule IPA ready to be shipped to a distributor.

To save some time, we didn’t dry hop the first batch or two of IPA that left the brewery. Dry hopping adds hop aroma to beer after it’s done fermenting. Brian and I, who should probably be referred to as “Quality” and “Control” were not happy with IPA leaving the brewery without the dry hopping. We felt like a critical element—the wonderful aroma of hops—was being left out of a beer that we loved. So, we commenced with dry hopping again.

The malt backbone I referred to earlier is the grain that we use, and in our IPA, we had some roasted grains that provided color as well as flavor—a balance between the hops and the malt. Quality and Control were pleased with the balance between the hops and the malt when the IPA was leaving the brewery, but we were hearing reports of “malty” and “malt-forward” IPA in cans from our consumers. What the heck was going on?

Remember how I mentioned that the British added more hops to preserve the beer? Hops do act as a natural preservative and the more hops, the more flavor. However, the first thing to go in a beer is the hop profile. The older a beer is, the less hoppy a beer is. And, if that beer is kept at room temperature, the flavor of the hops disappears even faster.

At the brewery, fresh, canned IPA goes into our cooler. We know, storing beer cold is the best way to go. However, we also know that when our beer leaves our brewery, we have no control over it. In distribution, the beer is oftentimes stored at room temperature. Many retailers store craft beer on a shelf in their store that is not refrigerated. When beer is not kept cold, the hops begin to break.

Quality and Control began conducting experiments with our beer and with other IPAs. We would put the IPAs in warm places and see what they tasted like after one week, two weeks, three weeks or more. We took other IPAs that we knew were considered to be great representatives of the style, and we set them out, too. During that time, it would not have been hard to walk into the BARn and find Quality and Control hovering over six or eight glasses of IPA…studying, tasting, taking notes.

Here’s what we can say about IPA–every day an IPA sits on a warm shelf or in a warm store room, the hop aroma and flavor becomes less pronounced. That malty flavor some of our customers were finding in our canned IPA came from the fact that the beer had not been kept cold since it was sent out the brewery door. Please don’t misunderstand—this is representative of many IPAs in the market, not just Missouri Mule.

Quality and Control began tweaking our IPA some more.

And we can honestly say, the past few times Missouri Mule IPA has left our brewery, we have been very proud of the final product with a strong feeling that the IPA would stand up to warm shelves for a greater amount of time.

Missouri Mule on the canning line.

Missouri Mule on the canning line.

Apparently, our consumers think it’s better, too. More and more orders for IPA are coming in from our distributors, and we’re receiving positive feedback from our hop lovers out there.

So, if you’ve tried our IPA in the past, but thought it was too malty, we hope you’ll give it another try. And, if you like to buy packaged IPA from a retailer, encourage them to keep your IPA in their cold section to better preserve the hops.

That’s our little IPA story. We hope you enjoyed it and learned something, too!