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Photo Courtesy of Social Kitchen and Brewery

In a robust craft beer market flirting with oversaturation, it seems as though there’s some new category emerging every few months.  As you might remember, this summer saw the creation of the Milkshake IPA but now it looks like breweries have concocted another subdivision of the India Pale Ale – the brut IPA.  Over the last several months, brut IPAs have taken over the spotlight, with efforts popping up all over our local taphouses and beer stores.  Unfamiliar with brut IPAs and exactly what we can expect from this new classification, we decided to do some research to find out exactly what the qualifications were for this beer trend.

For years, there was a concerted effort to create the most bitter example of an IPA out there, because that’s what people have wanted, but trends have begun to swing in the other direction, with more and more New England-style IPAs hitting the market, proving drinkers also love hazy efforts, which feature a more “juicy” flavor.  But the brut IPA shies away from what’s to be expected from IPAs, on both sides of the spectrum, and creates a new taste that’s different than what is currently on taps throughout the United States.

Let’s first start with the name, as it’s rather unusual given it’s not directly indicative of the region, or the abundant taste, of the classification – well, sort of.  Actually, the name comes from the wine industry.  Brut is a term synonymous with champagne, indicating the level of dryness to the wine.  So, rather than those other, more traditional, IPA types, this one mimics the qualifications of champagne and is the closest the beer will probably ever get to it’s boozy, European counterpart.  The brut IPA is pale, it’s effervescent and it’s dry – emphasis on that last part.  But when exactly did this beer become a thing?

Well, according to our research, it really started to make some headway last November, though it’s popularity has spiked tenfold in the last several months, with seemingly every local brewery creating their spin on this newfound taste.  While it might depend on who you ask, the overwhelming majority seem to believe the brut IPA comes from San Francisco and, according to Beer and Brewing, it really gained traction at the Social Kitchen and Brewery.  There, brewmaster Kim Sturdavant used amyloglucosidase – an enzyme that breaks down sugars that don’t typically ferment in the brewing process – to his traditional IPA recipe, thanks to an idea.  Sturdavant had only ever used the enzyme for his triple IPA, to limit sugar and bring out the dryness, but wondered what the outcome would be when incorporated in the traditional IPA – and the result was a super-dry, extremely-aromatic, bright and slightly hazy beer that the world hadn’t tasted.

“I’d been wanting to make a standard-strength IPA with [the enzyme] to just be as dry as possible, and that evolved into thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to make it as light in color as possible and keep the bitterness low and make this super refreshing, pale, effervescent beer?” Sturdavant explained in a recent conversation with The Takeout.

After that, it quickly spread through the brewing community, as most trends do.

When brewing this style of beer, it’s important to get the most out of what little malt presence there is, in an effort to keep the International Bitterness Units (IBUs) low, at about 25.  Keep in mind, a standard IPA has about double that amount.  The malt’s sugars get eaten up by the aforementioned enzyme, which cuts way back on the bitterness and instead leaves a hop aroma and overly dry flavor without making the beer super bitter.  It’s all just one big balancing act but if it’s done correctly, creates a slightly more boozy beer, with an ABV that’s not usually higher than 7.5 percent.

The brut IPA might not ever get the recognition of its own category at the Great American Beer Festival, but it’s certainly one of those niche categories that just offers beer drinkers a unique flavor from everything else that’s currently on the market.  And we are all for more inventive beer classifications flooding the market to break-up the routine.  So, get out there and find a brut IPA from your local beer chemists and see what you think of it.