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What is Brut IPA?

In the seemingly endless ways brewers are trying to make an IPA that’s different, either so they can offer multiple IPAs or differentiate themselves from the brewery down the street, a virtual plethora of sub-types have emerged in recent years. First IPAs split into the traditional English type and the more hop-forward American IPA, distinguished by brasher, more in-your-face hop character. Then brewers decided if a lot of hops is good, more hops is better and the birth of double, or imperial, IPAs took place in the late 1990s, although its origin is even earlier when Vinnie Cilurzo, then at his first brewery in Temecula, California — Blind Pig Brewing — created the first Double IPA in 1994. That was followed by the Triple IPA, now called Pliny the Younger and released each February to much fanfare.

But adding hops will only take you so far. 100 IBUs is the threshold for measuring them, so any beer claiming to be above that amount is basing that on a math calculation, not a formal analysis of the beer. But like other beers, strength and bitterness is only part of the flavor profile, there’s also process and adjuncts, which can be combined in an endless variety to produce different results while technically remaining under the umbrella of the IPA definition.

That’s led to some interesting beers, and many of them have gone on to be popular enough to become sub-types of IPAs, with enough people making versions of them that they’ve been defined for competitions by the BJCP and the Brewers Association. There are now at least over a dozen reasonably well-defined sub-types of IPA. When the BJCP updated their guidelines in 2015, they added Belgian, Black, Brown, Red, Rye and White IPA under the Specialty IPA banner. And the BA last year added arguably the most popular new kind, “Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale,” as a separate category for the Great American Beer Festival.

Then in late 2017, Kim Sturdavant, who at that time was the brewmaster at Social Kitchen & Brewery in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset neighborhood, had a “Eureka” moment and created what’s become the next new type of IPA, the Brut IPA.

For several years, Sturdavant had been adding a relatively common enzyme — amylase glucosidase — to his Triple IPA in order to keep it from becoming overly sweet. It worked well for that purpose, but as far as he knew, no one was using it to brew an IPA, which gave him an idea. Not one to rush into anything, he let the idea rattle around in his head for a year or so, and in November of 2017, decided he was ready to give it a try.

For several years, Sturdavant had been adding a relatively common enzyme — amylase glucosidase — to his Triple IPA in order to keep it from becoming overly sweet. It worked well for that purpose, but as far as he knew, no one was using it to brew an IPA — yet.

The goal was to make a beer that was lighter in color, drier and with no residual sugars, allowing the hops to shine, but without any bitterness. He thought that he could accomplish that by using that brewing enzyme (amylase glucosidase). Enzymes are essentially proteins, but ones that convert the barley into sugars that the yeast feed on and make alcohol. That’s an oversimplification, of course, and they occur naturally but don’t break down them all, leaving behind residual sugars that give beer its sweetness. But with a judicious use of the enzyme, he could keep his IPA from being too sweet and finish bone dry, with a bright color, though still slightly hazy and very aromatic.

He ended up using “20 percent rice, 20 percent corn and the rest pilsner malt.” While many purists may wince at such adjuncts, they’re not to make the beer cheaper, but are for the purpose of both lightening the color and providing subtle additional flavors. From the corn, the mouthfeel become a little creamier and the rice adds a touch of coconut to the flavor profile.

Sturdavant called that first attempt “Hop Champagne Extra Brut IPA,” taking a page from the world of champagne, where brut indicates unsweetened, but especially its dryness. That led to this type of beer becoming known more simply as Brut IPA. After refining the beer a bit more to his liking, he renamed it “Puttin’ on the Spritz,” but the original idea, and name, stuck.

Their defining characteristics have evolved into being usually described as bone dry, lighter in color compared to other IPAs and effervescent and sparkling. They’re loaded with hop character, but have almost no bitterness, making them very refreshing. But that’s a fairly general description, with such a new idea of what the beer should be, many brewers have done their own experimentation into what they think a Brut IPA should taste like. The result is that there are lots of variations in these beers considering themselves a Brut IPA as the style struggles to define itself. Most do hit the majority of the typical characteristics, while others deviate to varying degrees as some take the original notion and run with it. That makes it difficult to be certain what any Brut IPA will taste like when you order one, but it’s also an exciting time as the Brut IPA is evolving before our eyes, or taste buds.

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