This week, we will be simultaneously launching two IPA styles – a classic West Coast and a modern interpretation of the East Coast style. Both styles were born in America and have been transformative in the way in which we perceive the modern beer scene, changing brewing habits and consumers’ perceptions across the industry.
Indeed, such is the importance of the modern IPA that it is hard to think of another style that has had such an impact on the development of the craft beer community – as a whole and as a marker for trends and influences for pale ales across the spectrum.
This piece will look at the history of and fundamental difference between West Coast and East Coast IPAs and what to expect when you are drinking them. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, it is important to take a look back at the origins of the IPA and how both of these styles found their place in the history of beer.
Without heading towards the classic and often trotted out ‘IPA origin story’, let’s talk about the beer style by definition. The original India Pale Ale is historically a British export pale ale of moderate strength with a hop-forward character and medium malt base. This beer should be highly-attenuated (clear, bright!) with notes of citrus fruit and a floral presence due to the use of classic English hops.
Although initially very popular as an export to British colonies, the style saw a decline in the second half of the 20th century. Today, you can probably find a handful of traditional interpretations of the British style in a few bars across the country, but in truth the IPA across the world takes more influence from the craft beer boom of the 1980s and the success of the American brewing industry.
The evolution of the American style IPA began in 1965 in San Francisco with the purchase of Anchor Brewing by Fritz Maytag. Maytag wanted to brew an English-style pale ale using only American hops as well as an almost forgotten British technique – dry-hopping. A new hop variety, Cascade, was developed in Oregon and it was this experimental ingredient that Maytag chose to use in the boil and for dry-hopping. In 1975 he brewed the first batch of Liberty Ale and the seed for the American Pale Ale was sown.
With the legalisation of homebrewing in 1978, keen beer makers all over the US were finally able to push the boundaries of flavour and style – having grown tired of the consolidated and homogenised lager being made by brewing giants and inspired by beers like the Liberty Ale. This movement ignited interest in old or forgotten styles and encouraged experimentation with local US ingredients. This reimagining of classic British styles included the IPA, and was the catalyst for the rise of craft beer brewing in the 1980s.
The use of American ingredients, especially hops, gave these beers a distinct and punchy profile. Whereas British hop varieties tended to provide a subtle flavour addition, the long sunshine hours and warm weather of America’s west coast was instrumental in developing more expressive and bolder hop flavours bursting with complex citrus fruit aromas and heady pine notes.
With a taste for progression and fresh beer, companies like Sierra Nevada began producing their classic Pale Ale in 1980 and sparked a revolution in modern brewing. Generously hopped with whole-cone Cascade, their pale ale is a modern classic, exploding with massive citrus notes and a reassuring malt backbone. Beers like this helped transform the landscape of the American beer scene and would eventually influence brewing the world over.
The liberal use of hops in the 1990s opened Pandora’s box, with brewers across the west coast experimenting with hop additions and trying to create the most bitter beer they could. Vinnie Cilurzo opened Blind Pig Brewing Co. in California in 1994 and pushed the boundary for the IPA by doubling the hops and increasing the malt bill significantly. The Blind Pig Inaugural Ale marked the first “Double IPA”, but more importantly showcased just how hoppy beers could be.
What followed was the development and brewing of some of the best examples of the West Coast-style – Bear Republic’s Racer 5 and Cilurzo’s own recipe for Russian River’s Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger.
Down in San Diego, breweries including Stone, Ballast Point and Green Flash began taking the style even further by dialling up the IBUs (International Bittering Units) and creating some of the most rampantly bitter beers around. This movement became known as the “Hops Arms Race”, and saw each compete with the last to see just how far they could push it.
Although much of this scene saw the brewing of incredibly out-of-balance beers, classics such as Ballast Point – Sculpin and Alesmith IPA were born. It is possibly Green Flash’s West Coast IPA, however, that is responsible for the style name, planting the flag firmly in the ground for the west coast and announcing that this is what IPAs from the region should taste like: piney, dank, citrusy and unashamedly bitter.
These beers are the perfect antidote to long, hot days and the Mediterranean climate of California. Hop additions add zero subtlety, with aggressive bitterness and notes of citrus and tropical fruit, a resinous pine or sap-like quality and often a “dank” or weed-like aroma. This style should pour bright with no haze and have a darker colour from the malt addition as well as a bone-dry finish. The ABV should be on the higher-end of the IPA scale, starting at around 6% and heading towards 8%, and the mouthfeel should be nimble and crisp.
The importance of the West Coast IPA in the history of beer can and should not be overlooked, but it is possibly the influence of the East Coast IPA that has so markedly changed the landscape of modern craft beer.
The term East Coast IPA has transformed many times in its short life and can also be referred to as “Vermont-style”, “New-England-style” or “Hazy” IPA. The use of late-addition hopping for aroma and the brewing of beer that is often compared to fruit juice in flavour and mouthfeel has helped convert many who believed that they didn’t like IPAs because of their bitter flavour and “beer-like“ quality.
Beers from the “East Coast” of America have helped add phrases like “drink fresh”, “green”, “hazy” and “do not age” to the vernacular of the beer industry. The queue-culture of beer releases did not start with this style, but the limited-run, scarcity and fragility of these beers have created a fear-of-missing-out culture that currently drives the industry with small-batch weekly releases. This is cemented by the refusal of many breweries to distribute this style, instead deciding to sell the beer direct from their taprooms or facilities to minimise the destructive effects of time and temperature on hop profile.
This seismic change in drinking culture and IPA-style is often toted as starting in 2011 in Waterbury, Vermont, at a brewpub called The Alchemist. With the devastating effects of Hurricane Irene flooding the facility and putting his business on the line, head brewer John Kimmich decided to put all of his energy into the production and canning of Heady Topper – a beer celebrated locally for its tropical and juicy fruit flavours, balanced bitterness and a slight hazy appearance. Heady Topper would go on to be voted the best beer in the world in 2013.
What followed was a surge in the production of East Coast-style IPAs by established breweries in Vermont, including Lawson’s Finest and Hill Farmstead and the formation of breweries including Tree House Brewing and Trillium Brewing in Massachusetts, Tired Hands in Philadelphia and finally Other Half in New York. By the end of 2014, there was a distinct change in the perception of the IPA, with many breweries across the US tipping a cap to the east and brewing this new-style pale ale.
What started as a quest to brew a slightly hazy beer style with moderate bitterness and ultimate balance suddenly became a race to brew the softest, juiciest, haziest beer around with no discernible bitterness. In the same vain as the IBU-chasers of the early 2000s, breweries were now trying to brew the ultimate opaque Instagram-worthy beer with more fruit profile than Carmen Miranda’s hat.
East Coast-style IPAs should pour a light, hazy colour with a thick and full body, often accentuated by the addition of oats to the malt bill. The late addition of hops for aroma creates an explosion of tropical fruit fragrance that should be prominent and heady. Low-perceivable bitterness and a creamy, full, and slightly sweet flavour should be expressed from the malts, with a slight sweetness and fruity ester profile from the yeast.
In our quest for experimentation, we decided that both beers would use the same quantities of Citra, Summit, Chinook and Zeus hops, but with a different hopping process and yeast for each. In this way, we kept continuity in the ingredients but allowed the key features of each style to be expressed – we hope you enjoy the result!
For our West Coast IPA we were looking to brew a beer with a bright and clear appearance, an assertive bitterness and flavours of citrus and pine with a bone-dry finish. We used a small amount of Crystal Malt – a classic addition for this style, giving the beer a little sweetness and colour but providing a clean enough malt bill to allow the big hops to shine.
A healthier addition of 20kg of Zeus hops in the whirlpool allowed alpha-acids to provide an excellent level of bitterness, showcasing notes of sweet citrus fruit, spice and pine – beautiful. The beer was fermented with BRY-97 yeast, a classic ale yeast that is highly attenuative and promotes a clean, neutral and dry profile – perfect for the West Coast style. For the brew, we used a balanced water profile with a decent amount of sulphates to enhance the perception of dryness on the palate.
For our East Coast IPA we wanted to focus on a beer with low-bitterness, a juicy hop-profile and a full and soft mouthfeel. To start with, the water profile for the brew was heavier on chlorides, promoting a well-rounded and full body in the mouth. Although the hop amounts were the same, we split the 20kg of Zeus into two – 10kg went into the whirlpool but the remaining 10kg was used to dry-hop the beer, adding a ripe and juicy citrus quality to the aroma.
For fermentation, we really wanted an expressive yeast strain and so decided our House English Ale Yeast was perfect. This low-attenuating yeast added a touch of sweetness and a bigger body, helping accentuate the juicy nature of the beer.
Both beers can be bought from our online shop – we suggest drinking them side by side in our Coast to Coast IPA Box for the ultimate American IPA experience.
We hope you enjoy the beers and please let us know what you think!