CVIndependent

Thu07182019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

I have a lot on my mind. However, I will spare you from all but the beer things on my mind. I thought the best way to handle this would be to kinda-sorta do this à la Larry King’s odd USA Today column from some years ago: I’ll just hit on random topics that don’t necessarily have any relation to each other besides the overarching theme of craft beer.

In other words, I was lazy and didn’t come up with a one-topic column idea.

Now that I have raised your expectations to such a soaring height ...

• I want to give a shout-out to Andrew Smith and his Coachella Valley Beer Scene blog and Facebook page.

In 2011, I created the Facebook page, and after mentioning Schmidy’s Tavern (R.I.P. … you are missed), the Coachella Valley Homebrew Club, and Babe’s BBQ and Brewhouse, I quickly ran out of things to post about the beer scene. While there is still a long way to go in our beautiful valley, there is fortunately much more of a beer scene now, and Andrew gets in there and does great write-ups of what he finds. Check him out at cvbeerscene.com and on the aforementioned Facebook page.

• Modern Times Beer is killing it. Not literally, mind you: They’re vegan through and through, as the bottles and cans state.

If you have somehow missed the company’s beer until now, you must have been hiding out. It’s happily in many places in the valley, packaged and on tap. In the past year or so, the people there have opened The Dankness Dojo in Downtown L.A. and The Belmont Fermentorium in Portland. Both places have brewhouses and pump out wonderful beers which end up at the other facilities for you to try. From what I’ve experienced so far, Portland’s strength is in big, dark beers, and the Dojo seems adept at IPAs of all stripes. Another location in Encinitas and a swim club in Anaheim are in the works.

In August, I went to Modern Times’ fourth annual Festival of Dankness. It’s a hoppy beer festival, and notable brewers from all over the country are invited to pour. Situated at Waterfront Park in San Diego with an excellent view of the ocean, Coronado Island and downtown San Diego, the festival has been a wonderful respite from the awful August heat here in the desert. It has gotten better and better every year.

It serves as a reliable measure of what’s trending when it comes to IPAs. This year, sour IPAs made a big showing. Brut IPAs, mentioned in a previous column, popped up at a few booths as well, the most interesting of which was at Brouwerij West out of San Pedro. Of course, hazy IPAs and milkshake IPAs were prevalent. Eugene, Ore.’s Claim 52 Brewing had my favorite with its strawberry milkshake IPA. Strawberries and lactose only added to the hop flavors and didn’t step all over them and become a sweet mess. Cellarmaker Brewing in San Francisco brought a phenomenal hazy IPA called Double Mt. Nelson. This year’s Nelson Sauvin hop harvest seems to have made up for last year’s lackluster version, and the beers that have been popping up using them have been stellar. That includes Modern Times’ own Space Ways. It’s one of the best hazy IPAs I’ve had, period, and it’s still on the shelves in cans here and drinking wonderfully.

With every passing year, Modern Times continues to make me a bigger fan. I recommend them to you wholeheartedly.

• Speaking of IPAs, I want to give my opinion on some of these sub-styles.

Sour IPAs have been kettle-soured similarly to a Berlinerweisse or gose; the tartness and liberal amounts of hops evoke the flavors of fruit juice. The examples I’ve tried so far have been fun, but I am still a bigger fan of dry-hopped kettle sours. It’s a subtle distinction, but it can be encapsulated thusly: The sourness of sour IPAs is there to support the hop flavors, while dry-hopped kettle sours are sour ales with hop aromas and flavors to support it. It’s a distinction without a difference, but my palate can certainly tell. Almanac Brewing and Prairie Artisan Ales make great examples of the latter style.

I have finally tried a few brut IPAs and have not been terribly impressed. I was very excited when I first began hearing about them, but the beers have not met my expectations. It seems like the process that makes these beers so dry also strips away much of the aroma and flavor of a normal IPA. But there is nothing wrong with subtlety, and I will continue to try new examples of the style with an open mind. There is currently a brut IPA on where I work—a shout out to all my co-workers at Coachella Valley Brewing Company … even you, Uncle Ben—and it is honestly the best I’ve tried.

From time to time, I have good ideas. One of my latest was an idea for a coconut bock. I conceived of the recipe (with some serious inspiration from Gordon Biersch’s excellent Heller Bock) with the help of our head brewer, and the team did a brilliant job executing this one. It should be on tap soon if it isn’t already. I’m calling it Coconut Toast, because that is the experience of drinking it. Definitely tell me what you think of my baby when you try it.

• Do you know what English bitter ales are? They’re really not that bitter and lean toward the malty side, but the name has made it extremely difficult for the styles (ordinary, strong, extra strong) to catch on in America. It is a travesty, too, because it’s such a lovely, sessionable style. The same goes for old ale style (though it’s decidedly not sessionable). It is not a great name, but a well-made example is such a thing of beauty. Alesmith, North Coast and Deschutes are the only craft breweries I can think of off the top of my head that regularly make old ales (and they make them well, I would add). Belgian styles seem to have largely fallen out of favor, too, and this might be the biggest tragedy. Some might think Belgian ales are all high ABV affairs, but it’s just not true.

The witbier retains popularity here, with Shock Top and Blue Moon being made by the big breweries. There are incredible versions of this in craft beer. Allagash White and Avery White Rascal are two of the finest, and they’re very true to the classic Belgian counterparts (St. Bernardus Wit being my favorite in the world). The lower-ABV Belgian abbey single style is an absolute gem, and we don’t see much of it here from Belgium, because it doesn’t travel well. The same goes for English bitters. It’s not that brewers won’t make these styles; they just do them in small batches knowing that they won’t sell well. I guess I’ll just need to make more money and travel to these places regularly in order to get my fix.

• While I’m on the subject of styles, I’d like to point out my disappointment in America on this front. No, I’m not saying American beers are largely disappointing. That would be insane (though it is not hard to find breweries making terrible, flawed beer). We are living through a craft beer boom, and it’s so much fun. What I am saying is that whenever there is an “American” version of a European style—be it an IPA, pilsner, stout, porter, barleywine, etc.—it essentially means the ABV and the hops are pumped up to a large degree. There is just no creativity in that.

American barleywine sucks. There, I said it. It is a pale shadow of the rich, complex, malty, delicious English counterpart.

Please, craft brewers of America, I beseech you: STOP OVER-HOPPING THESE STYLES. When I can’t tell the difference between an American Barleywine and an imperial IPA, you have failed.

End of rant.

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Beer

Like IPAs? You aren’t alone.

According to the Brewers Association, IPAs accounted for less than 8 percent of the craft beers sold in 2008. As of August 2015, 27.4 percent of beers sold were IPAs.

That’s a huge amount growth—and the popularity of IPAs continues to rise: According to the 2016 Craft Brewers Conference, by the end of 2017, the IPA category is projected to have grown to one-third of the nation’s total volume of craft beer.

The bitter brew has grown to new, different and stronger heights. To dive deeper into the popular style, I spoke with three amazing Southern California craft brewers.

First: Mitch Steele, until his departure on June 30, was the head brewmaster at Stone Brewing, and is the author of IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. IPAs account for more than 50 percent of Stone Brewing’s sales!

What are some of your favorite hops to brew with and why?

That’s a loaded question. For the past several years, I’ve really liked Citra. I think it’s a wonderful hop. We have done a lot of work with Australian and New Zealand hops, (like) Galaxy. … (Stone is) doing a collaboration brew with Heretic and Beachwood, and we’re using a new hop called Idaho 7, which I think has a lot of potential; it’s a new American variety. It’s got a lot of really nice citrus and piney character to it. … Centennial has have been one of my favorites. We’re doing a pilsner using Sterling in it, which I think is … absolutely a wonderful hop.

Do you think the overall growth in the industry and better drinkers’ palates have affected the popularity of IPAs?

Yeah, absolutely. It’s all anybody drinks, by in large. … I think people have gotten used to the taste of hops in their beer, and they enjoy it. It’s an acquired taste; I don’t think it’s any different than coffee. Most people don’t like them the first time they try them. At this point, craft is becoming—I don’t want to say mainstream, but a lot more popular than what it had been, and I think people are embracing the hop character and looking at. … We’re always looking for new flavors to get out of hops, and I think that’s a big part of it.

What are some of the latest trends you’re seeing in IPAs?

Two things right now really stand out. No. 1 is the fruit IPA thing—the IPAs with added fruit, which only makes sense, because a lot of these new hop varieties that are out there produce flavors that are reminiscent of peach, pineapple and grapefruit and all that. So to actually augment the hop flavor with a fruit—it’s not new, but it’s really has taken off within the past year. … The other one would be the whole New England IPA—unfiltered IPA, really opaque versions of IPA. They’ve really gone to another level. There’s a lot of debate among brewers as to whether it’s a good thing or not. Most brewers are trained that you’ve got to have a clear beer when you serve it in the glass. This kind of flies in the face of that. You can’t deny the popularity of the beer.

What do you like about single-hop beers and that trend?

We do a lot of single-hop beers in small batches. … It’s a great way to really understand how a particular hop works in a beer, because so many beers are brewed with blends of hops. If you really want to get a feeling for what the hop is really all about, you’ve got to brew a single hop and do something fairly intensely hopped.

Do you have an overall philosophy in brewing IPAs? Has it changed or morphed over the years?

Yeah, I think it has evolved since Stone. I think a couple things have changed. I think the amount of hops used in a dry hop has gone up across the board with all brewers. It used to be that if you were using three-quarters of a pound of hops per barrel, you were dry hopping pretty aggressively. Now there are a lot of brewers who are using two pounds per barrel on a regular basis. That’s kind of something that I’ve embraced. …  By using four or five different varieties of hops, as flavored hops, if you do run into a crop issue with one of them, or the beer sells a heck of a lot more than you anticipated, and you can’t get one of the varieties, it’s a little easier to make a substitution than if it’s a single-hop IPA or one or two hops in the IPA. … (For me), the past four years have been about discovering new hop varieties and putting them in our beers. That’s been our main focus. In the past, it was, ‘OK what hops can I get?’ And I’ll build our beers around that. And now, it’s like, ‘OK, I want to build a beer around this hop.’”

What do you love about IPAs?

I like being challenged with the flavor. When you get an IPA that just captures that really brilliant intense hop flavor and hop aroma, it’s liquid gold to me. I love hoppy beers. They don’t have to be IPAs, but I love IPAs, because I know I’m always going to get a pretty intense hop character, and that’s going to teach me something.

What would you tell homebrewers out there who are interested in brewing IPAs?

Minimize crystal malt usage in the recipe. Sweet IPAs aren’t as drinkable as dry IPAs—and then the other thing is when the beer ages, the crystal malt corrodes, and the flavor totally masks the hop character. I would say it’s OK to use hops that aren’t traditionally used in IPAs, and have some fun with that; that’s how we discovered Sterling. It’s considered a noble type hop, and we threw it in an IPA and it’s just absolutely incredible. … You’re going to learn something either way, whether it turns out great or not.


Ben Cook is the president and master brewer at Hangar 24 in Redlands. While Hangar 24’s ever-popular and refreshing Orange Wheat makes up 55 percent of the company’s beer sales, Hangar’s Betty IPA makes up much of the rest. After a popular first release, the Double Betty was recently re-released.

“People appear to not be getting enough IPAs,” he said. “The Betty, since inception, has seen double- and triple-digit growth. … Often, it’s fun for brewers to see what we can do and push the limits on the alcohol and hop character we can fit into a beer, while making it still a really tasty beer—and not just, you know, a mess.”

Do you think the overall growth in the industry and better drinkers’ palates have affected the popularity of IPAs?

Yeah, absolutely, I mean, we were even resistant to it a little bit. We brewed so many different styles of beer. I think last year, when we were really focusing on top-line growth, we brewed more than 50 different styles of beer, using local ingredients … and then you go brew just a standard IPA, and it flies off the shelf. So, IPAs for sure are where the consumers are still at. … People have evolved to want more—more flavor, more bitterness, more hop profile, and so they moved onto IPAs, and haven’t quite started venturing out a lot more yet. People are getting into sours and other categories, but right now, the numbers pop: IPAs and IPA variants dominate.

What do you like about single-hop beers and that trend?

We used to do one. Our regular flagship IPA was called Columbus IPA. I like them, because … you can see what brewers are doing, so from a technical standpoint, I think they’re a lot of fun. I think they’re great to taste; it’s great for the brewers to drink them and know what that hop tastes like when it’s only in that beer. … Sometimes, it’s challenging to get those beers to have the same complexity and depth as beers that have multiple hop varietals in them. But you also have some amazing single hop beers; it’s just harder. It does make it a little more special.

Besides your own beer, what are your go-to IPAs right now?

I don’t think about beer like I used to. That would have been a really good question to ask toward the beginning of my beer career. But now, it’s not really a thought that enters my head, because it just depends on where I’m at. I’m never at a bar and ask, ‘Do they have this?’ It’s more of a, ‘What’s on tap?’ Then I look at what’s available, and if I’m drinking an IPA, I’ll look at the IPA list. If there’s anything I’ve never heard of … I’ll do a quick little search online and make sure I’m not diving into something I shouldn’t be diving into. My favorite beer is the one in my hand. That’s the joy of craft beer—there are all these varieties.

What are your thoughts on experimental hops and new or trendy hops like Citra and Mosaic? Do you have a process on choosing what hops to use with which beers?

I think that it’s fun, and it allows us to be innovative. I know brewers love it; the consumers love it. Experimental hops are a win for everyone. I hope the growers keep going down that path, and it appears they are. The more hops we have, the more we can differentiate ourselves and offer the consumer the variety they’re looking for.

What would you tell homebrewers out there who are interested in brewing IPAs?

Experiment. I think that’s what it’s all about. Do weird stuff that no one has ever done. Have fun experimenting, don’t stay within the standard practice and the standard amounts. Have fun with it.


Kyle Smith, the master of brewing for Kern River Brewing, focuses on IPAs. The category makes up 75 to 80 percent of the company’s craft-beer sales. Last year, the brewery produced close to 2,000 barrels. This year, it’s on pace to brew between 6,000 and 7,000 barrels.

What are some of the latest trends you’re seeing in IPAs

I’m seeing really aggressively hopped beers. It’s hard to find some of the balanced IPAs anymore. Don’t get me wrong; there are some really, really good ones out there, obviously. … (Drinkers) don’t want a bad IPA, where 10 years ago, we may not have known the difference. It’s kind of hard to find a bad IPA any more. Everybody’s palate is diverse now and can figure out, ‘Hey, this doesn’t work,’ or, ‘Wow, this really works,’ which is awesome.

Besides your own beer, what are your go-to IPAs right now?

There are so many good ones out there now. Anything from Russian River—you can’t go wrong. Where we’re at, since we’re so rural, I never see Russian River up here, so if I can pop a Blind Pig, I’m pretty stoked. I just had the new collaboration … from Noble (and) Cellarmaker, Dank You for Being a Friend. That was an awesome IPA. Societe Brewing—anything from those guys. A good stand-by is Sierra Nevada Torpedo; you can’t go wrong with that beer.

Do you have an overall philosophy in brewing IPAs? Has it changed or morphed over the years?

My philosophy is always, when it comes to actual brewing, I like to go heavy on the later additions, which gives you more of a floral aroma. Also, I try to stay away from the caramel malts. I’ll use a little bit, but be real sparing, because after a while, the caramel malts will stand out more than the hops. … If it’s a single IPA, I really enjoy keeping it mid-range alcohol content, somewhere between 6 and 6.5 percent. I feel like it’s a little bit more drinkable.

What do you love about IPAs?

I love the amazing aroma that comes off from the floral hops that we use, and then also a little bit of a bitterness and the balance of the malt. That’s what we kind of strive for in our IPAs. It’s more of a balance-forward IPA, not just strictly hop-forward—there’s just a little bit of a malt balance also.

What are your thoughts on experimental hops and new or trendy hops like Citra and Mosaic? Do you have a process on choosing what hops to use with which beers?

We use a lot of those hops. We use a lot of Mosaic in our session IPAs. … We do a series of experimental IPAs called Think Tank. We rotate a different hop just to see what kind of profile it has. I enjoy a lot of those hops. Citra has been around for a while. Some of the newer experimental hops … we’ve used a few. They seem to be a little muddled; they seem to be a cross between all these different flavors. … With Kern’s Think Tank series, we are able to experiment at the pub … and get feedback from the locals.

Published in Beer