Mumford Brewing’s Peter Mumford traveled to Brooklyn last month. As is customary, he brought along a couple of his beers to pour for the locals. First, he offered up one of the hazy New England–style IPAs that have brought notoriety to his 3-year-old Arts District brewpub. Then he went classic and popped his take on the West Coast IPA, which has a glassy, straw-yellow body and crisp bite of bitterness.
That beer threw the locals for a loop.
“After four years of drinking hazy IPAs, there’s a whole generation of people there that’s like, ‘This isn’t an IPA. Why is it clear?’” Mumford laughs. “They don’t even know what a West Coast IPA is anymore. Their definition of an IPA is a New England–style IPA.”
In beer bars across the country, the milky, fruit-forward style that originated in Vermont has quickly evolved from novelty to the dominant form of hoppy beer.
But now the West Coast is striking back with its own new style: the Brut IPA.
It’s a more extreme expression of the local style — bone-dry, pale yellow and extra effervescent. You’ll find them on tap at Mumford, Eagle Rock and a few other Los Angeles brewpubs right now, with lots more in the tanks. The best Bruts are light and refreshing, with a crisp bite of herbaceous hops that fades before you set the glass back down.
“On the West Coast, there has always been a thing where brewers tended to prefer clear beer,” Mumford says. “So now it’s like we’re going to take the West Coast style to an extreme.”
The Brut IPA is the brainchild of Kim Sturdavant of Social Kitchen & Brewery in San Francisco. The key ingredient is an enzyme called amylase, which aggressively breaks down complex sugars so they can be consumed by brewer's yeast and turned into alcohol. The enzyme is used to make light beer, and by craft brewers who want boozy beers that aren’t syrupy with unfermented sugar.
Sturdavant first used it to make a triple IPA — amylase is how brewers make a super-boozy hop bomb that isn’t super sweet and thick as pine sap.
“After I did that, I was thinking, ‘This would be really cool to make a super pale, dry IPA and really push the pale dry IPA to the limit,” he says. “I was mulling it over in my head for a while before I actually did it.”
Sturdavant finally did it last November, making a beer called Hop Champagne Extra Brut IPA.
“I asked a wine lady friend what the term was to signify something was really dry and she said ‘Brut’ or even ‘Extra Brut,’” he says. “I called the first one ‘Extra Brut’ but the extra fell off as other people started getting interested in it.”
It was the birth of a new style — a very rare occurrence in the beer world.
The Brut IPA has since been made by a number of California breweries, with several planning to debut them at L.A. Beer Week June 16 to 24. Sturdavant will be in town for L.A. Beer Week, pouring a Brut he made in collaboration with Eagle Rock, which also uses lupulin powder, essentially hash made of hops.
“It’s all over the world,” Sturdavant says. “I know there are multiple ones that have been brewed in New Zealand and South Africa now.”
So far, the vast majority of Bruts have been made by people who hadn’t tried one before reading up on the technique needed to make it — that includes Mumford, who first read about the style in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Sturdavant sees the Brut continuing to spread, because the style quenches a thirst for beers with lots of hop flavor and not too much bitterness.
“The bitterness in these has to be really low because there’s [no sweetness] there to support the bitterness. So the Bruts and the hazy have the thing in common that they’re hoppy beers that aren’t bitter, so they’re appealing to new beer drinkers — you just say it’s sparkling and it’s dry and it’s full of tropical fruit notes and that really gets people excited,” he says. “They don’t necessarily have to be a beer connoisseur for that to sound appealing.”
It’s a trend a lot of beer geeks are also getting excited for — including me. I was a big proponent of the hazy IPA when it first appeared, but two years later I’ve grown bored of milky sugar water, too often made by people who skimp out on the vast quantities of tropical hops required.
And it’s nice to drink a beer without feeling as if I ate a slice of cheesecake — a sentiment the style’s creator echoes.
“With the hazy beers I’ll have one or two and it’s like, ‘All right I’m kinda full,’” Sturdavant says. “Whereas with the Brut IPAs they tend to be bright and I’ll want to have more than one or two or three.”