When Jeff O’Neil was developing an exclusive beer for his brewery’s second anniversary this past August, he wanted something that squared with his hop-centric reputation, but was also a departure from his typical line-up. He had recently heard from fellow brewers and industry friends about an emerging hoppy style called “brut IPA” that was surging on the West Coast and sputtering to life on the East Coast, and was intrigued. The descriptions sounded promising—huge aromatics, high carbonation, bone-dry—so O’Neil decided to give it shot, having never tried a single example.
“We thought it was a cool foil to the juicy New England-style hazy beers,” says O’Neil, the founder and brew master of Industrial Arts Brewing in New York’s Hudson Valley. “And conceptually, it just made a lot of sense to us. It’s like another corner in the IPA spectrum to shed some light into, to see what else you can do with hops.”
Brut IPA is a hybrid style featuring characteristics from other IPA subgenres. It nominally pairs the low bitterness and huge aromatics of the New England IPA with the bright, clear briskness of the West Coast-style IPA. The first commercial example dates to late 2017 and is credited to brewer Kim Sturdavant of San Francisco’s Social Kitchen and Brewery, who added the enzyme amyloglucosidase (for ease, let’s just call it “amylase”) to an IPA after discussing the idea with Tim Sciascia of Cellarmaker Brewing.
Sciascia frequently used amylase to strip away some of the sweetness in his imperial stouts; Sturdavant had used it to reduce the sugars in his triple IPA, another notoriously saccharine style. The two discussed what it might do to a smaller beer, and Sturdavant decided to give it a go in a pale American IPA recipe. The result was a crisp, bone-dry beer with low bitterness and high hop aromatics from late-addition hopping. It had a prickly effervescence that reminded Sturdavant of Champagne, hence the “brut” moniker.
Using commercial amylase in a light-colored, light-bodied beer is not a new technique. Mass producers of “lite” lagers have used it for decades to remove many of the carbohydrates—and therefore the calories—in their beer. The practice can be traced back to Gablinger’s Diet Beer, a light lager developed by biochemist Joseph Owades for Rheingold Breweries in Brooklyn in the 1960s. Owades passed along the recipe to a colleague at Meister Brau in Chicago; that brewery’s version, Meister Brau Lite, eventually morphed into the first blockbuster commercial light lager, Miller Lite.
It’s not a disparagement to say that brut IPAs share some characteristics with light lagers—namely a crisp, taut structure and a sprightly briskness. And like those beers, they’re best served ice-cold, straight from the can.
“When I heard about brut IPA, I was immediately intrigued because, to me, it’s just evidence that the pendulum on IPA is going to keep swinging back-and-forth, back-and-forth,” says Niko Tonks, head brewer at Fair State Brewing Cooperative in Minneapolis, who’s dabbled with several brut IPAs over the last few months, including one made with kiwi juice.
Tonks adds that while he does make some hazy beers at Fair State, he prefers crisper, more fully carbonated beers. “The guy I used to work for in Texas described the best way to serve beer as ‘ice-motherfucking-cold and bubbly,’ and I totally agree.” (Tonks was a brewer at the revered Live Oak Brewing in Austin.)
While the pendulum may continue to swing, one thing is clear: Brut IPA isn’t on track to supplant hazy IPAs anytime soon. On beer rating apps like Untappd and Beer Advocate, most have fair to middling reviews, and any real enthusiasm for them appears to be contained to brewer cliques and other industry insiders. As a result, brut IPA is perhaps best considered an ephemeral curiosity—à la the black IPAs of several years ago.
“It’s hard to say if people are going to continue to reach for it,” says O’Neil. “I’m not sure that it’s a January beer,” he adds, referring to brut IPA’s thirst-quenching seasonality.
Rather, O’Neil—whose résumé includes Drake’s Brewing in the Bay Area and Ithaca Beer Company in the Finger Lakes—sees brut IPA is part of an ongoing progression of the American IPA style. This latest iteration, he says, is a way for West Coast brewers to reclaim a piece of the IPA conversation, which has largely shifted to New England over the last five years. He perhaps sums up the style’s emergence best, saying, “It’s part of this clap-back, call-and-response from West Coast to East Coast.”
Five Brut IPAs to Try
Drake’s Brightside Extra Brut IPA | 7 Percent
Along with Kim Sturdavant at Social and Tim Sciascia at Cellarmaker, John Gillooly of Bay Area’s Drake’s Brewing was instrumental in the conception of brut IPA. After Sturdavant brewed his first iteration, Gillooly began experimenting with a stripped-down, ultra-dry IPA recipe extremely light in color and body with high carbonation. His first taproom-only version, donned Trocken (German for “dry”), featured German Hallertauer Blanc hops. Four other versions followed; finally, this past August, six-packs of the first bottled brut IPA, Brightside Extra Brut, appeared. In addition to Hallertau Blanc, known for lending a white grape skin character, Gillooly added Simcoe, Hallertau Mandarina and Centennial hops for a medley of fruity and piney flavors.
Fair State Brewing Coop The Brut Squad IPA | 6.1 percent
This brut IPA from Minnesota’s Fair State uses late-addition Citra and Idaho 7 hops for a bright smack of red grapefruit and papaya notes. Aromatically, it’s more like a standard New England-style IPA than anything West Coast, and the requisite bone-dry finish and light body make it a refreshing end-of-summer crusher.
Stillwater Extra Extra Double Brut IPA | 8 percent
Stillwater’s Brian Strumke is known to take cues from the wine world more often than most brewers (check out his new line of beer-wine coferments called Preternatural Cuvée). So, for his first brut IPA, he looked to Champagne for inspiration. “I set out to make an extremely dry beer that still maintained a rich mouthfeel like my favorite Champagnes,” he says, using a mix of oats, spelt and flaked wheat accented with a fruity and floral bouquet of German Huell Melon and Australian Galaxy hops.
Industrial Arts Week 104 Brut IPA | 7 percent
O’Neil says he first attempted brewing a dry, light-bodied, low malt-character IPA during his tenure at Ithaca Brewing Co. but couldn’t get the hop profile to shine through like he wanted. Now, with access to more predictable aromatics from higher quality hops and tools, like Amylo 300 (an enzyme that aids in making low-carbohydrate beers), he’s able to make those kinds of beers. His first attempt at a brut IPA resulted in a theoretically impossible -1 final gravity (a measure of the amount of sugars in a finished beer) “and kept dropping even after it was cold.” The result is super-dry, a little dank and plenty citrusy thanks to an abundance of Idaho 7 and Lemon Drop hops.
Collective Arts Hot Pink DDH Brut IPA | 7.3 percent
A collaboration between Ontario’s Collective Arts Brewing and Virginia’s Aslin Beer Co., this double-dry-hopped (DDH) brut IPA uses a clean, pale base beer to highlight German Hallertau Blanc and Australian Vic Secret hops. The Hallertau’s typical white wine characteristics are subdued here in favor of passionfruit and pineapple aromas.