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Whether It’s Here to Stay or Not, Brut IPA is Shaping the Future of Craft Beer

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Several new beer styles seemingly pop up every few months and it’s often a crap shoot whether they have lasting power or not. 

New England-style and Hazy IPAs still tend to be the beers du jour after their slow rise to prominence. There’s another IPA style, though, waiting to see if whether it will turn out to be a flash in the pan or have staying power: Brut IPA.

First brewed in California at Social Kitchen and Brewery, the style draws inspiration from brut sparkling wines, and the dry finish makes for a surprisingly crisp and sessionable beer that was quickly anointed the next big wave. The hype has faded, but retail shelves are still likely to be packed with the style this summer as breweries determine whether Brut IPAs can stick.

One reason for a quick fizzle could be how quickly breweries jumped on the Brut IPA train in the first place, said Eric Bachli, the brewmaster at Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewery.

“New England IPAs, now you see a lot of them, but it was a gradual progression, going back to Heady Topper. People slowly latched on and now it’s everywhere,” Bachli said. “With Brut, there was rush and there’s thousands of breweries now trying to get them out. I think it’s cool in a way because you get to try others and I’m impressed how quickly breweries like Sierra Nevada and New Belgium got them out.”

Sixpoint’s Sparkler Brut IPA will hit shelves in its distribution footprint soon, with Bachli’s background from Trillium Brewing shining through. He’s leaving the beer hazy, but adding the enzyme that removes the residual sugar, resulting in a beer that is dry as a bone on the finish.

Bachli’s experimentation with the beer is part of the reason why some breweries aren’t packaging their Brut IPAs. At Washington’s Elysian Brewing, brewmaster Josh Waldman is leaving the style up for variations.

“My first impressions of the style were it was very cool with a catchy name and the concept was interesting,” Waldman said. “We didn’t catch on right away, and having heard of this emerging style, we realized we weren’t first to market so what do we have to do to make it special?”

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The brewing team at Elysian took their time and sourced hops from the lush hop fields in the Pacific Northwest, ranging from established well-known hops to experimental varietals. Waldman said in making a Brut IPA, which should have plenty of hop notes on the nose without too much bitterness to go along with that dry finish, there are plenty of problems.

“A few of the challenges really were how to get more aroma, and that required less malt body for it to relax on,” he said.

Elysian isn’t packaging its Brut IPA, and doesn’t have plans to, as the brewery has released a few variations at its taproom. Part of the problem was after the first batch they had to switch out the hop bill entirely.

Waldman said he’s still trying to figure out what kind of legs the Brut IPA style might have, but he thinks it’s a promising brew, even if it lies low, because of the way it accentuates flavors and aromas.

“It fits in line with the hybridization of beer and wine,” he said. “It’s a concept that lends to both of those, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues on.”

Even if Brut IPA goes away, the techniques employed the enzyme in so much light lager production and it’s now used in craft beer.

Back on the East Coast, Bachli had similar sentiments about the style’s wine comparison and how beer can play in that realm. His Sparkler, however, is an interesting concept as a derivative of two styles: Brut and New England. Bachli believes the small differentiation could pay dividends even if Brut or New England IPAs fade away.

Even if they both do, and Sparkler doesn’t see a ton of success, he sees plenty of uses for the main piece of the Brut process: the enzymes.

“Even if Brut IPA goes away, the techniques employed the enzyme in so much light lager production and it’s now used in craft beer,” he said. “A lot of breweries will now eye that enzyme in all kinds of styles.”

Few breweries can stand out like Social Kitchen and Brewery did with its introduction of Brut IPA, as breweries all over try to kick out the next big beer style, but even flashes-in-the-pan can alter the industry for the better.

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