I got excited about IPAs because of the flavors that hops bring to a brew. More recently I started to notice the difference freshness makes and how quickly the hop flavors fade. Thanks in part to Stone releasing their Enjoy By IPA series, which expects people to drink the beer within a month of release, general beer drinkers are starting to understand how important freshness is. Follow the Enjoy By link for Stone’s explanation of this. But simply having bottles at home that are fresh is only half the battle. You also have to store those beers properly to avoid losing those hop flavors.
I am not going to go on about specific temperatures but I will simply keep things as simple as possible. Refrigerating your IPAs once you get them home in a bottle (like I know you would with a growler) ensures that your beer tastes as good as it did when you brought it home when you open it the following week. This is only half of the battle though. The other part is making sure that you purchase your beers from a shop that stores their beers properly, or go direct to the source.
There are a lot of steps a beer takes from when it leaves the brewery until you find it at your local shop. Thankfully a lot of the big breweries in San Diego that bottle their beers distribute through Stone. Stone takes the necessary steps to ensure that until they drop the beer off at the next step it is properly refrigerated. Read about how Stone explains it on their distribution site. However, you don’t always know how properly the beer was stored by a particular company before putting it on the shelves.
Sometimes finding beers from certain breweries in a shop is a good indication that the shop stores the beers properly. Russian River is known for being very strict about how their beers are kept both during shipping and once on display. Alpine is also strict so if you can find beer from either brewery at a bottle shop you know that they store the beers properly. Alpine has a list of places where you can find their beers on their website. One thing to look for is coolers that don’t have bright fluorescent lights on the beers.
More recently though, I’ve found that it is worth going direct to any local brewery and buying the beer from the source. That way you are guaranteed that the beer you are buying is as fresh as possible and stored properly. Stone has a few smaller tasting rooms where you can buy bottles without trying to park at one of their big restaurants. But for beers from out of state or out of county proper storage makes all the difference and helps ensure that you enjoy the beers as they were meant to be tasted.
In summary, make sure that you keep your IPAs away from sunlight and/or fluorescent lights and that you store them in a cool place. You should notice the difference right away. Because some of the things I discuss here is based on discussions I had on Facebook with fellow beer friends, if something here is inaccurate, please let me know in the comments. If you think I am making a big deal about something that is not very important, also let me know.
If you are interested in some of the science behind how light affects beer, check out this article from Mark Dredge on Pencil and Spoon as well as a more detailed article from someone in The Bruery’s lab.
For the final part of this series on craft beer basics, I thought I would explain some common acronyms. You commonly see IBU and ABV listed on the menu but you might have been embarrassed to ask what they meant.
Why do breweries list ABV on the boards?
ABV stands for alcohol by volume and sometimes you will just see a percentage of alcohol listed. Though technically not all beers need to display the percentage of alcohol, and thus the mainstream brewers don’t bother to post it, it helps you as the consumer to understand something about the beer before ordering it.
Though higher alcohol content does not always equal better flavor, it tends to lead to bolder flavors. It also makes a big difference typically in the thickness of the beers, with beers over 8% typically tasting quite a bit thicker. Once you become familiar with a style of beer, then it tells you quite a bit about a stout to see that it is 5% vs 12%.
It is also important for you to pay attention so you can try to keep track of how much you are drinking. Gone are the days when you can simply count the beers. You will typically see beers with higher alcohol content served in smaller glasses because that helps reduce the amount of alcohol in one serving. If you drive to the brewery be especially careful to limit your intake so you don’t drink and drive. Most breweries will serve you beer to go in a growler so you can finish enjoying your favorite beer at home without getting into an accident or getting pulled over. When I take friends out to visit breweries, I like to bring home a growler so that I can drink when I get home.
Why do breweries list IBU? What is that?
Not all breweries list IBU but many do because it gives you a lot of information that you might not realize. IBU stands for International Bitterness Units and it is an easy way to check that the beer you are ordering is not going to be too bitter for your tastes. Some smooth light porters might list an IBU of around 30, sometimes even lower. This is typically a level at which the average drinker probably won’t notice any bitterness at all.
At the middle end, a lot of IPAs and pale ales come in at around 50-60 IBU. This might be too much for some people but it is still in the middle range and a hop head might demand even more. Imperial IPAs and sometimes extra strong stouts can be from 80-120 IBUs. These beers are going to be noticeably bitter and are not good to try for your first time. You can see for yourself if bitterness is something you like as you drink more beer. I tend to enjoy beers at all levels of the scale but I do have a soft spot for the seriously bitter brews.
I hope you learned a lot about beer in this educational series. You should now be able to recognize the differences between the different styles of beers. Slowly you will start to differentiate between malt and hop flavors in your favorite beers.
When I first started to get into IPAs, I thought they were all going to be amazing but it turns out there is a huge spectrum in which you can have a variety of different flavors of IPA. At the low end, you have English style IPAs that represent how the beer was originally made. They tend to be closer to a pale ale and lower in alcohol. Then in the middle there are different styles depending on area of the US where the beer is brewed. Northwest style IPAs present serious pine flavors from the local varieties of hops and frequently are on the lighter end of the alcohol scale, sometimes as low as 5.5%.
Then there is the West Coast style which features heavy citrus and floral flavors with little emphasis on balancing the hop flavors with the malt flavors. This sometimes leads to delicious light colored brews that focus almost exclusively on bright hop flavors. West Coast IPAs typically hover around 6% alcohol with some approaching 7%. West Coast style IPAs also tend to be more bitter as well because the brewers are trying to push the envelope.
It is common to see the term American IPA. These frequently tend to be darker brews with a lot more toasty malt flavors balanced with the hops. For me this means I need to taste it before ordering a pint because I don’t care for very dark IPAs. Then you have the double and triple IPAs that have become especially popular in San Diego where the brew typically starts somewhere around 8% and goes up to 13 or 14% at the high extreme.
Double IPAs vary significantly between breweries with some focusing on the heavy malt character to balance the hops and others pushing all limits by presenting the most bitter brew possible with malt flavors that you can barely recognize. If you tend to prefer darker colored IPAs or lighter colored IPAs it helps to do some research before buying a six-pack because not all beers feature clear descriptions.
The other distinguishing thing in IPAs is the type of hops used. Flavors can vary widely depending on the variety of hops used. Learning specific types of hops is not easy but asking breweries about the hops in your favorite brews is the first step.
If you explore more, you might notice a lot of different labels thrown on IPAs such as Belgian IPA, Black IPA, Rye IPA, etc. Pay close attention as you order these and you might slowly start to recognize the way in which they are different. Typically a Belgian IPA is made with Belgian yeast and it has many of the distinct flavors of a Belgian style beer. Black IPAs tend to have a lot of roasted malts so they often come across like a hoppy version of a porter or stout. Rye IPAs tend to focus on the spicy flavors of rye as it interacts with the hops. It is a flavor that you will learn to recognize over time but is fairly hard to describe.
Local IPA favorites: Societe The Apprentice, Council Chazzam!, Pacific Bomboro, Alesmith IPA, Stone IPA, Ballast Point Sculpin, Saint Archer IPA, Rough Draft Southern Triangle, Helm’s Wicked as Sin, New English Humbly Legit IPA,
Local Double IPA favorites: Green Flash West Coast, Green Flash Green Bullet, Ballast Point Dorado, Stone Enjoy By IPA, Karl Strauss Tower 20, Saint Archer Double IPA, Rough Draft Hop Therapy, Alesmith Yulesmith,
Properly differentiating between a porter and a stout is pretty difficult but they have some significant similarities that make them quite popular especially the way breweries in the US tend to make them. The one thing that generally identifies porters and stouts is their dark, almost black color.
The flavors can vary quite widely depending on what the brewers tend to focus on. One reason a lot of people love porters and stouts is that they tend to be on the sweeter side. It is common to see chocolate or coffee used to give flavor to these beers.
Most porters and stouts have some form of roasted malt that gives it a unique flavor. Sometimes oatmeal is used to create a silkier brew. You sometimes see these beers served “on Nitro.” This style of serving a beer works great with porters and stouts because the Nitrogen gas helps to make the beer appear creamier due to the much smaller bubbles it forms.
When ordering a porter or stout, pay close attention to the way it is described on the menu. If you don’t see a description, ask the bartender to describe the flavor so you can get an idea before ordering or ask for a small taste. I frequently will ask for a taste before ordering an unfamiliar beer because you don’t want to drink a full pint of something you don’t enjoy.
Porters and stouts vary widely in the alcohol percentage. Some go as low as 4.5-5.5% and many breweries make imperial or double porters or stouts that are around 8-9% with some especially strong brews hitting 12% or higher. Most imperial porters or stouts focus on chocolate or coffee flavors to help balance out the stronger alcohol content.
Imperial stouts and porters also tend to pour much thicker and are sometimes compared to motor oil because of how thick they can get. Other flavors that can be quite prominent in stronger porters and stouts are some plum and ripe fruit flavors from certain varieties of malts. You can always ask where a flavor in your favorite beer comes from if you are tasting it at the brewery.
Local Favorites: Green Flash Double Stout, Alesmith Speedway Stout, New English Zumbar Imperial Stout, Ballast Point Porter, Imperial Porter, and Imperial Stout, Council Brewing Imperial Oatmeal Stout, Rough Draft Vanilla Stout.