Two inescapable beer trends are the continued dominance of the IPA style and the increasing popularity of canned craft brews. The hopped-up and bitter IPAs are the biggest thing to happen in craft beer since home brewing, and the so-called West Coast variations on the hoppy and strong pale ale theme are the most popular of the lot.
These purposely unbalanced brews pair intense aromas with simple malt flavors and a near total lack of sweetness. The dry and bitter finish helps heighten the impact of the hops’ aroma and bitterness.
Here are three new beers that combine the two trends to deliver big hop-forward aromas in a convenient package.
Firestone Walker Luponic Distortion
The latest hoppy tonic from the brewers in Paso Robles, Luponic Distortion (the name refers to lupulin, the pungent resin that gives hops bitter and aromatic qualities) is perhaps the superlative brewery’s most ambitious hop-fueled project to date.
The beer is actually an evolving product that will feature new and experimental hop varieties with each release, while keeping the light and dry base beer the same.
This is an IPA that’s all about the aroma, with citrus and tropical fruit scents layered with delicate floral notes and a deeper pungency. There’s little malt character to speak of, and fermentation flavors are equally understated. The clean and crisp finish underscores all those hops, and an alcohol content lower than most IPAs further accentuates the punchy hop aroma.
Luponic Distortion will get a new release with a new blend of hop varieties about every 90 days, and the initial 001 release may already be in the running for the best new brew of 2016. When an adventurous concept is married to a flawless execution by one of California’s most technically excellent breweries, you end up with cans of some really special stuff.
Anchor Brewing Go West! IPA
San Francisco’s Anchor Brewery created what many consider to be the first American IPA when it introduced its Liberty Ale in 1975, but in 40 years since, they’ve only dabbled in craft beer’s most popular style.
Their newest entry into the very crowded field is Go West! IPA, and the brew represents a major transition for the veteran brewery. Brewmaster Mark Carpenter -- who first started brewing for Anchor in 1971 -- is stepping down from his position (though he’ll remain “brewmaster emeritus”) and Go West! is the first brew to be developed by new brewmaster Scott Ungermann.
For the Record
March 3, 5:53 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the new brewmaster at Anchor Brewery is Brian Ungermann. His name is Scott.
The beer is pale golden and even lighter in body, but the hop character is robust and complex. Ungermann developed some specialized brewing equipment specifically for the new IPA, and a blend of hop varieties such as Citra, Equinox, and Eureka! are used in the new dry hopping tank to provide an intensity of aroma. Lemongrass, passion fruit and kiwi spring out of the glass, and each sip finishes with a brisk bitterness.
It’s middle-of-the-pack strength (6.7% alcohol) balances drinkability with the depth of flavor. Anchor Brewing has introduced a long list of new beers over the past couple of years, but Go West! is one of the more impressive recent examples.
Samuel Adams Rebel Cascade IPA
After years of resisting the IPA trend, the Boston Beer Co. finally introduced its Rebel series of IPAs in 2013. The brewery is best known for its Samuel Adams Boston Lager called Rebel IPA, a West Coast-style IPA.
Though there’s a whole family of Rebel-branded brews, the brewery has also introduced a kind of throwback IPA called Rebel Cascade IPA. This canned brew prominently features the classic flavors of the American Cascade hop whose distinctive grapefruit and pine-needle aromas defined the early craft beers.
Rebel Cascade IPA uses more assertive malts than is typical for the modern West Coast IPA style, and coupled with the very distinctive hop character (made famous by the ubiquitous Sierra Nevada Pale Ale), this brew has an interesting retro vibe.