Some beer trends build slowly, starting as a good idea brewed by a few specialists before spreading locally, creeping into nationwide prominence and then total ubiquity, as hazy IPAs have done in recent years. Other trends arrive all at once, a dozen beers in the same new style springing from local brewers as if someone made a particularly persuasive argument at the last gathering of the beer illuminati.
If you’ve checked the tap list at one of L.A.’s better beer bars in the last few weeks, you’ve probably noticed the latest example of the latter kind of beer trend: brut IPAs. Brut IPAs take their name and their concept from Champagne, as they are dry and supremely carbonated. The best examples are bright and hoppy up front but finish short, like taking a deep whiff of a fresh-cut grapefruit and then a swig of Topochico.
Julian Shrago, co-owner and brewmaster of Beachwood BBQ & Brewing in Long Beach and self-avowed Champagne fan, sees the style as an extension of the aggressively hopped West Coast IPA but with a Champagne-inspired twist. Brut IPAs are, Shrago says, “extremely dry with a little alcoholic warmth, a lot of hop flavor and aroma, but not a lot of bitterness.”
Most brut IPAs use the amyloglucosidase enzyme to ferment sugars that wouldn’t break down with yeast alone, which leaves them totally dry. This enzyme is fairly common in heavy beers, used to help prevent them from getting too sweet, but its addition to an average-strength IPA is new.
Credit for this style of beer goes to Kim Sturdavant, head brewer at San Francisco brewery Social Kitchen. Sturdavant’s idea has spread from his Bay Area home at breakneck speed.
Shrago denies any illuminati-level collusion among local brewers, and he explains the overnight emergence of the brut IPA in L.A. with one simple fact: Brewers are excited about them.
Evan Price, brewer and co-owner of Green Cheek Beer Co. in Orange, offers a similar explanation. “Brewers tend to love dry, crisp beer, and I think that a good brut IPA hits those marks to perfection,” Price says.
Shrago says he first heard about them early this year from another brewer. Before his colleague had even finished the description, Shrago was in; he could see exactly where the style was headed and the ones he wanted to brew.
Beachwood’s latest version, Strange Brut, is exactly as Shrago describes. It has a punch of citrus rind and dank resin up front and a touch of booziness in the body, before disappearing completely in a swarm of tiny bubbles.
Brut IPAs are also part of an ongoing industry-wide conversation about IPAs. Their crisp and fizzy backbone is a direct response to the jammy, sweet hazy IPAs that were born in New England and grew to a national craze. Hazy IPAs pitched a big tent, welcoming both longtime hopheads and drinkers who didn’t like the assertive bitterness of traditional IPAs. Brut IPAs share that striking hoppiness and low bitterness, but it’s an open question whether anyone will stand in line for hours in the hot sun to buy a brut IPA, as people still do every week for hazies.
Local breweries are making them in droves, so you don’t have to look hard to find a brut IPA.
San Leandro’s Drake’s Brewing Co. is one of the style’s staunchest advocates, distributing its Brightside Extra Brut statewide. Brightside is a great point of entry, perfectly emblematic of the style.
Noted IPA specialist El Segundo Brewing Co. is also in the brut IPA game in a big way, most recently with a version called Seco Brut. Seco is, as the name implies, dry as a drought and almost too drinkable, the kind of bottle that seems to empty itself.
Price plans to brew more brut IPAs at Green Cheek, but despite his personal enjoyment (“They’re super fun,” he says), he isn’t sure of their long-term future. “As a brewer, you kind of never know what’s going to hit and what’s going to fade away,” he says.