Parallels are often drawn between craft beer and music. The saying goes that brewery sellouts are much like your favorite indie band signing to a mainstream record label. Of course, there are exceptions, and what stands out for some is heavy metal and IPA. From stoner metal to technical black metal, and from session IPA to black IPA, the parallel genres contain seemingly innumerable subgenres and innovations.
One of the more, uh, divisive subcategories of IPA is the much-critiqued smoothie IPA, a style that many beer drinkers (this author included) struggle to recognize as an IPA. With incredibly high grams per liter of fruit, and outrageous levels of lactose, it’s a substyle that resembles little of its parent style. Indeed, many of the brewers contacted for this piece simply said they’d so far successfully avoided drinking a smoothie iPA. Regardless, few can deny its popularity — and many agree it is delicious, if a little ridiculous.
So, what are the most ridiculous smoothie IPAs professional brewers are drinking? We asked brewers around the world to chime in on which sweet, dessert-like smoothie IPAs take the cake.
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“North Brew Co. Golden Milk Turmeric and Apricot sour with coconut. I’ve taken turmeric every day for a long time for its numerous health benefits and was intrigued to see how such a strong flavor could work in a beer. The beer poured a vibrant orange with a pillowy-white head. On first sip, the immediate flavor was apricot and sweet clementine. The turmeric is there in spades but somehow not overpowering, and works well with the sorbet-sourness. The coconut was present somewhere in the background, although, probably not a bad thing as it would stick out like a sore thumb if too prominent. I wasn’t sure how the mix of ingredients would blend together, but they did, and it made for a super-refreshing fruity sour that contributed to my overall health and supple joints!” — Maddie Culling, Shift Lead Brewer, Northern Monk Brew Co., Leeds, U.K.
“We’ve brewed our fair share of milkshake IPAs (well, four to be exact, so maybe fair share is a stretch), but we’ve always strived to make sure that the liquid has a semblance to beer over a milkshake. The most ridiculous one I’ve ever sampled was from a brewery who poured next to us at a festival — a mixed berry/vanilla milkshake IPA that had literal chunks when poured into my glass. I had to use the bathroom sink to rinse out the glass thoroughly afterwards because them fruit particles like to cling!” — Libby Crider, Owner & General Manager, 2nd Shift Brewing, St Louis
“I have never knowingly drank a smoothie IPA, apart from one which was some kind of banana Daiquiri number from a Swedish brewery that will remain nameless. I love me a Piña Colada but this was more aroma of baby shite and a texture like liquified blancmange. Almost as bad as the Negroni Saison from one of my favorite London breweries [served] at Moeder Lambic, of all places, in 2014… Ho hum. Pass the Pils, please.” — Olly Plimsoll Bartlett, Sales Manager, Stockholm Brewing Co., Stockholm, Sweden
“At a previous job, we brewed a beer with a famous Swedish brewery known for their bold graphic design, and ever-bold flavor combinations. The beer was to be the main beer for the second Beavertown Extravaganza, and as such had to live up to the hype of the previous beer for the festival, Heavy Lord, a 15 percent bourbon-barrel- aged imperial stout brewed with 3 Floyds from Munster, Indiana. The brewery we decided to pair up with for the second year was none other than Omnipollo and the beer was Mango Milk Power Breakfast IIPA. I still remember the look of disgust and fear on our faces when we heard we were going to be using whey protein isolate (which Omnipollo specified should be the highest grade possible) in a beer. I was even more shocked when Cosmo, our lead brewer at the time, was allowed to spend almost a grand on a pointless adjunct that would probably have coagulated in the kettle anyway and provided very little flavor or texture, or muscle-bulking benefits. The beer itself was actually really difficult to build, and I say ‘build’ because it was less about brewing and more about the technicalities of putting these flavors of hops, mango, coconut, lactose, vanilla and… protein isolate together in a harmonious and tasty way. The event came around, and of course Omnipollo had set up the beer to be poured from their soft serve dispense at their stall… I saw one poured into a coconut shell, and so I tasted it and thought, ‘yeah, that’s pretty good for what it is.’ I was proud that we had made a balanced, well-made Mango, Coconut, Vanilla, Lactose, Protein Shake Smoothie Imperial IPA… Now, where is my Pilsner?” — Jonathan Hamilton, Brewer, Newbarns Brewery, Edinburgh, Scotland
“Trick question: all smoothie IPAs are equally ridiculous.” — Ehren Schmidt, Master Blender, Mikkeller Baghaven, Copenhagen, Denmark
“The most ridiculous smoothie/milkshake IPA I’ve ever had was probably a sour black double IPA hopped with Citra and El Dorado and had wheat, malted oats, lactose, mandarin orange purée, tangerine purée, dark chocolate, vanilla beans, pink sea salt, and orange peel. When I drank it, it was a bit of a sensory overload: so many different flavors going across my palate as I drank; it was interesting but I don’t think I would go so far as to call it enjoyable. I don’t purchase them, but a friend of mine loves the style, and she keeps giving me different examples to try. Personally, I don’t really like the style; for one thing I don’t really like overly sweet beer (or sweet wine, or any other sweet beverage generally) and this style of IPA is aggressively sweet. The other reason why I don’t like smoothie/milkshake IPA is that I feel that the style is just a gimmick designed to garner attention in a crowded marketplace. It all screams, ‘Look at me! I’m an IPA that tastes like s’mores!’ or, ‘Look at me! I’m an IPA that tastes like strawberry pancakes!’ or, “Look at me! I’m an IPA with as much lactose as a glass of milk!’ And yes, all three of these examples are real. At the end of the day, I think that the people that like this style enjoy it because they have an affinity towards sweet, sugary things.” — Mark Ryan, Head Brewer, Jersey Girl Brewing Company, Hackettstown, N.J.
“I’m going to have to say Definitive Vanilla Dome with Mango. It’s not ridiculous in its absurdity, but in the way the flavors work together. The vanilla accentuated the sweetness while the acidity of the mango kept it from being cloying. It is a well-put-together beer.” — Peter Heggeman, Brewmaster, Bath Brewing Company, Bath, Maine
“Tired Hands, a name on most ‘hype bois’ lists of breweries to try, make absolutely stonking beer and along with Omnipollo helped spearhead and fetishize the milkshake/smoothie IPA. Their double vanilla double IPA is probably one of the most intense (read: ridiculous) IPAs I’ve had and yeah, it was decadent, but it was also a huge miss for me. Their house [yeast] strain and hefty use of oats brings heaps of vanilla for me in their beers anyway, but the sheer eye-watering amount of vanilla in that IPA was too much when paired with Citra, Mosaic, lactose (f*ck lactose!) and rumored apple in the mash for pectin haze. The hop profile was great (when is Citra and Mosaic not) but when the screaming sweetness from the lactose and vanilla washes in it’s overpowering, and detracted from the balance of the beer. The beer is perfect for a bottle share where a whole can is too much but a quarter of a can is more than enough. This sort of innovation ‘for innovation’s sake’ means that you’ll always have to one-up yourself and your competition when the haze bros come calling.” — Jack Delaney, Assistant Head Brewer, Alefarm Brewing, Greve, Denmark
“The most ridiculous ‘smoothie IPA’ I have ever drank would probably be something from Decadent Ales out of Mamaroneck, N.Y. Their IPAs are not packaged with as much fruit purée as the popular sour smoothie beers, but they are still loaded with tons of sweet and tangy fruit flavor. The Orange Cream Pop IPA packs so much flavor and a thick mouthfeel into one can, it’s a great summer replacement for an actual Creamsicle. Tons of creamy sweetness up front from additions of sugars and vanilla beans, followed up with a surprising kick of orange that lingers on the tongue. Plus, it clocks in at a steady 6 percent ABV, so don’t be afraid to enjoy more than one. I’ve had quite a few ‘smoothie’ and ‘milkshake’ IPAs, but this one takes the cake for most well balanced while still being able to detect the hops. As for even more ridiculous, their Double Toasted Marshmallow IPA is basically a can of sugary-sweet alcohol. While it is fairly tasty, at 9.5 percent ABV, it’s a touch too sweet and boozy to enjoy much more than a few sips.” — Bri Burrows, Head Brewer, Big Rip Brewing Company, Kansas City, Mo.
“To quote a line from a beer bottle, ‘I didn’t choose hops, hops chose me.’ I love a good, crisp, dank West Coast IPA, one of my most favorite styles to brew. I’ve never been a fan of the hazy, fruity IPAs that have taken hold here in the states. Stone Brewing is one of my favorite breweries, so when a beer rep buddy of mine dropped off a 6-pack of Stone Neverending Haze at the brewery, I was surprised. But, being that Stone does some amazing beers, I gave it a try. This beer is oh-so hazy with flavors of citrus, pineapple, and strawberry. It comes in at 4 percent ABV and 35 IBUs. I have to say, I was impressed. In no way have I converted to a hazy, juicy IPA drinker but it is one of the best ones I’ve had.” — Joe Crockett, Brewmaster, Rockin’ JY Nano Craft Brewery, Ewa Beach, Hawaii