With IPAs leading craft beer sales for well over a decade now, it’s only natural that brewers are constantly experimenting and putting their own twists on the style. From milkshake IPAs to quadruple IPAs to black IPAs to sour IPAs, the list of spins is seemingly endless. Now, there’s a new-ish kid in town: the cold IPA.
The term was first coined in 2018 at Portland, Ore.’s Wayfinder Beer by former brewmaster Kevin Davey (who now brews at McMinnville’s Gold Dot Beer). Here, he created Relapse IPA, which would become known as the first cold IPA to hit the market. The style sticks to the conventional IPA hop profile and ABV range, but is characterized by a crisp texture and finish from the use of lager yeasts and adjuncts like rice and corn in the beer’s grain bill.
Though this winterized style is becoming more well known, it isn’t officially recognized by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), and its definition remains somewhat nebulous. Cold IPAs gained a lot of press and took off in the brewing world last year, with many brewers making their own interpretation with different brewing techniques to create a crushable, clean, and “chilly” IPA without skimping on hop flavor: Take Grimm Artisanal Ales’ low-ABV Crispy IPA, or Carton Brewing’s NJ IPA series in which every beer is brewed with a Kölsch yeast. Their creation is a likely sign that brewers and drinkers are getting palate fatigue from all the New England IPAs that have been crowding brew tanks for perhaps too long. There’s no telling when and if the haze craze will ever end, but these crispier beers are finally getting some long-overdue industry love.
But what truly makes cold IPAs stand out from the pack? And are they unique enough to constitute a bonafide category?
What’s the Difference Between a Cold IPA and Other Types of IPAs?
Technically, yes, cold IPAs are covered under the IPA umbrella, but their flavor profile intentionally drifts into lager territory. In 2017, Davey sought to make an IPA that packed the hop intensity of a hazy and the bitterness of a West Coast IPA, but with the drinkability of a lager. Enter Relapse IPA, which would launch in 2018 as a response to the lush, hefty nature of its hazier cohorts. But in order to create this chillier flavor profile, Davey borrowed practices and ingredients from more than one style.
For the grain bill, Davey added rice and corn (typical adjuncts in lagers) to an American two-row pilsner malt, to give the beer a full body and mouthfeel while maintaining a crisp, dry finish. As the crystal malts and caramel malts typical in ale and IPA brewing can leave residual sugars in the finished beer that make it sweeter and distract from unadulterated hop flavor, Davey’s additions of rice and corn ensured a greater conversion of sugar to alcohol, thus resulting in a drier beer.
Davey also desired a yeast strain that would allow for the purest expression of hops, so he chose Wayfinder’s house lager yeast over English Ale yeasts, which generally pack in more fruity, ester-driven compounds. While those compounds help give hazy IPAs their signature juiciness and stouts their pruny, raisin-like complexity, they can be distracting if the beer’s intention is to showcase hops without any supporting cast. To accomplish that, Davey’s recipe calls for a warm temp dry hop at the very end of the beer’s primary fermentation, similar to how one dry hops an Italian pilsner. This helps fuel the biotransformation of hop oils and terpenes into more expressive, flavorful compounds with some added bitterness. Davey also chose to dry hop the Relapse IPA with Chinook, Cascade, and Amarillo — all American hop varietals commonly found in West Coast IPAs. Thus, the resulting beer is like a modified West Coast that’s designed to be drier and more hop-centric, while maintaining the same 6 to 7 percent ABV. (This, by the way, is one of the ways the style differs from an India pale lager.)
The result? A hoppy, crushable IPA with the body of a lager.
What’s the Difference Between a Cold IPA and an IPL?
It’s a common misunderstanding that an India pale lager (IPL) and a cold IPA are one and the same. Admittedly, these lagers and ales are close siblings: They use similar hops, malts, and yeast strains, and neither is defined by the BJCP. But on top of having a higher ABV than IPLs, cold IPAs are arguably a more well-rounded execution of the two styles’ shared goal: making a crispy, light-bodied vehicle for American hop flavor. What’s more, the adjuncts typically used in a cold IPA’s grain bill that make for an extra crispy finish (like rice and corn), aren’t as common in IPL recipes.
And though the “cold” in cold IPA is commonly thought to be a nod to a cold, lager-like ferment, that’s not necessarily the case. Lager yeast is traditionally fermented at around 42 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and ale yeast at about 65, which is generally the temperature at which brewers ferment their cold IPAs even though lager or hybrid yeasts are at work. The name “cold IPA,” therefore, is more an advertisement of the beer’s crisp — dare we say icy — texture and refreshing finish. According to Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., this temperature increase helps to minimize the sulfuric copper-like notes that lager yeast often produce at the 42- to 55-degree range. While those esters might add to the profile of a true lager or IPL, they can distract from the piney, citrus-forward American hops on the front line in a cold IPA.
Hops have always been the heart and soul of IPAs regardless of style, but the fruity, sugary, and more boozy innovations as of late have made some of us forget that. If a hazy strawberry milkshake IPA is a caramel cappuccino, a cold IPA is a black coffee — a little bitter, but a stone-cold celebration of its core ingredients.