WTF Is a Milkshake IPA?

Cat Wolinski WTF Is a Milkshake IPA?

3 minute Read

In January 2015, Jason Alström, co-founder of BeerAdvocate, famously reviewed Tired Hands Brewing’s HopHands, one of the cult brewer’s most coveted pale ales. He gave it a devastating 2.74 out of 5. “Milkshake beers are not a trend or acceptable with traditional or even modern styles,” Alström wrote.

Boy, was he wrong. Tired Hands owner and brewmaster Jean Broillet IV promptly responded by creating 22 milkshake IPAs by the end of 2016 — and other brewers followed.

Milkshake IPAs may not be traditional, but they are most certainly a trend, and one that has sustained three years and counting. In fact, the “category” has inspired brewers to experiment with lactose, fruit, spices, and hop additions in a variety of ways, with relatives and predecessors in the smoothie and hazy IPA category. Contrary to curmudgeonly belief, milkshake IPAs, smoothie IPAs, and even slushie IPAs exist, and they’re filling up taprooms and coolers with their thick, sweet haze. Here’s what they are, why you may suddenly be seeing IPAs that look like tropical ice cream shakes, and five to try.

Photo credit: All Beers / Instagram.com

Lactose, Fruit, Spice, and Everything Nice

A milkshake IPA, and the similar smoothie IPA, are sub-styles of the New England-style IPA. Milkshake and smoothie beers pump up the volume on fruit additions, unfermentable sugars, and adjuncts such as vanilla. This creates a creamy, full-bodied texture and bold opacity that’s akin to what you slurp at a malt shop.

The main ingredient that sets milkshake IPAs apart from other juicy and hazy IPAs is lactose. “That’s the key,” Kyle Carbaugh, co-founder of Wiley Roots Brewing in Greeley, Colo., says. Wiley Roots has a series of Sonic-inspired sour ales called “Slush” that has “exploded in popularity.” Beyond that, “fruit and spice additions further that differentiation” between a New England IPA and a milkshake or smoothie IPA, he says.

Swedish brewery Omnipollo and Pennsylvania’s Tired Hands even add wheat flour to the boil for their milkshake beers, as do other milkshake makers. Oats, flaked barley, and wheat malt are also common, as are apple puree and other pectin-rich, “perma-haze” producing additions.

A Blended History

To our best estimate, milkshake and smoothie IPAs trace back to 2015, when Omnipollo started referring to beers in its Magic Numbers series as “smoothie IPAs.” Omnipollo’s fleet included Magic #411 Wild Strawberry/Rhubarb/Vanilla Smoothie IPA, Magic #4:21 Raspberry Smoothie IPA, and Magic #90000 Bilberry Smoothie IPA.

That same year, Omnipollo teamed up with Tired Hands on an IPA brewed with oats, wheat, and lactose sugar. It was fermented on strawberries and vanilla beans, and hopped to the gills with Mosaic and Citra. They called their creation simply “Milkshake.” And thus, a style was born.

Omnipollo and Tired Hands continued to collaborate over the years, creating Strawberry Milkshake IPA, Mango Milkshake IPA, and others. Meanwhile, brewers across the country and around the world have been trying their hands at the style. From WeldWerks Brewing in Colorado, to Austin Brothers Beer Co. in Texas, to Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn, to The Booth Brewing Co. in Seoul, milkshake IPAs have proven they are a movement.

“A large contingent of brewers are making milkshake IPAs that are also in the hazy, New England IPA camp as well, drawing on techniques from that other style to create something new,” Carbaugh says. “What WeldWerks is doing with like their Double Peach Milkshake IPA is heavily influenced by their Juicy Bits series, and their whole lineup of New England IPAs.”

A Rose By Any Other Name

Whether there’s a difference between milkshake IPAs and smoothie IPAs is splitting hairs. For example, it’s unlikely to have a milkshake IPA without lactose, as milk sugar’s sweet, creamy attribution is the defining characteristic of this type of beer. Most smoothie IPAs have lactose, too.

For many brewers, smoothie and milkshake IPAs represent a playful but very real evolution of the New England-style IPA; for others, it’s just another way to make an IPA.

“Other brewers out there still aren’t quite ready to call it a style or a sub-style of New England IPA, but I think by and large brewers that are making these definitely are in the same camp,” Carbaugh says.

But is a fruited IPA sans lactose still a smoothie IPA? “Yes,” Carbaugh says, laughing. “If you’re adding fruits to a New England IPA, I think people would call that a smoothie IPA, or a fruited New England.”

5 Milkshake and Smoothie Beers to Try

Austin Brothers Arn’t You Peachy Smoothie IPA
NEIPA with lactose, peaches, and vanilla.

Odell Cloud Catcher Milkshake IPA 
IPA with lactose.

Sixpoint Dreamsickle
Sour IPA with blood orange, tangerine, vanilla, and lactose.

WeldWerks Double Peach Milkshake IPA
IPA with peach puree, Citra and Amarillo hops, lactose, and vanilla.

Wiley Roots Brewing Cherry Limeade Slush
Sour ale with sweet cherries and limes.

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Confused about why IPAs are suddenly looking and tasting more like tropical fruit smoothies and milkshakes than beer? You're not alone. Here's the scoop.

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