Let's talk about California IPA
California IPA. It’s a style we’ve brewed a lot of over the last year, with the beers proving popular with seasoned beer fans and newbies to the scene alike.
There has understandably been some confusion over what this style is and how it should present. Including ‘California’ in a style name certainly evokes the idea that it’s a West Coast IPA, and indeed these beers originated from the West Coast of the USA. But in fact the brewers championing this style chose to describe it with new vernacular in order to differentiate.
We feel like we could and should have done more to explain some of the background and thinking behind this style sooner, and in addition have muddied the waters at times, failing to communicate our language in this style internally, which has caused extra confusion externally.
So this blog is aiming to put that right. We’ll cover the most common points here, but we’ll also update with any future questions through email, social media or over the bar in the Tap Yard. We’ll also introduce a couple of current examples of the style so you can try them at home and find out for yourself what California IPA is all about.
And before we start, let’s just admit that it has nothing to do with California Country Park. Sorry, Finchampstead residents!
Although there is no Brewers Association definition of the WCIPA, it has become so ingrained in beer culture that there is some common understanding of what is meant by the label (albeit with some personal preferences). This would probably be an ABV in the range of 6-8%, a golden, clear (oftentimes crystal clear) pour, a malt backbone with character in order to balance a high hop bitterness, a defined resinous character and plenty of drinkability. Some of you may swear by the presence of Crystal malt.
Many people associate the style with a select group of ‘classic’ Northwest hops such as Cascade, Centennial and Citra, and perhaps after them the likes of Simcoe or Amarillo. The beer would be punchy and direct, with defined hop aromas that would tend to stick in the piney, resinous and citrus realm. We wouldn’t tend to expect too much ‘tropical fruit’ in the way you’d associate it with a NEIPA, but some candied pineapple or pithy pink grapefruit could definitely come through. Overall you’d expect a beer with some hoppy bite, full of bitterness but grounded with enough malt sweetness to keep you going back for more.
California IPA is a style introduced to us by Green Cheek Beer Co, with our first example being ‘Every Minute Matters’ back in February 2020. We’ve released many different riffs on the style since, and some other breweries in the UK are also now experimenting with the style.
The key characteristics would be a beer light in colour, with a clean malt bill (often just a lager malt) that allows an unabridged hop expression. Because of this we’d expect a wider spectrum of possible flavours to come through in the style than in a WCIPA. They’re pretty heavily hopped, more so than a quintessential West Coast IPA, so a natural haze could be present (but won’t always be). The real trademark for us, that we feel has carried through all our experimentation with the style thus far, and it has in common with a WCIPA, is a fantastic resinous bitterness. We find they’re often quite smooth in terms of mouthfeel, bordering on soft to some drinkers. They’re designed to be fun beers to drink and a great base for experimentation, as we’ll explore here, and not restricted in some of the ways a WCIPA would be.
To give some examples of how you can approach the California IPA, we currently have 3 unique interpretations out in the wild. Silver Strand offers waves of fresh, clean bitterness weaving in and out of punchy pineapple and guava notes from hop contingent of El Dorado, Mosaic and Cascade. It’s direct and refreshing. Crystal Cove takes a different approach (dare we say it - a little West Coast inspired), with more colour coming through in the hearty malts and just a touch more sweetness than usual, playing against beautiful orange notes from vibrant Amarillo and Mandarina Bavaria hops.
Neo Normal is something different again. This was originally created to show off the qualities of Talus. We’ve found that the crisp base and candid bitterness is a perfect complement to the hop, with pithy pink grapefruit for days.
We’ve also taken it in some directions away from the IPA sweet spot. Flex and Surface Waves are examples of lower abv versions, pitched as California Pale Ale. We’re trying to recreate the resinous bitterness at a slightly more accessible and sessionable strength. Both pop with fruity aromas and remain hugely satisfying to drink. On the absolute opposite end of the spectrum, we recently also introduced High Definition.
Here we teamed up once more with Green Cheek to brew a California TIPA. The challenge of brewing an 11.1% Triple IPA with only light, crisp lager malts was exciting. Resinous bitterness balances the inherent alcohol sweetness, while on the palate there’s an onslaught of incredible hops with delicious ripe tropical fruit notes, dank aromas and burnt orange citrus. It remains crisp and dry despite the strength and retains nuance in a style that can risk being overrun with broad strokes. We think it’s a great way to take on Triple IPAs.
We’ll keep updating this blog if there are any questions we can cover and will endeavour to keep documenting how we’re working with these beers, and what we’re learning. In the meantime, let us know your take on the style through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram!
All California IPAs mentioned here are available on our webshop and feature in our amazing Father’s Day beer gifts. High Definition, and almost everything else we do, is available from your favourite independent beer retailer! Silver Strand is available in selected Sainsbury’s stores. Crystal Cove is available in selected ASDA stores. Surface Waves is available in selected Morrison’s stores.