IPA. A beer style so transcendentally popular that it inevitably began to spawn sub-styles. Red, black, while, Cold, Brut … the list kept growing. But it was that West Coast American style of big, resinous and bitter beer that rose to power and became the model for what was considered modern IPA globally.
The more niche styles orbited the West Coast mode in relative peace and harmony until… The East Coast Hazy IPA emerged and began an astronomically rapid rise, now holding so much power that it looks like it might have already won the war of the coasts.
Most people have a favourite, and I’m admittedly a bit of a West Coast loyalist myself. But Brothers Beer have embarked on a project that will give drinkers the opportunity to compare the styles more empirically. They’ve brewed two IPAs with the same hops and same malt bill (well almost the same, the East Coast has a small percentage of wheat malt added to kick up the haze). Beyond that the only differences are in the yeast used and the handling of the beer during its production.
The mix of Sabro, Mosaic and Riwaka hops gives a lemon/grapefruit citrus aroma, with apricot, pine and rosemary in support. This essential mix of aromas is expressed similarly between the two beers, but the character varies. East is sharp and tangy, representing the citrus more strongly. West, on the other hand has a much deeper pungency, with the stone fruit and pine more evident.
The differences become even more stark on the palate. East is all about ripeness and juiciness, with tropical flavours of mango and rockmelon entering the mix. Big fruit salad energy. West meanwhile, is much drier and distinctly grapefruity up front, with the pine much more in charge of the mid-palate. But the biggest difference, and the one that ultimately sways me, is the bitterness.
Both are bitter beers, and you could probably go and trot out some IBUs if you wanted, but the quantity of bitterness isn’t really key. It’s the relationship that these two have with bitterness that really sets things apart. The East deploys it late, barrelling down on those super-ripe flavours and pulling the cord right at the last second, while West does things the opposite way around. The bitterness is both immediate and intrinsic to its flavour, it’s embraced rather than shied away from.
Brothers Beer is currently running a poll, so we’ll see in time who gets the popular vote, but for me I’m sticking with the West on this one, I just need that bitterness. But if beer tastes remain in their current popular holding pattern then I may well be in the minority, we’ll just have to wait for the results.