How do you create a new beer style? Brew something different, give it a catchy name, hope it catches on… oh, and make sure it’s an IPA.
Like most re-imaginations of IPA this century, it should also be nothing like an IPA at all.
In the case of Urbanaut’s Crystal IPA, it’s so far removed from looking like an IPA it could be mistaken for a glass of water. Or perhaps Champagne?
Whether this version catches on remains to be seen, but it seems like a natural progression for a wider industry that has spent the best part of 100 years looking for clearer and clearer beer.
This Crystal IPA is many things; it riffs off seltzer to an extent, it extends the idea of a Brut IPA, it’s so totally about the hops – and it yet it’s also a 180 degree reverse of the current hazy hegemony.
My first question, from a technical perspective, is how?
As Urbanaut founder Bruce Turner explains, it starts with super-light malt. They trialled a few and went with Lager Light from Gladfield. There’s also some Gladiator for head retention and raw barley.
Activated carbon granules are added to the fermenter which strip out some colour, before the beer is run through a centrifuge to get it as bright as possible, before running it through a carbon filter “until we get the required clarity – we’re looking for the colour of water”.
It’s hopped at five stages: in the boil, whirlpool, dry-hopped before and after filtration (with a hop cannon) and then some hop oil is added.
“The hops are what we want the style to represent, in the same way hazies are all about hops. But this is on the opposite end of the the IPA spectrum to what a hazy is; it’s clear, dry and won’t have a malt bill to hide behind. The malt character will appear little to none. Whether it’s going to one dimensional, only time will tell.”
Turner says the beer will be “beyond Brut”, with all the sugar fermented out. “With our experience from Bruts, we know it will pick up sweetness from the alcohol and hops.”
The second question is why?
I accept there’s a fascination with super-clear beer. I well remember the story brewer Ben Middlemiss told to me about his work with the legendary DB genius, Morton Coutts, towards the end of his century-long life, when Coutts became obsessed with brewing a beer as clear as possible. The colour of chardonnay was what he was after, Middlemiss recalled.
I tell Turner this story and it’s not one he’s heard.
His thinking came from the same place that has made Urbanaut one of the most innovative breweries in the country: his own mind.
Urbanaut are launching a six-pack for Beervana called Fantastic Voyage which features six different IPAs – West Coast, Hazy, Black, Red, Brut and this new clear version.
“We thought `why don’t we try to throw an option out there or what a new IPA could be’. And I thought ‘what’s the complete opposite of hazy?’.”
He started searching “clear beer” on Google and found there were few experiments in Japan at the turn of the century. “But I couldn’t find anything about a clear IPA. If the hops come forward as we expect, it will be a really interesting drinking experience – it will look like water with a beautiful head.”