The West Coast is Hoppin’

BYOB by | Sep 2009 | Issue #32

Illustration by Scott Murry

A while back, I realized that, unchecked, my brewing habits tend to run big and hoppy. Despite my best efforts, every other brew ends up bitter and biting. I know I’m not alone in this. Hell, I’m willing to bet that right now, as I write, at least half of America’s homebrewers have something obnoxiously bitter ready to drink.

This past June, David Brattstrom, mastermind of the American Homebrewers Association’s National Homebrewers Conference Club Night, challenged attending brewers: Bring your single best “West Coast IPA.” Now, don’t get offended, my brothers from another coast, but out West, we dose our hops with hops and call that a start. We’re still trying to find new ways to stuff them in there. During the party, the Washington Homebrewers Association (WAHA) had an espresso machine set up as a “Northwest Randall.” It might be a bit absurd, but what’s life worth if you can’t get a little crunked on an overstuffed brew?

Attendees to Club Night faced a daunting 34 clubs, each pouring a different IPA, some pouring multiple. Simply walking the cavernous hall and tasting each entry challenged even the hardiest drinkers. And when you consider that there were 500-plus kegs of beers to sample, well, you can get the idea.

Armed with voting chips, the public wandered from booth to booth pounding the concrete floor, tasting and throwing their chips in the bucket of their favorite. After a hard four hours of drinking, contemplating and voting, the public had their winner: Julian Shrago, the shaved-head terror of the Long Beach Homebrewers, and his crowd-pleasing Melrose IPA. In what must be a recurring jinx for this column, like last year’s winner (a Weizenbock), Julian can’t share the winning recipe due to commercial obligations.

But the J-ster, like you and me, has more than one award-winning IPA up his sleeve and on tap. Though it wasn’t in competition, the Laurel IPA still had tongues sizzling and wagging as one of the best and most kickass IPAs. Laurel IPA exemplifies the modern West Coast IPA-design philosophy. Julian approaches IPAs as an inherently unbalanced style. He uses a very light hand with the Crystal and Carapils malts to achieve a very dry finish without the beer tasting thin. The Crystal adds just enough sweetness to play with the resiny and fruity characters of American hops.

He eschews the all-or-nothing approach espoused by those in favor of late-hopped beers for an evenly distributed hop schedule that creates an assertive, but not crushing, bitterness and maximum hop flavor. He favors low-cohumulone hops, like Summit, for their clean bittering properties. To avoid a muddled profile, he layers the same hop varieties throughout the kettle and dry hopping for complementing aromas and flavors. He also likes to pile on the dry hops—multiple varieties for increased aroma.

The Shrago Method for Dangerously Drinkable West Coast IPAs:
1) Firm bitterness
2) Huge hop flavor
3) Big hop aroma
4) Dry malt character with very light caramel accents

Now, no one has a lock on the meaning of IPA—not Julian, or even the West Coast. Maybe you’re a Crystal-loving traditionalist, or maybe you seek the mythical, Zen-like qualities of “balance.” But with hop prices coming down and the world missing a good “East Coast” versus “West Coast” battle, maybe it’s time to fire off your own salvo in the IPA wars.

For 6.0 gallons at 1.066 (75% efficiency), 6.8 SRM, 94 IBU, 90 minute boil, 6.6% ABV

Malt / Grain
14.0 lb. American two-row malt
8.0 oz Carapils malt
6.0 oz Crystal 40L

Saccharification rest at 151°F for 60 minutes

0.85 oz. Amarillo (pellets) | 8.2% AA | First wort hopped
0.65 oz. Summit (pellets) | 18.1% AA | 60 minutes
0.85 oz. Centennial (pellets) | 9.5% AA | 30 minutes
0.35 oz. Columbus (pellets) | 4.5% AA | 10 minutes
0.35 oz. Simcoe (pellets) | 12.7% AA | 10 minutes
0.65 oz. Amarillo (pellets) | 8.2% AA | 0 minutes
0.85 oz. Amarillo (pellets) | 8.2% AA | dry hop
0.85 oz. Centennial (pellets) | 9.5% AA | dry hop
0.85 oz. Summit (pellets) | 18.1% AA | dry hop

Wyeast 1056 Chico Ale / WLP 001 – California Ale / US-05