A beer I love to drink and love to make, is Ska’s Modus Mandarina, an IPA brewed with orange peels and dry-hopped with Mandarina Bavaria hops. It’s got all the bitterness of a traditional IPA, but with smoothness and approachability provided by the orange additions. The refreshment it provides is well worth all the pains of its crafting. There are dozens of other breweries doing IPAs with fruit additions as well. Some are amazing, others are lackluster, but Modus Mandarina is definitely in the upper echelon to me. Ska might not have invented the IPA + Fruit craze, but we’re not riding on anybody’s coattails, either. So what are some of the standouts and some of the duds in this craze?
Tropical Bitch/Flying Dog
To start out, let’s be real honest: There’s not a damn thing to do with Belgian ale yeast but appreciate it for the dingy gym sock that it is, grin and bear it or cover it up with sour fermentation or hops or barrel aging or fruit or something. No matter what you do, it’ll still be Belgian. No one will ever say that they like their romantic interest like they like their Belgian Ale: old with the spicy aroma of a basement-dwelling swamp monster and a little more funk on the backend. But! What I really liked about this Belgian fruit IPA is that it doesn’t attempt to tame or cover up the Belgian funk, but balance it. I know that the word “balance” gets thrown around a lot and is really either a cliché or code word for “doesn’t really stand out,” but Tropical Bitch really doesn’t muzzle the yeast with fruit or hops, nor does it let it run free, either. Tropical Bitch doesn’t fit in with the other beers in this category very well because it’s Belgian. The fact that it’s definitely a Belgian in the aroma and in the flavor, yet still crushable and refreshing, is a small miracle of brewery magic. Also, I like the name, Tropical Bitch, because I get to say bitch as many times as I feel the need to mention the name of the beer.
Seeing and drinking Citradelic, a new offering by New Belgium, is like seeing someone in a Carolina Panthers jersey: you’re not going to blame them for their choice of team (everyone wants to be associated with a winner), but you both know they don’t own any Panthers gear older than Cam Newton’s contract with the team, and there’s probably a Seahawks jersey underneath it. This beer should be a winner: delicious and trendy hops (Citra), tangerines and a brewery that knows how to brew delicious beer. But there’s nothing that screams at you. No amazing trait that stands out. It’s balanced to the point of boredom. It’s not synergy of flavors; it’s wearing tone-on-tone clothes: you look like a 6-year-old who’d been put in charge of matching their shirt and pants. This is a shame to me because New Belgium brews some great beer, especially sours, and I love Slow Ride and Ranger IPA. But Citradelic seems like a bandwagon beer.
Grapefruit Sculpin/Ballast Point
The originator. The dominator. The champ. THE FRUIT IPA. Grapefruit Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point is what a fruit IPA is supposed to be and all others seem to be modeled after. The fruit is evident without being obvious. The hops are present without being pushy. And the whole experience is pleasant and refreshing without feeling gimmicky or trendy, but a natural progression of flavor. Grapefruit Sculpin is so popular that Ballast Point has even expanded the line to include a pineapple version and a habanero version of its Sculpin IPA, as well as a watermelon version of its Double IPA. Now I can say that the pineapple isn’t bad, but the fruitiness tends to come off as sweetness instead of a symbiotic flavor relationship like the grapefruit version (I’m not going to even try the habanero version because chile+beer is not good unless there’s (1) sweetness (2) sourness).
I’ve heard little whispers here and there that we’ve hit “peak IPA” or the IPA bubble has popped, but as long as breweries keep tweaking the traditional IPA and giving drinkers something new and something exciting, I think we can count on IPA being the top seller for years still.
Robert Alan Wendeborn puts the bubbles in the beer at Ska Brewing Co. His first book of poetry, The Blank Target, was published this past spring by The Lettered Streets Press and is available at Maria’s Bookshop. [email protected]