Much like action films, Starbucks and fast food hamburgers, America has created a trend with the IPA, and it is currently spreading across the globe. Breweries from Asia to Europe, New Zealand to New York are brewing the hop-heavy brew and with a ton of variety and innovation (and a lot of similarities, to be honest). And because of this trend, walking down the import aisle at the local liquor store is starting to look like the craft isle. To see if the imported craft beer holds its own against the American craft, I tasted a few imported IPAs.
The first brew I tried was from a Japanese brewery that, because of the label and language barriers, I couldn’t tell you what the name of the brewery was, but with some googling and beer detective work, I figured it out: It’s by Kiuchi Brewery, which started in 1823 as a sake brewer, but began brewing craft beer in 1996 under the name Hitachino Nest. The specific beer I purchased was Dai Dai Ale, an orange IPA. There was some writing on the side of the bottle and the numbers 99 percent and 6.2 percent, so I’m assuming the 6.2 percent was the ABV and the 99 percent was for how awesome the beer is. With soda-like carbonation, a thick, hazy appearance, Dai Dai was cool and refreshing up front, with lots of strong floral notes and a strong flavor of orange bitters in the finish. It also had some very enjoyable organic earthy notes that didn’t seem hoppy or malty, but a yeast or production/storage character that really set it apart from a typical IPA, especially the typical fruit IPA.
In the same geographic vicinity, The Yeastie Boys from New Zealand makes an IPA with Earl Grey Tea called Gunnamatta. This IPA was on another level, with every aspect of the beer being highlighted. It had a beautiful rusted gold color and very floral-based aromas. The flavor was a powerful and aroma-driven Fruit Loop cereal combination with a great herbaceous bitterness in the end balancing the residual sugars. Even with all this going on, it was still a smooth ride all the way to the end.
Before this tour de IPA, I had never had a Danish beer, but Amager Bryghus is gaining an international reputation. They’ve done numerous collaborations with other craft breweries, such as Jester King and Mikkeller. The beer I tasted, Orange Crush Session IPA, is a collaboration with Cigar City based in Tampa, Florida. Orange Crush is a bit of a contradiction: it’s clean and dirty; it’s refreshing and challenging; it’s bold and subtle. The 750 mL-bottle was poured into three glasses and each got more and more hazy and even had heavy particles and sludge in the third glass. The first glass was smooth and clean and refreshing with a really heavy pop of orange soda and a strong orange rind bitterness. Tons of little floral notes in the aroma that only come in if you’re pushing through the orange. The sessionable qualities were obvious. The second glass with heavy haze and a few particles was more earthy, herbal, with a stronger roasted character coming out. This was a totally different beer. And the third glass was literally undrinkable as it was half sludge.
It’s really awesome to see the IPA being taken in different directions both geographically and artistically. As a style in the States, it’s still evolving (I think the Beer Judge Certification Program keeps adding a new style of IPA every year) and as the style gets more diverse overseas, that will keep adding to the diversity in the already-packed IPA section of the beer shelf.
Robert Alan Wendeborn is a former cellar operator at Ska Brewing and current lead cellar operator at Tin Roof Brewing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.