A Guinness IPA? You Betcha!

GuinnessNitroIPAI asked the million dollar question: Why do European brewers feel the need to create IPAs for the American hop heads driving the market?

Behind the bar was Domhnall Marnell, from Guinness, who had just handed a select group of beer writers and industry peeps a can of Guinness Nitro IPA. His lilting Irish accent belied the achievement of the American premiere of the beer at The Growler Bites & Brews on Stone Street (a lovely bar, even if it does require crossing FiDi Bridge and Tunnelers to get to it).

While acknowledging the merit of the question, he quickly dismissed it as “much ado about nothing,” noting that innovation has always been a trademark of the Guinness brand. After all, if it weren’t for Guinness, it’s possible that nitrogen might never have been used as a carbonation for beer.

There’s been a lot of discord in the craft beer community about various buyouts of existing brands and mergers among others, but a growing discontent is also starting to register among those of us who like the purity laws, be they Germany’s strict Reinheitsgebot or simply a traditional saison recipe handed down from one generation to the next at Brasserie Dupont. We may love our 100 IBU American-style IPAs (India Pale Ales), but we respect the diversity that craft offers us and we don’t want to see European style go all Levis jeans and Nike shoes (to offer up a metaphor).

Well, here’s the good news. Despite the presence of five (FIVE!) different hops in the Guinness Nitro IPA, the beer weighs in at a relatively paltry 44 IBUs. The only hops used throughout the brewing process is Admiral, with Celia and Topaz being added at mid-boil. While the company is boasting about its dry-hopping with Challenger and Cascade, the truth is they are infusing the dry hops rather than actually doing traditional dry hopping. This is reflected in the nose, which gives off very little of the distinctive aromas beer drinkers expect from a dry hopped beer. (For more on the brewing of this beer, check out the four-minute video courtesy of Guinness, below).

So, is there bad news to go with the good? Not really. The beer is a reasonable English IPA, with the novelty of being – per the company slogan –  “Supremely smooth. Unmistakably Guinness.” The beer employs the same yeast that is used in the stout, so there’s no mistaking it for another brand. And the nitrogen adds an element of surprise: It was comical as we experienced IPA drinkers were gingerly pouring the Nitro IPA into our glasses, expecting the foam-up that occurs from a CO2-infused IPA. Domhnall bemusedly had to cajole us into pouring our beers more quickly, assuring us that the beer would not foam over the glass. It didn’t. However, there is still a wait for drinking a Guinness IPA, only it’s on the back end, not the pouring end. The distinctive caramel head that forms in a Guinness Stout is also present in the IPA; the cloudy beer clears to a deep amber after about 90 seconds.

This is not a beer that will win over any hop heads. However, it is a beer that many Guinness drinkers will enjoy. At 5.8% ABV, the IPA is a “big” beer by Guinness standards (the stout is traditionally around 4% when served in Europe) but still fairly sessionable by American IPA standards.

So, is nitrogen going to take over IPAs the way that it has stouts? Unlikely. At least not stateside. The NO2 reduces the bitterness and bite that most IPA drinkers have come to expect. Palate fatigue aside, I think this is more of a “gateway” (and you know how much I hate that term) IPA for people who don’t really like IPAs. Although there are a couple other brewers experimenting with nitrogen-infused IPAs, I don’t think the mouthfeel is as compelling as with a stout. Plus, there’s the reality that bars aren’t going to take over their few nitro lines with an IPA. Guinness has its trademarked widget ball in cans, meaning bars can easily stock the cans in lieu of (or in addition to) draught.

If this is what the European IPA market looks like, I’m on board. A parallel style that hearkens to tradition over bandwagoning onto an already over-saturated American IPA presence. And your Guinness-drinking friends will love it.

Here in Hop Heaven… My First Trip to San Diego

This is what 30 years... and 30 pounds... looks like! Living it up with my personal tour guide in San Diego!

This is what 30 years… and 30 pounds… looks like! Living it up with my personal tour guide in San Diego!

I ended up coming to this year’s Beer Bloggers Conference in large part owing to the location. While I thoroughly enjoyed BBC13 in Portland, ME, last year, the easy (and fairly inexpensive) transportation was a key reason for my being in attendance. There is nothing easy about getting to San Diego from NYC (okay, well, there are plenty of non-stop flights, so it’s not like I was gonna walk here), but I had never been to the city and it was certainly on my bucket list to get out here and try some local SoCal brews.

My initial impression of the beer scene here is that it’s light years ahead of NYC. The very first beer I had was at Council Brewing Co., a nano-brewer run by (female! yay!) brewmaster Liz Chism. Chism, who works the brewery along side her husband Curtis, is a sign language interpreter by day, amazing homebrewer by night. I was stunned to hear that she had no formal training, because her beers are truly outstanding. This isn’t to say that homebrewers don’t make outstanding beers, only to say that these beers would stand up against any eastern large brewers’ beers.

Council Brewing Co. brewmaster Liz Chism.

Council Brewing Co. brewmaster Liz Chism.

My friend Brian, who I hadn’t seen in 30 years, took me to the off-the-beaten-path brewery housed in an industrial park. I started with a flight that included three different IPAs. While their homonymic IPA, Chizzam!, was outstanding, it was their Quorum IPA with Jarrylo Hops that was bringing in the locals (it had just been poured). I’m a beer lover and not a judge, but this was the least IPA-tasting IPA I think I’ve had. There was zero nose; I mean, like, none! Even Liz admitted to a low-scent beer (it was getting busy at that point, and I was more interested in catching up with my friend than quizzing the beer maker, but I’m guessing no additional hops added to the fermentation). Even the flavor was not overly hopped. The Yakima Valley experimental hop (pronounced yar-I-lo with emphasis on the “i”) is very subtle, despite having a relatively high AA (~15%). I would have guessed it was a hoppy Belgian style ale, and not an IPA at all.

But it was the third entry, their Gavel Drop IPA made with New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops that made me feel like I was no longer in Kansas—er, Brooklyn—anymore. Very intense aroma and taste. Initially, after the subtlety of the Chizzam!, I was put off by it. But after finishing the delicious (and deceptively high in alcohol) Pirate’s Breakfast Imperial Oatmeal Stout, the Gavel Drop really grew on me.

BelchingBeaverMoving on, Brian took me to Tiger!Tiger! where I paired Hops of Hope by Noble Ale Works (again, outstanding) with a spicy house-made bratwurst and poutine (which was the only thing that was less-than-impressive). Already pretty tipsy at this point, I was escorted around the corner to the wickedly named Belching Beaver (sadly, they were out of the ladies’ tank tops), where I managed to chill my palate with one of their famous milk stouts (I had the Peanut Butter, a great dessert beer).

Brian told me that even though Council opened three months ago (their grand opening was a mere two months ago), they are far from the newest brewery in San Diego. I don’t know much about the politics to opening a brewery in California, but the quality and quantity of beer means that I will be able to dip my toe into the waters but slightly. I’m going to head out in a bit to explore some more (this is my only full free day, and I’ve spent the entire morning working). Can’t wait to see what further treats the craft beer world of San Diego has in store for The Bitch!