Pushing the IPA envelope so far it rips

Daughter, Mrs Zythophile and I played a new game as we negotiated the M1 last week (or at least I did): spot other saloon cars laden to the roof with the finest Ikea supplies for fitting out a new undergraduate’s bedroom and kitchen. I won’t lie, I was slightly disappointed that Daughter did so well in her A levels she was able to spurn an offer from Liverpool University and flutter her eyelashes at York instead, which swiftly threw open the gates of the city. Sorry, Scousers: it’s not you, it’s us. I had many happy hours in the pubs of Merseyside when I was not that far out of studenthood myself. But the rest of the family were delighted that York was now the destination, and I could at least explore the pubs and bars of a city I’m ashamed to say, soft southern Jessie that I am, I hardly know.

First impressions were good, apart from all the bouncers on the doors at 3pm. What time does it usually kick off in Tykeland? In London we like to leave it until well after we’ve had our cocoa before we need the A&E. It’s desperately infra dig to lump anybody before 11pm, unless there’s a footie match in the vicinity.

Mind, I felt like lumping someone when I saw the pump clip pictured here, in an otherwise very pleasant and friendly craft beer bar in the middle of the city. It’s from Eye Brewing, based near Leeds, which claims to be “the UK’s first wheat brewery”, an assertion the white ale brewers of Devon and Cornwall in the 19th century and before would have forthrightly rejected, as would the monkish brewers at establishments such as St Paul’s Cathedral in London, where ale was being brewed on a considerable scale in the 13th century using wheat and oats, as well as barley.

Worse, of course, was the claim that the beer, sold under the name Kleiner Wasted, was a “session white IPA with tropical fruits”, which squeezes four oxymorons into just six words, surely a record. OK, I know “session IPA” is now supposed to be a thing, but the beer’s specs, according to Eye’s website, include an abv of 3.6 per cent and 30 EBUs. That’s both weaker and less bitter than Eye’s own “wheat best bitter” (35 EBUs) and well below the US norm for a “session IPA” (around 4.5 to five per cent abv).

Next, a hoppy wheat beer is not, in any sense, a “white IPA”, it’s a hoppy wheat beer. And last, it’s good that, as Eye’s website greenly boasts, Kleiner Wasted is made with mangoes, pineapples and papayas saved from landfill by the Real Junk Food project, and it’s a novel idea to match the tropical fruit flavours found in many modern hops (Waimea, from New Zealand, goes into Kleiner Wasted, apparently, but that’s described as a hop with citrus and pine flavours rather than mango/passionfruit) but “fruit IPAs” are not any sort of category I’m aware of, snd if they are I’d guarantee they’re all stronger and more bitter than Kleiner Wasted.

Still, the description given by the brewery made my purchasing decision easy (no sale, obviously – it sounded vile) and it generated some predictable fun on Twitter when I posted a picture of the pump clip and announced that the Beer Style Police had been informed and arrests were imminent. The Canadian beer blogger Alan McLeod had a one-word response: “Aaaaarrrrgh!” (There may have been more or fewer A’s and R’s – I wasn’t counting.)

Ironically, a week later I’m at the Norse Kornøl Festival in Hornindal in deepest rural West Norway (kornøl being the local term for what is known elsewhere as gårdøl, farm ale) and while most of the beers available are from amateurs, one of the beers from a professional brewery, Nøgne Ø, is a “Norwegian black IPA with juniper branches and kveik [Norwegian farmhouse yeast]” . Hypocritical of me, but THAT I had to try.

I was discussing this “pushing the IPA envelope until it rips” with Georgina Young, head brewer at Fuller’s, on Tuesday (I was giving a talk on “historic breweries on the banks of the Thames” to 90-plus members of the Chiswick Pier Trust, and Georgina was following this with a tutored tasting of beers from the last London Thames-side brewery elect), and she rolled her eyes: I don’t think she was in the mood to hear about wacko IPAs, since she had apparently spent the afternoon arguing with Fullers’ marketing department about the need to maintain production of Bengal Lancer, Fuller’s own “properly English” IPA, made with masses of Goldings and Fuggles. As she said, modern American IPAs are all well and fine, but if a brewery like Fullers can’t make a British IPA, what’s the point? Marketing, apparently, disagrees …

9 thoughts on “Pushing the IPA envelope so far it rips”

  1. Always a pleasure to read, but when the “Style Polizei” arrived, did they decide to let the assailant go based on the 2015 BJCP guidelines for competitions? While I dislike the drive to categorize everything – especially with the way it is being done in America – I think you can make a case this fits. Category 29A is for fruit beer and it directs that the fruit be named and that a base style be named. The specifics of gravity, bitterness, etc. are left to the base style, but not constrained. Flipping to the silly (to me) White IPA style of beer – at least 21B states it is less of a style and more of a competition category – but it specifically mentions the use of “distinctive yeast and/or spice additions typical of a
    Belgian witbier.” Where it seems to fail is if it is held to the gravity requirements for the specialty category of White IPA (ABV: 5.5 – 7.0%). However, the beginning of 21B that requires the strength category be specified or the specialty category’s requirements hold. In this case they list “Session – ABV: 3.0 – 5.0%” as an option. So, there you have it – not a style perhaps, but the police might let them off were they headed to a BJCP sanctioned competition. Not as fascinating as the potential “St. Patrick’s Day Green IPA” or “Romulan Blue IPA” that the competition guide suggests, but it’ll work. This is one reason why I eschew homebrew competitions. (Why no Vulcan Green IPA for Bones?) Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to try to find Fuller’s Bengal Lancer somewhere because it is worth my money.

  2. How can Fuller’s be thinking of discontinuing Bengal Lancer? I thought I bought enough of it myself to keep it in production, and others must enjoy it because some bastard keeps clearing the shelf in my local co-op. Surely there’s still room for an old fashioned English hopped ipa?

  3. Bengal Lancer has disappeared from the shelves of our local Sainsburys. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person buying it. I hope the Fulller’s marketing team aren’t using stats that show sales are dropping when it may be a case of afficionados not being able to get it. I think the marketing team need to think again and pull their finger out
    Oh, and “session white IPA with tropical fruits”? Yeeeeeeeeuuuuuuk!!!!!

  4. I wonder what the marketing team would like to replace BL with? Something vile with the prerequisite ‘bursting with tropical fruit’ bollocks I expect.

  5. Kleiner wasted from eyes, think I share your grumble on style description but I enjoyed the beer and that’s the important bit. Far as bengal lancer goes its the better end of easily available supermarket beers but no tears if it became a seasonal special (I can see a loss to our beer heritage if it vanished altogether or was tweaked past point of recognition)

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