American craft beer has become more popular than ever. Literally and figuratively, the entire world seems to be chasing the hottest brews rather than following classic styles. Trends are a dime a dozen, but few have rapidly gained traction like the brut IPA. This emerging sub-style of India pale ale almost appears to be a direct response to the explosion of the hazy/juicy beers in the last couple of years. The concept of a dry, effervescent but aromatic IPA has captured the attention of brewers tired of making milkshake-like beverages many find too sweet.
San Francisco’s Social Kitchen & Brewery is considered the birthplace of the brut. Head brewer Kim Sturdavant first made what was called Hop Champagne in November 2017 and it didn’t take long for the one-off to become a burgeoning style of international interest.
“I always thought about making a 6.5-7% IPA that was just bone dry and sparkling with hop character — as champagne-like as possible,” says Sturdavant on his inspiration for the trend. “The brut IPA is taking their type of balance (dry, but not bitter) to an extreme, and then also adding ‘rules,’ like keeping the color as pale as possible, to achieve this champagne-like hoppy beer experience that literally has no residual sugar.”
Before long, fellow Bay Area brewers at Magnolia Brewing, Triple Voodoo Brewery and Cellarmaker Brewing Co. began taking stabs at the style, and by May 2018 it had reached Portland. Trever Bass, head brewer at Gresham’s Migration Brewing, was among the first in the state to make one called Hi-Li Brut IPA in collaboration with Portland’s Baerlic Brewing Company.
“I had some Social Kitchen brut and read everything I could get my hands on that was written by Bay Area authors about interpretations from various breweries putting their thumbprint on them,” says Bass.
He believes the brut has five characteristics:
1. Low bitterness with a similar hop approach as New England-style IPAs
2. A simple malt recipe
3. The beer needs to attenuate well (ferment out dry). Enzyme can be used, but may not be necessary
4. High carbonation
5. Emphasis on hop flavor and aroma
One commonality among the various bruts so far is the use of amyloglucosidase, an enzyme that aids in breaking down starches and sugars for yeast to feed on. It creates an unusually dry, champagne-like beer. Light, simple malt bills and strong hop aroma have also helped define the sub-style.
The ingredients may be simple, but there are challenges. The enzyme breaks down starches so thoroughly, it creates a light, pale beer with a thin body and low bitterness. That results in a product that tastes little like an IPA. There’s speculation that due to the enzyme’s addition during fermentation, its presence in the finished beer is actually breaking down hop and malt compounds to create diminishing returns of flavor and aroma.
Furthermore, it’s possible that the yeast is more prone to creating the off-flavor diacetyl due to overwork by the enzyme in its continual breakdown of new starches and sugars. Brewers have already started to address these issues, which should lead to an interesting evolvement of the brut.
Portland’s Ruse Brewing released its first brut for the 2018 Portland Fruit Beer Festival and hit on two likely ways the sub-style will improve. In addition to the simple malt bill, the brewers fermented the batch on pinot gris grapes to accentuate the already sparkling white wine character that is its hallmark. That move also added dimension to the flavor provided by Nelson Sauvin and Mosaic hops. Most importantly, the brewers put the beer through a diacetyl test, leaving time for the yeast to wrap things up and lessen the chance the beer would develop that buttery flavor.
Some brewers are also experimenting with adjuncts to lighten the flavor and body of the beer instead of using the enzyme. Others have incorporated the enzyme into the mash instead of adding it during fermentation.
If you’re curious about trying a brut, here are some Oregon brewers making one: Culmination Brewing, Great Notion Brewing, Hopworks Urban Brewery, Level Beer, Migration Brewing, Ruse Brewing and Sasquatch Brewing. •