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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Decided: West Coast IPA is ...

The definitions are in. West Coast IPAs are:
  • 1) no caramel malts 2) unbalanced (really, no desire to be balanced), leaning heavily toward hops, both of these contributing to 3) a drier ipa than non-wcipas.
  • A heavily hopped IPA with at least 6 percent alcohol and 60 IBUs.
  • The key is a complete lack of balance, no strong malt backbone competing with the hops.
  • It is used to describe an IPA that is high on the bitterness scale and that typically exudes citrus, grapefruit, pineapple, and other fruits. It is thrown around pretty loosely.
  • Gloriously lacking in balance. Just a liquid hop delivery vehicle.

On the other hand, they are also:

  • Just IPA made on the West Coast.
  • If a "West Coat IPA" is all of the things that has been mentioned in this thread, what, then, is an American-style IPA? Do we honestly believe there's enough of a difference between the two to the extent that "West Coast IPA" should be substantiated as its own style?

And finally, Jim F characterized how I was feeling about all of this when he wrote:

I think the term West Coast IPA charitably implies that NW IPA's have intense hop flavor (exceptions exist, but to me NW IPA's are characterized by balance). ["West Coast"] really ought to be California IPA, because that, to me, is where the hop bomb was popularized.

Ultimately, I think you have various flavors of the same fruit. Even if we grant that West Coast IPA is a low-malt, dry, super-bitter hop bomb, it's not really enough to peel it off from the IPA category. It's a step further out on the spectrum, but it's part of the family. I hope (but have no confidence) that the style lords in Denver never decide to add this "style."

That said, I do think that whatever this beast is we're pointing to is very much a species of California. We have scads of IPAs here in the Northwest, but these descriptions just don't fit. (Lots of Northern California IPAs are in the NW camp, too.) The balance point on a beer like Ninkasi Total Domination or Fort George Vortex--or hell, even Hair of the Dog Blue Dot--may be toward hops, but they never jump off a sweet, balancing hop base. Those beers are also deeply aromatic and flavorful, not just bitter. You don't get those juicy. funky/citrusy aromas and flavors if it's cranked too far toward bitterness.

So there: sort of a style, but not enough of one to start arguing about names.


  1. Please tell me where these fit:

    Firestone Walker Union Jack
    Russian River Blind Pig

  2. I think you boiled it down just right Jeff. There seemed to be two groups: One taking the term west coast ipa literally and applying it to all ipas produced on the west coast, and therefore the low malt/way out of balance desription made no sense. The other group referred to a specific segment of unbalanced bitter hop bombs proliferating out of California (san Diego County, really) regionally referred to as "West Coast IPA". A poor name, obviously, as it clearly does not apply to all IPAs brewed out west. I have heard it referred to as San Diego style IPA which, while kind of silly, makes more sense than West Coast IPA.

    For a beer geek like me I think the term is somewhat useful. If a unfamiliar beer is described to me as a West Coast IPA, I'd expect something in the realm of a Stone IPA or Green Flash West Coast IPA. Descibed as a Northwest IPA, I'd expect something like a Laurelwood Workhorse IPA. An East Coast IPA? I'm thinking Harpoon IPA, though "East Coast IPA" is a not common descriptor.

    In any case, in no way do I think West Coast IPA deserves a separate style category. Was anyone really suggesting that?

  3. I would change the "no" caramel malts to "very low" or "low". A lot of those beers do in fact have caramel malts, just less than 5% usually.

  4. it not an East Coast / West Coast rivalry until someone goes down in a hail of gunfire.

    *pours a Black Top IPA on the ground. drops mic.*

  5. I'd call 'em IPAs, Stan, but then, I'm the odd man out here.

    Tim, I think the constant repetition of WCIPA as its own thing suggests that there is a lot of energy around defining it as a style. That's how styles evolve.

  6. I still think a west coast IPA can be perfectly balanced without the caramel malt. i just don't like my IPA's tasting like a barleywine, or a light version of it.

    Glowing orange beer, frothy foam, glorious hops, and a wonderful biscuit and bready touch to the grain. Also I believe most of my favorites are brewed with wheat malt as well. We've got the hops, and we've got them fresh. I just have never tasted an IPA from anywhere else like a fine Port Brewing IPA, or Russian River for the matter. But I too feel that the NW makes the best pine resinous floral grassy bitter IPA's too... which don't play in the same field as a west coast IPA in my book.

    WC IPA: High Tide or Wipe Out

    Oregon IPA: Hopworks, LW Workhorse

    Other: Anything not made over this way...

    Kinda my cheesy way of breaking down the flavor and other differences. Cheers to good IPA's!

  7. An important element from a brewer's perspective that noone has mentioned is that, in my opinion, West Coast IPAs must be dry-hopped.

  8. Oh, yes. I never meant to suggest that "West Coast IPA" should be considered a separate style from "American-style IPA" by GABF or in any other formal setting. It's just a descriptor with a useful connotation.

  9. I think you could narrow the style down to San Diego county. There not a single brewery of the 144 that doesn't have at least 2 'hop bombs on their menu at any given time