Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Checking out Pyramid Brewing's new release IPL and a chat with their head brewer Ryan Pappe

It's no secret craft brewers enjoy playing around with hops and hoppy beers are some the most coveted brews around.  This has led to an effective arms race between brewers, pushing  bitterness levels to extreme heights with massive hop additions to their IPAs, resulting in plenty of hop bombs full of hop flavors and bitterness, with plenty of the malt and associated alcohol required balance all those hops.  Plenty of those brews were amazingly flavorful creations, but more than a few were about as tasty as chewing on an old bicycle tire.  I enjoy a good IPA or Double IPA, but when just looking for a flavorful pint or two to quaff, these heavy, hop and alcohol monsters aren't always a good option.

Thankfully, plenty of breweries these days are doing creative things with hops without engaging on a full frontal assault of beer drinkers' palates.  Pyramid Brewing's IPL, just released by Pyramid, is a good example.  IPL stands for India Pale Lager, a riff on the popular India Pale Ale style.   An IPL uses lager yeast instead of ale yeast, resulting in a less cluttered brew, since lager yeasts produce crisper flavors during fermentation that ale yeasts, which produce more complex flavor esters.   Pyramid contacted me asking if I'd like to sample the beer and also offered the chance to speak with Pyramid Head Brewer Ryan Pappe about this new release.  This seemed like a good opportunity to try another hop innovation and talk with the brewer behind it, so I took Pyramid up on their offer.

The beer itself was quite enjoyable.  It's got a crisp, clean bitterness with a slight floral, citrus and some earthy character that matches nicely with the toasted malts.  Dry hopping with Amarillo, Sterling, and Centennial creates all sorts of pleasant hop aromas.    At 60 ibu's, there's plenty of hop punch in this drinkable brew.   Those who like their hops without all the alcohol buzz will appreciate the 6.0% abv, lower than most India Pale Ales.

After enjoying a few of these, I spoke with Ryan Pappe about his latest creation and what brewers are doing with hops these days.
Pyramid Head Brewer Ryan Pappe with IPL  (Photo courtesy of Pyramid Brewing)

Q:  How did you end up releasing IPL?

A: It evolved after playing around in the brewery.  On the spur of the moment, we decided to add a strain of lager yeast to a portion of wort we set aside.  All the brewers really enjoyed the beer.  Once we knew this experiment tasted good, it eventually evolved into IPL.

Q: Describe the process in coming up with the recipe.

A: It started first as an experimental release.   To brew it all year around, we had to make some changes.   We use our standard lager yeast strain we always have available.  Our team tried the early batches, gave us their feedback and we tweaked the hops and bitterness levels based on what they said to get a beer everyone was happy with.

Q: What’s the difference between an India Pale Lager and a hoppy lager?

A: I don’t know, honestly.  Brewers are brewing more and more hoppy beers and part of the impetus behind this trend is that hoppier beers are more likely to sell and brewers are always pushing the envelope and trying to find something that highlights the hops.  Hops are a new area for brewers to play in.  A hoppy lager is traditionally more of a pilsner.  India Pale Lager suggests more of a Northwestern United States direction with citrusy hops.

Q: Sam Adams released Double Agent IPL.  Lagunitas had a lot of success with Day Time IPA.  Firestone Walker released the hoppy Pivo Pilsner last summer which was a big seller for them.  I realize you’re a brewer and not always involved in all business decisions but how much of the release of IPL was driven by the success of beers like these?

A: I don’t know how breweries think and make their decisions.  We don’t look at what other breweries are coming out with.   There are so many different breweries and some of them will explore in the the same direction.  If enough breweries seem to head in the same direction, it looks like a trend.

I Googled “India Pale Lager” 2 ½ years ago and a bunch of beers came up so I know we weren’t the first to come up with this by any means.  Trends in some ways are more of a coincidence then everyone moving in the same direction.   As brewers, we don’t want to just copy each other and there’s plenty of variety in what we do.

Q:  What’s been the most surprising reaction to IPL so far?

A: Unfortunately as a brewer, I’m one of the last to hear that stuff.  Sometimes I’ll go on RateBeer and see what people say about it.  From what I see it's been pretty well received.  Some people will say it’s a nice, easy drinking lager.  Then the next person says that since it’s an India Pale Lager, they were expecting a lot more hops and were disappointed.  I’m happy a lot of people thought it was a well-made beer.  I’m optimistic it will stick around for at least another year and if it does, that would be a pretty good success.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: There are a lot of hoppy beers coming out because brewers are trying to find new ways to make hoppy beers.  Brewers get together a lot and bounce ideas off each other and play off each other’s ideas.  That’s the cool thing about it.

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