Standing by the coffee pot at work, a friend of mine, Sandy, is telling me all about her weekend trip to a ski resort. All was really cool about the trip until Sandy said, the bartender served her, and her husband, a beer that tasted like grapefruit. She then asked me why beer tastes like grapefruit. I thought about it and then said…. must be the hops. But, was I right?
What was the bartender thinking?
Here is where I get a little … perturbed. Sandy and her husband drink… Bud Light. Yep, true light lager fans. So, why would the bartender serve them an IPA? Wait, how did I know it was an IPA? You could say, experience, and you would be right. At a craft beer tasting event, I tasted a beer that made me stop in my tracks, it was light, citrusy with a grapefruit note. I looked at the list and sure enough it was an IPA. But, I don’t like IPAs, right? Well, I actually found an IPA style I liked. The citrus IPA. But, first, back to Sandy.
Why did she get an IPA? Maybe Sandy didn’t specify they wanted a Bud or… they were given what the bartender thought they would like. Either way, even though these citrusy IPAs don’t have the bitterness of a traditional IPA, they aren’t, well… lagers. And, are not the first choice for a lot of folks.
It’s all in the hops
A lot of the citrusy IPAs are brewed with hops that lend the aromas of grapefruit, orange, pineapple and other tropical flavors. Citra hops are known for their grapefruit and lime aromas along with gooseberry, passion fruit, and lychee notes. Some brewers actually use juice, zest or even a puree.
IPA fans usually choose from beers based on strength … regular, potent imperial or lower alcohol sessions. Now there’s a full tropical fruit assortment to choose from. Pineapple, grapefruit, mango, tangerine, tangelo and even prickly pear. It’s like being on a tropical island.
These citrus IPA’s make up 8 percent of the flavored IPA market. Tropical flavored IPA sales increased 250 percent (yep… 250%) year over year as of 2016. Which means, they are pretty popular.
Ballast Point Brewing Company, out of San Diego, probably receives the credit for the trend. After they started having great success at the taps, other brewers stepped up and created their own citrus IPA creations.
New Belgium has their version which is Citradelic. It’s beer brewed with 10 kinds of hops and “tangerine-infused orange peel”.
What do brewers think?
Ross Koenigs, New Belgium’s brewer thinks fruit IPA have two roots. First, these brews “are expanding the tent of IPA drinkers” beyond those who drink piney, bitter beer. There is a perceived sweetness with the fruit and citrus notes. “As a result, people like my mother, an exclusive sauvignon blanc drinker, can now enjoy this new variant on IPA”.
Second, it all comes down to the hops. Brewers are experimenting with the new generation of hops prized for their aromatic qualities rather than their biting properties. Some of these hops can smell like strawberry shortcake and even toasted coconut.
Mike Hinkely, co-founder of Green Flash Brewing says “we almost treat fruit like part of the hop profile”. Heavy Seas’ founder, Hugh Sisson created their version of a citrus IPA. The TropiCannon which is strongly infused with grapefruit, mango, orange, blood orange and lemon peel.
What do I choose?
So, what does all of this have to do with which beer to choose if you are new to this craft beer world? First off, citrus IPAs may … and I stress … may not have the usual bitterness associated with most IPAs. Which means, if you tend to steer away from IPAs you may now find a place at the IPA table with a citrus IPA.
Second, not everyone enjoys citrus flavors and … that’s ok. I am not a fan of Shandy beers (these are beers usually mixed with lemonade, ginger ale or orange juice), but I do know some folks who really enjoy a glass on a hot summer day. But, I do have a few citrus IPAs that I will order if on the tap menu.
- From Flying Dog, I enjoy the Bloodline Blood Orange Ale. It’s an American IPA brewed with blood orange peel and blood orange juice and really balances the sweetness with the bitterness.
- From New Belgium I enjoy the Citradelic Tangerine IPA. It has a blend of orange and pineapple flavors with a smooth finish.
- From Heavy Seas, I choose the TropiCannon. It is a new variation on the Loose Cannon IPA with a bright citrus aroma and flavor.
- A local favorite is the Citrus Tsunami from Parkersburg Brewing Company. From my first sip I was smitten and totally fooled it was an IPA. No bitterness, light and full of flavor.
I will continue to say this, craft beer is all about trying something new. I have come a long way from those first visits to breweries and tap rooms. With a little knowledge, I am understanding more and more what I like… and what I don’t like. Don’t assume all IPAs are bitter. I can honestly say, I don’t like many “fruit” beers. Those I find, most often, are very sweet. Too sweet. But, a happy balance is the citrus IPA. A balanced, flavorful brew that takes a few sips to really enjoy all of its flavor notes.
So, the next time you have an opportunity to taste a citrus IPA… take it. You may find a new style of beer to enjoy. But, try a small sample, so you don’t end up like Sandy, who couldn’t finish the pint. She’s back to Bud Light but has learned… ask questions, take a sample and then choose your pint.
(credit: craftbrewingbusiness.com, The Washington Post – Fritz Hahn “Why the hottest trend in beer is an IPA that tastes like pineapple or mango”)