IPA has gone too far: Mitch Steele

Mitch Steele

Mitch Steele

It’s unfortunate that India Pale Alehas come to dominate the US craft beer market at the expense of all other styles, says former Stone Brewing Co brewmaster Mitch Steele.

Author of IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale, Steele will address the Australian National Homebrewing Conference (ANHC5) next week.

He said it has gotten to the point where it is difficult to sell beer in the US if it is not an IPA, or extreme in other ways.

“We’ve got people who are trying to sell beer who tell me, ‘unless it says it’s an IPA or it’s got coffee in it or it’s 12 per cent alcohol or something, it’s not going to get a lot of interest here in the United States’,” SteeletoldAustralian Brews News.

“I think the pendulum has swung way too far into the IPA side. People are putting all their focus on IPAs and variations of IPAs. I’m a lover of all beer styles,” he said.

Nevertheless, IPA will still play an important role inthe range of beers at his new venture, a brewpub in Atlanta, Georgia.

“I would like to brew similar things to what I did at Stone. Not the same, I wouldn’t copy a single recipe, but I’d like to brew beers that are very full-flavoured and have a lot of hop character,” he said.

“But I am also looking forward to the opportunity to brew a few more lagers than we got to at Stone.

“I really like traditional lager styles, so I hope we have the space in the fermenting cellar to do that.

“But we’re certainly going to brew some IPAs. That’s my thing and I’m not going to stray too far away from that,” he stressed.

Fresh is best

While Steele was at Stone, founder Greg Koch instructed him to create the Enjoy By IPA, a beer with a 35-day shelf life.

Steele believes this beer played a vital role in educating drinkers that IPAs should always be consumed as fresh as possible.

“There’s more people checking date codes and things like that, than ever before,” he said.

“There are people out there, here in the United States, who insist on ageing strong IPA, which is fine, but the people who brewed that beer, that’s not what they wanted you to do.

“At Stone, we maintained a 90-day shelf life on our IPAs. We were very convinced that that was the most that one of our IPAs could survive and really taste like what we thought it should taste like,” he said.

Steele said oxidation, which is commonly related to a beer’s age, is the most common fault he finds in IPAs when tasting them in the trade.

“The brewers out there are making a quality beer, but it’s either being packaged with high oxygen, which is going to accelerate its ageing, or it’s been kept too long,” he said.

“I’ve had a lot of really old IPAs on tap and I’m like ‘gosh, I wonder how old this really is?’.

“When you have a beer that tastes great one time and tastes horrendously oxidised the next time you try it in a different place, that’s a sign that somebody’s not handling the beer correctly.

“That’s why I think the Enjoy By was such an important beer. It was an opportunity to really educate people and really show people how important fresh beer was,” he said.

New hop varieties

Steele said he is a huge fan of Australian hop varieties such as Galaxy, Ella and Vic Secret, all of which featured in his beers at Stone.

“They’re absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately I have none to start up with in this new brewing venture, but I’m going to work on that for year two, definitely,” he said.

He predicts IPAs are set for further reinvention as a result of new hop varieties coming onto the market.

“There is so much work being done on developing new hop varieties, so there are going to be IPAs brewed that have radically different taste profiles than what they have right now, just because they’re using a different and new hop,” he said.

Pilsner taking off

Steele said there are also signs in the US of a groundswell towards pilsner, despite its inherent challenges for brewers.

“Pilsner is probably the fastest growing style at the moment. I’m wondering if this full-bodied, hoppy, but very drinkable and very dry-finished pilsner is going to take off,” he said.

“Finding the right balance in a pilsner is a very tough thing, especially for craft brewers, that may not have the equipment that large brewers have.

“It’s gotten a reputation among brewers as ‘the brewer’s beer’. If a brewer can pull it off and brew a nice pilsner, that’s telling you that they’re an excellent brewer and they know what they’re doing,” he said.

ANHC5 next week

Steele said he is excited about addressing ANHC5 in Adelaide next week, October 13 to 15.

“I was a homebrewer for so long and I don’t think there’s anybody out there in the beer business that has as much passion as homebrewers,” he said.

“I’m hoping what I say to them is entertaining and educational. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Click here for ANHC5 tickets and other details.

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