In olden days, a beer drinker could sidle up the bar, order an IPA and know what would fill the glass — a clear, golden-colored liquid with a substantial hit of bitterness and a piney or resinous aroma. That changed in 2016, though, when the hazy IPA phenomenon swept across the craft brewing landscape, bringing with it a turbid mix of newer, tropical flavors and aromas, very low or no bitterness, and a hazy or cloudy appearance.
Today, beer drinkers should assume that their IPA order is going to be hazy and low on IBUs rather than the other way around — a state of affairs that has left some people angry and many others delighted.
But some breweries are fighting back — not necessarily because they don't like hazies, but because they want to make sure that there is still a place for old-school, bitter American IPAs, which, by the way, now have to be differentiated from their hazy counterparts with the moniker "West Coast IPA."
"I have no qualms with hazy IPA," says Jake Gardner, the head brewer at Westbound & Down Brewing in Idaho Springs. "If we think we can make something better or different, we'll make it, regardless of the style. We like the challenge. and we are curious brewers. But if you ask me what I drink at home, myself and our team of brewers — we are all hop heads. We are all West Coast IPA hop heads."
As a result, Westbound debuted a new series of collaborative IPAs last month that it is calling Western Conference All-Stars. The series showcases the talents of breweries — most of them friends of Westbound's — that make some of the best, clearest West Coast-style IPAs in the country.
"We are not trying to put down our hazies, as we are making a lot of them. But we want people to know where our heart is," Gardner says. "We are doing this almost as a backlash to ourselves. It was a way for us to do something really cool and reignite our passion — and our customers' passion — for West Coast IPAs."
The first two beers in the series were made with Comrade Brewing in Denver (a 7.2 percent ABV IPA made with Lotus, Amarillo, Citra and Ekuanot hops) and Cannonball Creek Brewing in Golden (a 6.5 percent ABV IPA made with Galaxy, Strata and Mosaic hops. "These were two obvious starting spots, as these guys are some of our favorite breweries and they're making world-class, kick-ass West Coast Beers," Gardner adds.
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(Cannonball, by the way, recently teamed up on its own collaboration with Liquid Mechanics Brewing in Lafayette on an IPA called West Coast Cartel; the goal was similar to Westbound's.)
The next two Westbound collaborations in the series will be outside of Colorado, with Oregon's Barley Brown's Brewpub and Wyoming's Melvin Brewing. After that, the brewery is hoping to be able to work with Riip Brewing and Pizza Port, both in California, as well as New Mexico's La Cumbre and California's Beachwood.
"We are trying to do them in pairs. Also, we want to add a little competitive edge," Gardner adds. "We talk a lot of shit to each other and have a lot of fun being competitive, which can drive some of the best ideas to be creative when that is on the line. It keeps us focused on what got us obsessed with craft beer in the first place."