Two out of hundreds of beers tasted in Wine Enthusiast’s 2022 blind tastings received a perfect score. Both of these 100-point beers were in the American India pale ale (IPA) category, and while the beers hail from different coasts and are uniquely their own, they surprisingly have a lot in common. We chatted with the brewers to reveal the similarities in history, process and ingredients that make up a 100-point IPA.
The two beers that received the elusive score are Power Tools from Industrial Arts Brewing Co. in Beacon, New York and Volatile Substance from Von Ebert Brewing in Portland, Oregon. But, what makes these brews so special?
The Evolution of the IPA
First, it’s important to understand that the nature of IPAs has changed dramatically over the last decade, ultimately bringing us these two 100-point sips.
Throughout the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, the traditional hop varieties were added during the boiling process and would impart aromas of pine needles and grapefruit peel. The resulting ales would be clear as a bell, ranging in color from light gold, bronze and even amber. The malts would have pleasant flavors of biscuit, cereal and oftentimes light citrus fruitiness from yeast fermentation.
The style of IPA was mainly known for being assertively hop-forward, and drinkers focused on the bitter sensation left by the hops instead of the vibrant flavors or aromas.
Over the last decade, newer hop varieties have taken center stage, like Citra and Mosaic, that have challenged what an IPA can be. Additionally, many breweries have taken to adding hops during fermentation instead of during boiling, a process known as dry hopping. This drastically cuts down on bitterness leaving a juicy flavor and pleasant aromas. These beers are often called New England-style IPA and tend to be cloudy or hazy with a heavier mouthfeel.
The Making of Volatile Substance
Head brewer Sam Pecoraro, says he carried the concept for Volatile Substance with him through a few different breweries before getting the chance to brew it at Von Ebert.
“I wanted to do it back when I worked at Burnside Brewing in the early 2010s, just something that was very, very forward with pine resin but still balanced,” he says.
Pecoraro recalls that when Volatile Substance was introduced it “did not sell very well. In our first six months, I think it barely cracked the top ten in sales. I’m not quite sure why that was other than just being in a new company and right in the middle of the hazy IPA era.”
But the brewery tweaked the recipe and the IPA won gold at the 2019 North American Beer Awards, finally gaining some momentum.
Pecoraro has changed the recipe over the years due to the availability of seasonal hop crops and other raw materials, while also adjusting based on what the brewing team felt worked best in the brewhouse. The recipe typically maintains 80% premium pilsner malt and 20% Weyermann Vienna malt.
“It really gets along well with hops and doesn’t interfere,” he says, “it’s just a nice base.”
Additionally, Simcoe and Columbus hops are added toward the end of the boil and have become key to the beer’s flavor impact. This is followed by a pound per barrel of Mosaic hops, and then the beer is dry-hopped with more Mosaic and Simcoe.
Mosaic is widely known as a hop variety that imparts tropical aromas and flavors, but Pecoraro says that the brewery seeks out harvested lots that impart berry, including candied blueberry, flavors. This is something that the hop was known for earlier but can be difficult to find. Paired with a pine-forward Simcoe hop, Pecoraro believes the 6.9%-alcohol-by-volume (abv) IPA has struck the right hop balance.
The Making of Power Tools
“Power Tools is the culmination of my life’s journey,” says Jeff O’Neil, the founder and brewer at Industrial Arts Brewing Co.
And it’s quickly gaining critical acclaim. Power Tools has received top honors, including three years in a row at the New York State Craft Beer Competition. O’Neil says the beer has also made it into the final round at the annual Great American Beer Festival but has been knocked for not being bitter enough.
“Some people think that’s a big, important part of it,” he says. “I like a lot of the other expressions of hops beyond the bitterness, and I think that has changed for me over time.”
Power Tools uses Chinook, Cascade, Simcoe, Citra, T-45, T-90, CO2 extract hops and cryo hops through the various parts of the brewing process.
“We’re pushing about five pounds a barrel of hops, so it’s a generous usage. But it’s not over usage. It’s judicious usage,” he says. “That heavy-handedness does not result in a very bitter beer.”
The 7.1%-abv IPA uses 92% pilsner malt and 8% Munich malt. It is fermented with Chico yeast, a classic strain that is well-suited to hoppy beers. It has aromas of peach and pine, grapefruit and pineapple and a little dankness.
The Bottom Line
These two beers represent the time, ingenuity and commitment to a process that makes American beer great and well respected. Each evolves in the glass and surprises and delights the palate.
“Process is really the critical thing,” says O’Neil. “You don’t wake up one morning knowing how to do this. You have to fail at it. You have to make some bad beers, you have to make some bad decisions [and] you have to lose a punch. You can make great beer at home in a plastic bucket if your process is tight.”
Ultimately, the 100-point beers embrace traditional IPA roots but use modern processes and ingredients to achieve perfect balance and showcase nuance. We’ll drink to that!