Revisiting "Summer IPAs"

Seven years ago, Ninkasi Brewing released a classic--Maiden the Shade. These were my notes.

There appears to be emerging a trend toward what you might call a “summer IPA”*—a pilsner-hued, light-bodied beer brewed at substantial strength and bitterness, but in a kind of stripped-down, pure-essence presentation. I would count Double Mountain’s Vaporizer as a member of this small club. Both beers vent hop aroma like glue vents brain-destroying vapors. Both are surprisingly light-colored (though unlike pilsners, they have the shimmering haze of hop particles).

At the time, Ninkasi itself did not label Maiden a "summer IPA," but when John Holl posted a picture of the latest release, I couldn't help noticing this:

Photo credit: John Holl

If you suspect this is all a transparent set up for a victory lap, well, congratulate yourself. It is. Because, in that same post you'll notice I included an asterisk, and it led to this footnote: " I am not wedded to the term, but if it takes off, or if there's a movement to enshrine this style into the canon of the BJCP, I claim full rights to Summer IPA ." So here I am claiming my rights! Ninkasi will be receiving a bill for intellectual services rendered post haste.

In seriousness, there is something to this concept. I recall the moment when Vaporizer and Maiden the Shade came out. They were a welcome development. The notion of an IPA brewed to be consumed in the hot months seemed like an excellent one. Heat does something to the body that changes the way it receives viscosity. Heavy beers just don't do the trick. I remember brewing on a hot summer day with Patrick-of-the-pod, and we had a sixer of Pilsner Urquell. The heat revealed just how heavy that beer is, and also how much diacetyl is in it. (Diacetyl is another thing you don't want on a hot summer day.) We thought pilsner would be the perfect beer for the day, but we chose unwisely. Maiden the Shade would have suited our needs better.

So as we edge toward the warm months, and as I inevitably gravitate toward lagers and saisons, the few IPAs that will lure me are those with light bodies, crisp finishes, and citrusy flavors. Whether the summer IPA is a thing or not, it should be.