Looking for a Speed Metal IPA When Eveything Tastes Like Teen Pop
It's time to revisit the state of American IPAs.
Tuesday morning a very nice woman knocked on the door and handed me two cans of Rada Strada, a fresh hop collaboration between Widmer and Agua Mala (Ensenada, Mexico). I don’t normally approve of canned/bottled fresh hop beer, but when it’s hand-delivered within four days of packaging, that’s another matter. I tucked into it that night and—holy moly! What a blast of tastes, aromas, and sensations: chlorophyll, bitterness, a tannic spiciness, and aromas that come in grassy then fruity then spicy waves. It’s a bracing slap to the face, in the best possible way.
IPAs have been in constant evolution since Americans first started brewing them, and we have traveled a great distance in the past twenty-odd years. In the current moment, fashions favor extremely fruity, low-bitterness IPAs. “Haze” is one watchword, but “juicy” is actually the more important one. To evoke that quality, the trend has nudged ever closer to treacly, candy-sweet beers that resemble children’s drinks. This is explicit, too, with references to juice boxes and Creamsicles and so on. I fear the moment some brewery introduces “Sippy Cup IPA” (and if it’s already happened, please let me reside in my blissful ignorance).
it wasn’t always so. The arrival of IPAs came in the second generation of craft beer, around the mid-90s* , and they weren’t a reaction to light lagers, but timid craft beer (many of which were, ironically, flavored with fruit). We were exiting craft beer’s childhood, with its gentle top-40 pop soundtrack, and entering hormone-fueled adolescence, where volume-11 speed metal accented our mood. (This dates me, so select the teen music of your generation—gangsta rap, grunge, or whatever the kids are listening to today.) IPA was that speed metal.
I am generally past my hard-rockin days, beerwise. The boozers and hop monsters have given way to more sophisticated expressions. But that Rada Strata delivered a real epiphany—I may not want a face-melting 7.2% beer very often, but I want a sippy cup IPA ... never.
Children have different palates. There’s a reason they want to eat ice cream all day and wrinkle their noses at Brussels sprouts. I suspect the sugar pop IPAs are attractive to younger drinkers who still retain more of their sweet teeth than old farts like me—and they probably drink more beer, too. Sweetness appeals to youth, and youthful adults drink beer. Still, this seems like a bad place to be.
I have the vaguest inkling that we’re nearing an inflection point where fruit-flavored, lactose-and-vanilla IPAs (and even just conventionally-made IPAs that are very sweet) are due for a backlash. Like many trends, they were interesting at first, but there’s no more depth to them than there is in a strawberry Starburst. I believe there’s a trend a’waitin’ for that perfect IPA with a bit of an edge and all the juicy hopping we’ve come to love. (You may pick your musical analogue.)
In the meantime, I recommend stopping by Widmer for that Rada Strada. I do wonder if the guys from Agua Mala helped nudge it in that Motorhead direction, seeing as Mexico is probably just entering its own beery adolescence.
*I know I’m almost begging my pedantic friends to debate the point here, so note the heavy lifting “around” is doing in that sentence.