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Remember the West Coast IPA?

Hazy beers may be everywhere now, but these IPAs are clear winners

West Coast IPAs still abound in San Diego, if you know what to look for.
West Coast IPAs still abound in San Diego, if you know what to look for.

Now, some of you kids may be too young to remember, but there was a time when haze wasn’t the dominant characteristic of IPAs made in San Diego. See, this used to be a West Coast IPA town. Local breweries helped define the style and perfected it. And by perfected it, I mean created bitter, dry, and — importantly — clear ales. Clear enough to see the twinkle in your friend’s eye through two pint glasses as you clinked them together.

Then hazy IPAs swept into town, on their way to becoming craft brewing’s ‘it’ beer. We’re only five years removed from not being able to find an intentionally hazy IPA brewed in San Diego. But within a year of their arrival, the handful of local breweries that started making them were selling out of canned releases in a single day. Before long, a brewery effectively couldn’t survive without making something for legions of haze-craving fans.

By the time the pandemic started, a clear IPA drinker would have to spend fifteen minutes carefully scanning store shelves to find an IPA that wasn’t hazy. And I don’t only mean craft beer specialty shops; we’re talking grocery store shelves.

Fortunately, enough San Diego brewers still remember how to brew a clear IPA that West Coast die-hards like myself were able to keep our refrigerators stocked through more than a year of isolation. Several of the newer entries are must-tries for those craving an updated take on the crisp, bitter brews that made us fans of local craft in the first place.

And plenty of them have made use of a new favorite hop varietal: Strata, the Oregon-bred hop offering flavor notes ranging from strawberry to pineapple to cannabis. Strata has been gathering momentum around San Diego over the past couple years, but my favorite expression of the hop to-date came courtesy of Invasion from Strata, a single-hop West Coast IPA made by Duck Foot Brewing Company. The only problem with this dank and fruity blessing is that it was brewed to be a limited release. Customers may have to ask for a second round.

Meanwhile, North Park Beer Co. has been flying the West Coast banner, releasing a slew of excellent, double dry hopped IPAs named to reflect the semi-forgotten, though not quite dead style. Case in point: Sorta Mostly Dead, a dank, tropical feat of Strata and Citra, boosted by Mosaic cryo hops — concentrated lupulin extracted from hop cones using a low temperature, cryogenic process. Other winners have been Archaic Technology, which uses piney, old school hops such as CTZ, Cascade, Centennial, Amarillo, and Chinook. And more recently, Win The West, an intergenerational blend of Mosaic, Simcoe, Centennial and Columbus hops.

Another cryo hopped beer to check out is Harland Brewing Co.’s India Pale Whale, brewed with Mosaic cryo, Simcoe, and Chinook, the hop that brought pine to quite a few OG West Coast IPAs. The resulting beer combines floral and tropical notes with the resiny dankness missing from the softer flavor profiles of hazy beers.

Many of the best West Coast IPAs to appear over the past six months have been collaborations between some of the best IPA producers in Southern California. Karl Strauss Brewing got together with Long Beach’s Beachwood Brewing to create Riders on the Storm, which follows a tropical nose with floral and citrus notes powered by Amarillo and Mosaic.

Pizza Port — whose history reads like an evolution of the West Coast IPA — got together with IPA generator El Segundo Brewing to craft Rippin’ Bear, in which Strata and Mosaic team with a New Zealand grown version of Cascade hops to deliver a bitter pine layered with berries and citrus.

Last but not least, Carlsbad’s Burgeon Beer got together with McIlhenny Brewing, the soon-to-open Alpine brewery bringing back the father and son brewers behind the many fantastic and innovative West Coast IPAs that made Alpine Beer Company a cult favorite. This pairing produced Parallel Patterns, one of those double dry hopped IPAs so loaded with money hops you spend a full minute trying to decipher every sip. Strata joins regular and cryo versions of Citra, Mosaic, and Simcoe in this impressively dry, boldly bittered IPA that simultaneously hearkens to the IPAs of yesteryear, and offers a glimpse of the future of the West Coast IPA.

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West Coast IPAs still abound in San Diego, if you know what to look for.
West Coast IPAs still abound in San Diego, if you know what to look for.

Now, some of you kids may be too young to remember, but there was a time when haze wasn’t the dominant characteristic of IPAs made in San Diego. See, this used to be a West Coast IPA town. Local breweries helped define the style and perfected it. And by perfected it, I mean created bitter, dry, and — importantly — clear ales. Clear enough to see the twinkle in your friend’s eye through two pint glasses as you clinked them together.

Then hazy IPAs swept into town, on their way to becoming craft brewing’s ‘it’ beer. We’re only five years removed from not being able to find an intentionally hazy IPA brewed in San Diego. But within a year of their arrival, the handful of local breweries that started making them were selling out of canned releases in a single day. Before long, a brewery effectively couldn’t survive without making something for legions of haze-craving fans.

By the time the pandemic started, a clear IPA drinker would have to spend fifteen minutes carefully scanning store shelves to find an IPA that wasn’t hazy. And I don’t only mean craft beer specialty shops; we’re talking grocery store shelves.

Fortunately, enough San Diego brewers still remember how to brew a clear IPA that West Coast die-hards like myself were able to keep our refrigerators stocked through more than a year of isolation. Several of the newer entries are must-tries for those craving an updated take on the crisp, bitter brews that made us fans of local craft in the first place.

And plenty of them have made use of a new favorite hop varietal: Strata, the Oregon-bred hop offering flavor notes ranging from strawberry to pineapple to cannabis. Strata has been gathering momentum around San Diego over the past couple years, but my favorite expression of the hop to-date came courtesy of Invasion from Strata, a single-hop West Coast IPA made by Duck Foot Brewing Company. The only problem with this dank and fruity blessing is that it was brewed to be a limited release. Customers may have to ask for a second round.

Meanwhile, North Park Beer Co. has been flying the West Coast banner, releasing a slew of excellent, double dry hopped IPAs named to reflect the semi-forgotten, though not quite dead style. Case in point: Sorta Mostly Dead, a dank, tropical feat of Strata and Citra, boosted by Mosaic cryo hops — concentrated lupulin extracted from hop cones using a low temperature, cryogenic process. Other winners have been Archaic Technology, which uses piney, old school hops such as CTZ, Cascade, Centennial, Amarillo, and Chinook. And more recently, Win The West, an intergenerational blend of Mosaic, Simcoe, Centennial and Columbus hops.

Another cryo hopped beer to check out is Harland Brewing Co.’s India Pale Whale, brewed with Mosaic cryo, Simcoe, and Chinook, the hop that brought pine to quite a few OG West Coast IPAs. The resulting beer combines floral and tropical notes with the resiny dankness missing from the softer flavor profiles of hazy beers.

Many of the best West Coast IPAs to appear over the past six months have been collaborations between some of the best IPA producers in Southern California. Karl Strauss Brewing got together with Long Beach’s Beachwood Brewing to create Riders on the Storm, which follows a tropical nose with floral and citrus notes powered by Amarillo and Mosaic.

Pizza Port — whose history reads like an evolution of the West Coast IPA — got together with IPA generator El Segundo Brewing to craft Rippin’ Bear, in which Strata and Mosaic team with a New Zealand grown version of Cascade hops to deliver a bitter pine layered with berries and citrus.

Last but not least, Carlsbad’s Burgeon Beer got together with McIlhenny Brewing, the soon-to-open Alpine brewery bringing back the father and son brewers behind the many fantastic and innovative West Coast IPAs that made Alpine Beer Company a cult favorite. This pairing produced Parallel Patterns, one of those double dry hopped IPAs so loaded with money hops you spend a full minute trying to decipher every sip. Strata joins regular and cryo versions of Citra, Mosaic, and Simcoe in this impressively dry, boldly bittered IPA that simultaneously hearkens to the IPAs of yesteryear, and offers a glimpse of the future of the West Coast IPA.

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