Calgary is Hopping Mad For IPAs
Local breweries love interpreting this classic beer style
The result is a beer with big, bold flavours that, in the infancy of craft beer, set craft beer decidedly apart from the light, bland beers produced by the big guys. People who like IPA like it a lot. And local breweries have responded in kind. They love to make beers in this style and love to riff on them, creating inventive twists to keep interest in the style alive. Calgary’s craft beer fans have responded by flocking to their neighbourhood brewery to try the latest incarnation of craft beer’s favourite beer style. It’s a wonderful circle of hoppy beer love.
Now, there are as many variations of IPA as there are people who enjoy them. Here’s a guide to exploring every aspect of it without having to go to India.
The Classics – Wild Rose Brewery kicked off Calgary’s love of hoppy beers with an IPA they’ve made since the mid-90s. At 6.0% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 69 IBU (international bitterness units, a measure of the bitterness hops have provided to a beer), Wild Rose’s IPA, simply-named “IPA,” fits squarely within the classic style guidelines for IPA. It has a pronounced bitterness, but this is balanced against a firm malt foundation. Classic.
Where Wild Rose cut the path, Brewsters Brewing Company quickly followed. Their Honest Paul IPA is pretty close to perfection. At 6.5% ABV and 70 IBU, Honest Paul is equally a classic representation of IPA. After trying these two beers, you’ll have an understanding of IPA and the style upon which all the others were developed.
Following in the footsteps of Wild Rose and Brewsters, practically every one of Calgary’s new wave of breweries has a classic IPA. Interestingly, Prairie Dog Brewing makes a classic IPA, but varies the recipe slightly each time (so it’s named “#2 IPA”, or whatever number the iteration is) so if you want to enjoy the breadth of IPA even within classic parameters, Prairie Dog is the place to do it. And west of town, Banff Avenue Brewing makes Head Smashed IPA (6.2% ABV; 75 IBU) and Grizzly Paw Brewing makes Evolution IPA (6.4% ABV) both of which will take you on a delicious voyage.
The Big Ones – Known alternatively as “imperial IPA” or “double IPA”, these beers are not actually double regular IPA in any sense of the word. While they have a higher alcohol content, a higher level of hopping and a higher level of malt, none of these things is actually double that of a regular IPA. Still, there’s no missing the bigness and the boldness of these brews.
Mill St. Brewery, on Calgary’s Red Mile makes Twin Tips DIPA, kicking up 7.9% ABV. Despite boasting 72 IBU, Twin Tips has sufficient malt sweetness to provide some candy-like flavours to balance this hop influence.
The Small Ones – On the opposite end of the spectrum from imperial IPAs are lower-alcohol varieties often referred to as ISAs, or India session ales. They will have alcohol content below 6% ABV, but they will still have a very powerful hop flavour. Because of their lower alcohol content, you can drink a few of them over a long “session” at the pub, which is where their name comes from.
Brewsters makes the appropriately named Jimmy’s Easy IPA which has a quaffable 5.2% ABV and a correspondingly moderate 52 IBU. Canmore’s Grizzly Paw Brewing similarly makes an even lower alcohol 4.5% ABV, but equally delicious, Rundlestone Session Ale while Citizen Brewing of Calgary makes Batch 1 Session Ale (4.5% ABV; 25 IBU), which, as the name implies, is the first beer they ever made.
The Single-hopped Ones – Hops are the backbone of IPA and there are dozens of different varieties, each providing different aromas and flavours. Like a chef wields spices, brewers add hops to IPAs to create a mosaic of flavours in their beers. But sometimes simplicity is beautiful. If you want to learn what various hops taste like, look for beers made with just one hop variety.
Big Rock Brewery’s Citradelic is made with a hop called Citra, for example, which is a rare single-hopped beer that is made year-round. Due to limited availability of many hop varieties, local brewers often make single-hop beers as one-time brews. Just look for beers named after hops. In addition to Citra, popular varieties include Simcoe, Mosaic, Galaxy, El Dorado, Cascade, Centennial and Amarillo. But this is just scratching the surface. There are as many hop varieties as there are beers to use them in.
The Hazy Ones – There was a time when hazy beer was considered bad. There was never a scientific reason for this, but consumers liked clear beer. As craft beer lovers embraced hazy beers from Germany and Belgium, the merits of brilliant beer became cloudier. Biochemists have now shown that yeast sediment can continue to interact with hop oils to produce amazingly juicy and fruity flavours. Also known as New England IPAs, to say hazy IPAs have become popular is like saying Wayne Gretzky was pretty good at hockey.
Annex Ale Project is famous for beers of this style. Their Force Majeure (6.9% ABV) is a staple in their line up, but they are always experimenting with different hazy IPAs. Meanwhile, Zero Issue Brewery, in Calgary’s northeast, produces Nemesis IPA, arguably the best hazy IPA in town. Not to be outdone, Calgary newcomers O.T. Brewing and New Level Brewing produce 5 Hundie (6.5% ABV) and Haze Lord (5.5% ABV), respectively. West of town, Canmore Brewing features Misty Mountain (6.4% ABV; 55 IBU), an exceptional brew made with both American and German hops. In all of these beers, look for lower levels of bitterness and flavours reminiscent of citrus, peaches and other fruit. These beers are clearly delicious.
The Dark Ones – I know what you’re thinking. How can there be a dark India “pale” ale? Despite the oxymoron, dark IPAs, commonly referred to as “black IPAs” or “Cascadian dark ales” are hoppy, but with dark malt flavours that seem to actually amplify the piny, resinous flavour of hops.
Dandy Brewing brews In the Bleak Midwinter Black IPA (6.5% ABV) to take away the winter blahs while Village Brewery offers up the less aggressively hopped Blacksmith India Black Ale (5.4% ABV). These dark beers will brighten your day.
The Dry Ones – The newest trend in IPA is Brut IPA, so named because it is brewed with special enzymes that make it especially dry. This beer style is so new, no Calgary brewery makes one regularly yet, but Dandy Brewing and Outcast Brewing have both experimented with the style. Keep your eyes open for this cutting edge of craft beer.
The Unique Ones – Perhaps the best thing about craft beer is brewers’ willingness to take risks and push the boundaries. There’s no need to worry about limits when it comes to IPA. If you really want to appreciate the creativity of local brewers, check out these IPAs: Wild Rose High Harvest (6.5% ABV; 55 IBU), is made with hemp; Tool Shed Belgian Dip (6.3% ABV) is hoppy but fermented by a Belgian yeast strain adding an interesting spiciness; Canmore Railway Avenue (6% ABV; 60 IBU) is made with rye in place of some of the barley to give it a little spicy character (like pumpernickel bread); Trolley 5 First Crush White IPA (6.2% ABV; 32 IBU) combines the spiciness of a Belgian wit yeast with the hoppiness of IPA.
The Best One – At the inaugural Alberta Beer Awards, put on by the Alberta Small Brewers Association in March 2018, Inglewood’s Cold Garden took home gold for IPA with This Must Be the IPA, whose name mocks the ubiquity of this popular beer style. But there’s a reason IPA is so ubiquitous. Despite breweries’ ability to colour outside the lines, IPA is always delicious. Get out there and try them all!
— Don Tse