As the weather warms up we leave the heavier barleywines, double IPAs, and imperial stouts in the fridge and reach for more refreshing beer instead. This summer a nascent style of craft beer is poised to take-off that will fit the bill: the White IPA. Many breweries are producing this new hybrid beer, and they can make a refreshing change-of-pace from a heavier IPA while retaining a satisfying depth-of-flavor and complexity. Let’s take a look at where this type of beer came from and what you should be on the look-out for.
At the most basic level a White IPA is a beer that mixes the hop-character and brewing techniques of an India Pale Ale with the wheat base and spice additions of the refreshing Belgian wit beer. We’ve talked about the basics of the IPA style before, so let’s take a quick look at the Belgian wit.
A style over 400 years old, the Belgian Witbier uses a large proportion of unmalted wheat in addition to the traditional malted barley. This makes the beer lighter in both body and in color and imparts a slight refreshing tartness to the beer. Traditionally, the Belgian brewers used a combination of spices and aromatics, most commonly Curacao orange peel and coriander seeds, to add further complexity to the beer. These “white beers” are commonly under 6%ABV and only very lightly hopped letting the flavors of the added spices shine through.
This all adds up to an easy-to-drink and very refreshing beer that has found crossover popularity with American beer drinkers. The most famous and popular example of a wit is probably Blue Moon’s Belgian White made by Miller-Coors (who have supported the brand with a multi-million dollar ad campaign). After nearly dying-out in it’s native Belgium the witbier was repopularized by Hoegaarden in the 1960s, and their beer is a now considered a hallmark example of the spicy and tart character of the traditional Belgian wheat beer.
A few additional and easy to find craft-brewed examples of the Belgian Wit:
- Allagash: White
- Avery Brewing: White Rascal
- Unibroue: Blanche De Chambly
- New Belgium: Mothership Wit
The (Brief) History of the White IPA
Oregon brewery Deschutes and Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing are commonly credited with creating the style when they sat down to develop a collaboration beer in 2010. The two brewers developed the recipe and then returned to their respective breweries to each produce their own take on the single recipe. This beer, Conflux No.2, is the first commercial example of a White IPA that we have been able to find any reference to, though inventive home brewers might have been developing this style before the Deschutes/Boulevard collaboration.
When Conflux No.2 hit the craft beer scene it caused quite a stir; the very limited production run and the positive word-of-mouth made this a really tough-to-find beer with a lot of buzz surrounding it. Our local bottle shop saved us one of the few bottles they saw of it, and for us the beer lived up to the hype. We found it to be a very complex beer with tons of assertive spice character that complemented its hop-forward IPA DNA. Sadly that was the only bottle we ever saw, but that void is now being filled by several craft breweries that have plans to release their own take on the hybrid style.
The sudden popularity of the White IPA designation was capitalized next by the craft-gargantuan Boston Beer Company with their Samuel Adams Whitewater IPA, which they say this about:
We love hops at Samuel Adams, and while we enjoy traditional IPAs, we thought we might spice things up a little bit, literally, by combining the intense hop character of an IPA with the crisp spicy wheat character of a Belgian-style white ale.
Their version of the White IPA also included an addition of apricots to further “balance out the bitterness of the hops and add a slight sweetness to the beer.” However, we found the resulting beer to be nearly completely unlike an IPA. The hop flavor is all but covered-up by the spice and fruit additions, and the wheat-character was too tart and not crisp enough for us. But the beer has proven to be popular with many drinkers who prefer a less hop-forward brew.
Even Anheuser-Busch’s Shock Top faux-craft label released a Wheat IPA this year that falls squarely into the White IPA category. Further craft-brewed White IPAs are just hitting distribution channels and appearing in bottle-shops and on tap lists around town. Keep an eye out for:
- Deschutes: Chain Breaker White IPA. This seasonal release from the originators of the White IPA does not use the Conflux No.2 recipe and instead stays closer to a traditional wit with additions of orange peel and coriander, and also a healthy quantity of fruity American hops. We are very excited to sample this beer which should be hitting shelves about now!
- Founders Brewing collaborating with Green Flash Brewing: Lynch Pin White IPA. This newly announced collaboration will see a draft-only release in Southern California in May, and it sounds to be a citrus-heavy wheat ale with lots of west-coast style hops.
- Sarnac Brewing: White IPA. Where the Deschutes sounds like a hoppy wit, this New York brewery’s take on a White IPA sounds like it falls more on the IPA end of the spectrum. It might be tough to find in Los Angeles (try Total Wine in Tustin), but it is well regarded on BeerAdvocate and probably worth hunting down if you are a fan of the White IPAs.
- Anchorage Brewing: Galaxy White IPA. This bottle conditioned take on the wit/IPA fusion ups the spice-flavors with kumquats and black peppercorns, but with very limited distribution in California it could prove to be a tough one to cross-off your wishlist.
Since this pst was originally published the White IPA has continued to gain in popularity, and we have since discovered our favorire version of the beer since the style-defining Confluence #2. White Dog IPA by El Segundo Brewing Company has been a favorite since we first sampled it at the 2012 Brew at the Zoo, and we’ve made several mentions of the hoppy brew of the past few months. White Dog is closer to the IPA end of the wit-IPA scale of white IPAs, and it has a bold and intese tropical fruit hop flavor that matches the light and crisp wheat-y body perfectly. A new batch of the popular brew was just released so don’t miss the chance to try not only one of our favorite White IPAs, but one of our favorite brewed-in-LA beers!
Beer in Fashion
It is clearly too early to call the White IPA a capital-S beer Style, but will the fad have staying power? Will craft beer drinkers embrace this hybrid the way the “Black IPA” (or whatever you decide to call it) was embraced, or is the “White IPA” just a branch of the wit bier’s family tree? We are not even sure if they should be called IPAs at all since the IPA label is already too-broadly applied. But marketing gimmick or not, a “White IPA” can be a delicious beer that is just perfect for the sunny summer days ahead. They also make a great “gateway” IPA for craft beer fans who haven’t fully developed a taste for the more bitter and assertive IPAs. Have you tried any of these White IPAs? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.