Beer and wine have always traveled separate paths. One beverage came to be defined by rustic terroir and an air of sophistication while the other was associated with industrial production and working-class approachability. For a long time, you were a either a wine drinker or a beer drinker and the two rarely mingled. It's hard to believe the hottest new trend in beer is an emerging style inspired by wine—specifically the bubbly, celebratory wines of France.
The brut IPA surfaced in November 2017 when Kim Sturdavant first brewed one at San Francisco's Social Kitchen & Brewery. It didn't take long for his concept of a dry yet aromatic beer with sparkling hop character to enchant the craft beer industry. Sturdavant says in making that successful inaugural batch, he set down certain rules for himself hoping the brut IPA would eventually become a substyle.
The objectives, he says, were to "get the color as light as possible, get the beer as dry as possible, use a lot of hops, and keep the bitterness low so it didn't fall off balance."
To accomplish these goals, Sturdavant used an enzyme called amyloglucosidase to break down starches into fermentable simple sugars otherwise not normally consumed by beer yeast. The result is a bone-dry beer with no residual sweetness.
It didn't take long for the trend to come north. In April 2018, Baerlic Brewing and Migration Brewing took a crack at the emerging style in a collaboration called Hi-Li IPA. Migration brewer Trever Bass had not only been reading up on the growing number of Bay Area breweries following Social Kitchen's lead, but he'd tried Sturdavant's version and was inspired.
"I wanted to make something that was as close as possible to the idea of the Champagne-like beer," says Bass.
He began building a recipe by using one similar to that for a hazy IPA with pale Pilsner malts, classic adjuncts like oats and flaked barley, as well as fruit-forward hops. Since then, Bass has become one of the most prolific brewers of the style in Oregon, and his latest, called Frizzante, is Migration's ninth anniversary ale.
No longer is the malt bill full of adjuncts; instead, he opts for all-German grains. Some brewers have even dropped tropical, juicy hops in favor of varieties with more white wine, grape and stone fruit flavors. A growing contingent of brut IPAs are made with actual grapes, sometimes creating a beer-wine hybrid in the style of the rosé drinks craze. It's part of the continuing elevation of the brut into something palatable for beer fans, not just brewers.
Matt Swihart at Double Mountain Brewery has developed one of the best takes on the nascent style and is among the first to bottle one in Oregon. His version employs méthode Champenoise, which uses a Champagne yeast for fermentation that dries the beer out, producing small sparkling-winelike bubbles and sometimes a slightly boozy flavor.
"I was immediately drawn to try to brew one using a wine yeast that didn't floc out [settle debris] to achieve the fuller attenuation without enzymes," says Swihart. "I'm a big fan of straightforward beer!"
Double Mountain brewers experimented with different amounts of yeast and varying temperatures to get the Champagne yeast to ferment the beer dry enough without harsher alcohols that can be created by a non-beer yeast.
Thomas Bleigh, innovation brewer for Widmer Brothers, also turned to méthode Champenoise for Widmer's new bottled brut, noting the style is not yet defined.
"Through our various trials," Bleigh says, "many of which have turned out really nice, we'd like to be a part of defining the style."
Bleigh has also experimented with additions of grape must, apple juice and alternate enzymes to measure the effect on the beer's acidity and determine how botanicals might replicate aromatic or tannic vinous attributes. The bottled Widmer Brut IPA was cold fermented with 25 percent Northwest-sourced apple juice—the lower temperature was to ensure it did not get too fruity. The bottle-conditioned packages are available exclusively at New Seasons Markets.
"I'm not sure where the style is going," says Migration's Bass. But he believes "brewers will continue to ride on the idea of a wine-inspired beer.
Experimentation is rampant these days, and I imagine a brut IPA in our area will come to mean 'an extra-dry, highly hopped beer with low bitterness.'"