Brewing Your Best West Coast IPA - Tips and Tricks
No matter what kind of IPA you’re into right now, it’s no secret that this hoppy revolution started with our very own West Coast, and now that there are so many different IPA’s, there are some hard and fast rules that make the classic what it is. This week we’ll talk about what makes a West Coast IPA what it is and go over some of our favorite tips and tricks so you can make your favorite one yet!
This whole style started with what may still be the fan favorite: Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewing Company. Just because Pliny is technically a Double IPA doesn’t mean that some of the hard and fast lessons learned trying to clone this brew don’t stand across the board.
When making your West Coast IPA, there are a few big things to hit. First and foremost is that distinctive bitterness achieved from early boil hop additions and well isomerized alpha acids. The second is a super dry, super crisp overall profile, and third is finishing with well delivered hop flavor and aroma.
As you can imagine, this is a massive act of balancing the bitter, almost to the point of being un-balanced, with tons of early, mid and late boil hop additions to get a nice, multi-dimensional bittering profile, and lots of whirlpool and dry hop additions for big terpene extraction for big hop flavor and aroma.
The other big part is making the perfect canvas of malt character that fades into the background, pushes the hops out, and still finishes dry. Let’s start with the malt.
Choosing the Best Grain Bill Part 1 - Base Malts
Most Home Brewers, and most Craft Breweries for that matter, stick with American 2 Row, and that makes sense. It’s a very cost effective, high quality malt that is consistent, available, and easy to use, boasting high diastatic power and a clean flavor. American 2 Row is NEVER a bad choice, but it’s also important to remember that you have options, and sometimes it pays off to expand your malty horizons once you have a recipe dialed.
One of our personal favorites is Golden Promise Pale Ale Malt. Golden Promise is still crisp and clean, but leaves behind just a little bit more malt character that seems to help with the overall complexity of the IPA, leaving it not just hop complex, but deliciously multi-dimensional in the grain bill as well. From the hundreds of ridiculously delicious and high quality West Coast IPA’s I’ve had the opportunity to taste, the ones with Golden Promise seem to be a shelf above.
Another great base malt to play with is American Pilsner. This lighter, slightly less modified pils malt lightens the color considerably, and maintains a nice, cracker crisp malt profile that can be a wonderfully light canvas for your hops to play on without sacrificing a distinct malt character. If you’re looking for your IPA to be damn near clear, then this is the malt that you’ll want to choose!
Choosing the Best Grain Bill Part 2 - Specialties
With the specialty malts, you’re looking for a hint of help with head formation and foam retention and just a smidge of residual sweetness and caramel/toffee character to help the hops shine. The most important part in choosing specialties is following the K.I.S.S. rule of thumb: Keep It Super Simple! Some of the best beers out there have the simplest grain bills, and this style is no exception!
We always like to add a hint of wheat malt to the bill, maybe around 5%. The current fan favorite is Weyermann’s Floor Malted Bohemian Wheat because it’s basically the Maris Otter of wheat malts, and adds a nice complexity that comes out beautifully in the finished beer. This also handles all of our head formation and foam retention, which we’ll need a little help on because we’re going to do our best to extract a TON of hop oils in this style.
The only other malt that we’ll typically add to this style is a simple, light American Crystal, somewhere in the 10° to 30° Lovibond range anywhere from 2.5% to 5%. This gives you a little bit of color, a hint of toffee sweetness, but should be just enough to help balance and accentuate your hops and malt profile. Remember, too, that you’re not bound to American Caramel/Crystal Malts, but can use just about anything in this range, including malts like Victory, CaraHELL and Golden Naked Oats.
As we said before, one of the biggest tenants of a West Coast IPA is that dry, crisp body and flavor profile. The secret to getting this is a solid shot of simple sugar in the form of dextrose. Dextrose can be added to any beer up to 10% without getting it’s distinctly hot ethanol characteristics, and it adds a perception of dryness to the beer that is a crucial part of this style. Above 10%, dextrose will give you a really distinct ‘ethanol heat’ that will make it taste more alcoholic, and ends up being unpleasant, especially if you’re trying to make a 5% or 6% IPA.
Hops, of course, are the most important part of the style. When choosing bittering hops, you want to stay away from high co-humulone varieties and stick to cleaner bittering hops, and hops that compliment your desired flavor profile. Despite the myrcene burn off, you still get some light terpene flavors from your bittering hops, and it’s important to balance your chosen hop varieties wisely.
Pliny is famous for its first, 90 minute boil addition, and this is never a bad idea, especially if you’ve chosen American Pilsner for your base malt. From here, a fun and complex bittering profile makes all of the difference. We like to layer the bittering additions, at the very least, at 45 and 15 minutes left in the boil. These additions always give you a pleasant balance of flavor and bitter. For a good idea of one of our favorite bittering profiles, check out our Evil Skunk beer recipe kit.
Whirlpool and Dry Hops
The most important part of these additions is terpene extraction: extracting all of the flavor from these late addition hops both from heat extraction at the right temperatures, between 180° F and 160° F, and ethanol extraction in the dry hop addition.
Keep in mind, if you don’t have the ability to cool your wort down to the proper extraction temperatures, don’t worry! The classic Flameout addition still applies here, and you can still make an incredible IPA.
One of our favorite methods to make sure that we get the full complexity of the hops in the aroma and flavor is to match or mirror the whirlpool and dry hop additions. This way, we pull the heat extracted side of the flavors and the ethanol extracted side of the flavors, giving us the full range of flavor potential.
Keep in mind, this isn’t the only way to do this. Some brewers find that using complementary hops between the whirlpool/flameout additions and the dry hops increases the complexity of the additions and the way that they interact.
As an example, let’s say that you have 2 oz of Azzaca, 2 oz of Idaho 7, 2 oz of El Dorado and 2 oz of Galaxy to use between your whirlpool and and dry hop additions. We would add 1 oz of each at whirlpool and 1 oz of each as a dry hop, but some brewers might use the Azacca and Idaho 7 as their whirlpool additions to pull some of the dankiness in a heat extraction, then dry hop with El Dorado and Galaxy to accentuate the brighter flavors of the other two, hoping that the balance between the two hits the mark that they want.
These are both super delicious and valid methods for hopping, so you’ll just have to play around and see what you like the best! If you want to read more about hop oil compositions and different ways to blend hops, check out our article Hop Series Volume 4: Understanding Hop Oils! It’s super helpful in determining what hops to use and how to get the profile that you want!Hopefully this article will help you make your best West Coast Style IPA yet! If you have any of your own tips and tricks to crushing this style, let everyone know in the comments below and let’s help each other make better beer! Don’t forget to connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest to keep up on all of the fun and exciting happenings, new blog articles and videos on BrewChatter TV on YouTube! If you haven’t already, sign up for our BrewChatter Newsletter and get updates, BrewWorkshop class dates, and savings direct to your inbox! Brew On!