New England IPA from BYO Magazine

NEIPA: Style Profile

Author:  Gordon Strong Issue: May/Jun 2017

The inspiration for this column is a recent tweet that I posted (I’m @GordonStrong, by the way), “This is a FAQ for @BJCP_Official competitions: Enter New England IPA as 21B Specialty IPA. It’s exactly why we created this style.” This tweet was liked 43 times and retweeted 26 times, which is semi-viral for beer judging tweets, so I figured that this was a current topic worth addressing.

Perhaps it is a sign of the times, but contrast that tweet with another one I posted a few weeks later at a competition, “Judging a New England Cider. Remind me again, those are the really cloudy ones?” This was clearly a joke, since I was pointing out the new habit of some to use “New England” as synonymous with “cloudy” (like “imperial” has been used for “strong”) but not everyone has a sense of humor. One person responded, “Is there a way to unlike this tweet since it’s so un-PC.” I’m not sure when beer styles became politically correct, but I have no interest in mixing politics and beer.

The New England IPA style showed up on the national beer consumer radar around 2011 when The Alchemist began canning Heady Topper, but it wasn’t until after the 2015 Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guidelines were released that the style really exploded (at least, outside of New England) and became one of the most sought after styles. At the time the style guide was being revised we definitely foresaw continued experimentation and variations of IPAs. The 21B Specialty IPA style was created to house these new styles, but to be judged consistently a style description is in the works.

While it still seems like the style is evolving, it has become popular enough that there is demand for a competition reference. For those who haven’t tried one of these, a New England IPA is basically an American IPA that features an intense, mostly tropical fruit, hop aroma and flavor, is heavily dry hopped to the point of being hazy, and that has a fuller body, smoother flavor, and less perceived bitterness than other popular IPA examples.

Commercial examples are expensive and don’t travel well, so they can be hard to find outside of New England. Heady Topper is the best known example (and probably the original), but other good examples include Tree House Julius, Trillium Congress Street, Hill Farmstead Susan, and Tired Hands Alien Church. They generally follow the IPA and Double IPA styles for alcohol level, but some standard-strength versions exist (although they may be labeled as New England pale ales).

Sensory Profile

The most common word used in beer enthusiast forums for this style seems to be “juicy,” which can be somewhat misleading. I can think of several meanings, including “like juice,” “mouth-watering,” or “wet,” but I think the implication is the sensory equivalent of eating ripe or over-ripe fruit, especially tropical fruit.

The first thing you will notice looking at an example of this style is that the beer is quite hazy. Not cloudy, murky, turbid, milky, or otherwise thick-looking with large suspended particles; just a somewhat opaque, shiny, light-reflecting haze. The beer should not look like a yeast starter or a protein shake. The color is fairly pale (straw to golden), but some examples can have an orange hue. The opacity of the haze can make the color appear slightly darker than it is. A dense, white, rocky, persistent head is common as well.

The aroma and flavor should be dominated by hops, which are quite intense and fresh. The hop varieties used are commonly associated with ripe or overripe tropical fruit (mango, passionfruit, guava, pineapple, papaya, etc.), but can also have some stone fruit (apricot, peach) or citrus (orange, tangerine) character. Excessively resiny, piney, dank, herbaceous, or grassy characteristics are not typically found.

The malt profile is relatively neutral, with grainy or bready flavors commonplace. Caramel is not typically found, particularly the darker caramel flavors. A light toasty, honey-like, or biscuity malt flavor can sometimes be found, but the malt should not interfere with the appreciation of the hops.

The apparent bitterness level for this style is generally less than traditional IPAs, often at the moderate level. The bitterness is generally smooth and clean in character. The finish is soft, and there is rarely a minerally dryness or bite. The body helps mask some of the bitterness and support the late hop character. Some of the stronger versions may have a light alcohol character, but as with other IPAs, this shouldn’t be a hot or burning sensation.

While the beer is very fruity, it shouldn’t be sugary sweet and heavy from unfermented sugars. The high ester level may increase the perception of sweetness, as can the smooth body, soft finish, and lack of harshness. However, the mouthfeel is more from dextrins than sugars. A high final gravity is not appropriate for the style as this would negatively impact drinkability.

Ingredients & Methods

This beer style is hop-driven, but the choice of specific hop varieties and methods used to extract their best qualities is paramount to the success of the recipe. To get the tropical fruit character, you’ll have to use modern hop varieties such as Citra®, Mosaic®, GalaxyTM, Azacca®, El Dorado, or newer experimental varieties that may only be known by a number. Hop descriptors aren’t standardized, so you may wish to try small batch experiments before relying too heavily on expensive, untried varieties.

Hopping methods should be selected that avoid deriving too much bitterness from the hops while maximizing the extraction and preservation of positive hop oils. That’s a big problem since the way you get more of a hoppy character is to add more hops. Using first wort hopping instead of a traditional boil addition can give a smoother bitterness and more hop flavor. Omitting traditional boil additions up until the last 15–20 minutes can reduce harshness extracted from the vegetal matter in hops.

Adding most of the hops at the end of the boil, at knockout, or in the whirlpool can retain more of the hop oils while reducing the bitterness extracted from the hops. One whirlpool trick is to allow the wort to cool down from the boiling point since this will reduce the utilization rate of hops. This hasn’t been exactly determined, but I try to let the temperature reduce to 180 °F (82 °C) or less. Not all recipe software will calculate this effect properly (some will show zero utilization of hops added at knockout, for instance), so don’t overdo your main bittering additions.

Dry hopping is the biggest driver of hop character in this style. Multiple dry hop additions add a more complex character. Keep the additions in contact with the beer for a shorter time frame (2–3 days, perhaps) to focus on the hop oils without getting too much of the vegetal/grassy character from hops. One area of new research is dry hopping during active fermentation in the hopes of achieving biotransformation of the hop oils. This basically means certain hop oils will be transformed by metabolic pathways of yeast into different chemicals with additional fruity properties. This phenomenon is not well understood or characterized, so some amount of trial and error is still being used.

The grist for this style is relatively simple. Mostly neutral base malt is used, although some characterful pale ale type base malts may join the party. Caramel flavors are not desirable, so any crystal type malts should be used with great restraint and mostly in the paler color range. I leave them out of my recipes, but that’s the same thing I do with my normal IPAs too. Additional body is gained through the use of unmalted grains such as flaked wheat and oats. This practice is becoming more common in modern IPAs, but New England IPAs will use a higher percentage of these adjuncts. Simple mash programs are commonplace; I would avoid intensive step mashes since the additional body-building starches in the adjuncts are desirable.

I have heard of some recipes using raw starch, fruit purees, and other similar additives in the attempts to add haze and fruit character. The haze in this style is from the dry hopping process, not adding raw starch. Fruitiness comes from the hop choices, techniques, and biotransformation, not adding fruit.

The yeast selection is a matter open to debate. This style can be made with neutral or fruity American or English yeast. However, some swear by special strains derived from some of the well-known commercial producers. These products are available from some smaller yeast suppliers, such as GigaYeast GY054 Vermont IPA, Yeast Bay VT Ale Strain, or Omega Yeast Lab OYL-052 DIPA Ale. White Labs WLP095 (Burlington Ale) and Wyeast 1318 (London III) are also popular.

Nothing special needs to be done with the yeast, except perhaps allowing it to rise in temperature towards the end of fermentation to make sure it finishes strong and reduces any diacetyl present. Using other ester-producing techniques such as underpitching, using open fermenters, and fermenting warmer are not necessary. Try the biotransformation technique to see the effect of enhanced fruitiness before adding any other steps.

The water profile for this style is another matter open to debate among brewers. Some go quite heavy on the calcium chloride, which can give the beer a “wet” character. Some like to use some calcium sulfate to balance the bite. I prefer to go low on minerals in general, but you can tweak the balance of chloride to sulfate to help get the character you want. I don’t want the sulfur character from too much sulfate, so avoid Burtonizing the water. I can see increasing the calcium sulfate level rather than manipulating mash temperatures as the way to fine-tune the dryness of the beer.

Homebrew Example

The example I’m providing below follows the recommendations in this article fairly closely. I have made American IPAs with the same hops, so I do have a preference for modern IPAs with a tropical fruit character. But instead of using my normal Munich malt for a little more body, color, and flavor, I’m using flaked wheat and oats to give it some extra body. Golden Promise adds a little more malt interest to the neutral 2-row base malt I chose. A simple infusion mash will accomplish my goals, so I won’t use anything more involved. I have a preference for calcium chloride in my water treatments, but I’m adding a touch of calcium sulfate to give it a slight bite. I certainly don’t want a minerally character in my beer.

Amarillo® hops are one of my favorites, and they add a distinctive apricot flavor to the beer. They are the lowest alpha acid of the hops I’m using so I’ll use them for bitterness. I’ll save the tropical fruit hops for the late hopping. I’m using Citra®, which has a mango-guava character, GalaxyTM, which brings the passionfruit, and Mosaic®, which provides pineapple. Together, they should have the tropical fruit salad experience I want.

The hop techniques I’m using are a variation of my normal methods. I frequently use first wort hopping for a smooth bitterness and hop flavor, so no surprises there. I’m following this with hop bursting the knockout and whirlpool additions, including waiting for the whirlpool to cool off enough to minimize bitterness extraction.

I’m selecting one of the well-known yeast strains for this style, hoping for some extra biotransformation of the hop oils. To encourage this, I’m using three equal dry hop additions, with one of them during active fermentation. I’ll limit the dry hopping to three days for each addition, taking care to avoid oxygen uptake during the process. As soon as the last dry hops are pulled, I would keg and serve as quickly as possible to get the most fresh hop character.

I know the hop choices are expensive and popular, so they may be hard to find. But if you want the tropical character to shine, these are your best choices. Freshness of the hops is important, so make sure they aren’t oxidized before you use them (check that the hop cones are still green, and the lupulin is yellow not orange).


New England IPA

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.061 FG = 1.012
IBU = 56 SRM = 5 ABV = 6.5%


9 lbs. (4.1 kg) US 2-row malt
2 lbs. (0.91 kg) UK Golden Promise malt
1 lb. (0.45 kg) flaked wheat
12 oz. (340 g) flaked oats
12.9 AAU Amarillo® hops (first wort hop) (1.5 oz./43 g at 8.6% alpha acids)
1.5 oz. (43 g) Amarillo® hops (0 min.)
1 oz. (28 g) Citra® hops (hop stand)
1 oz. (28 g) GalaxyTM hops (hop stand)
1 oz. (28 g) Mosaic® hops (hop stand)
3 oz. (85 g) Citra® hops (dry hop)
1.5 oz. (43 g) GalaxyTM hops (dry hop)
1.5 oz. (43 g) Mosaic® hops (dry hop)
GigaYeast GY054 (Vermont IPA) or White Labs WLP095 (Burlington Ale) yeast
3⁄4 cup corn sugar (if priming)

Step by Step

On brew day, prepare your ingredients; mill the grains, measure your hops, and prepare your water. This recipe uses reverse osmosis (RO) water. Add 1⁄4 tsp 10% phosphoric acid per 5 gallons (19 L) of brewing water, or until water measures pH 5.5 at room temperature. Add 3⁄4 tsp. calcium chloride (CaCl2) and 1⁄4 tsp. calcium sulfate (CaSO4) to the mash.

On brew day, mash in all the grains at 152 °F (67 °C) in 5 gallons (19 L) of water, and hold this temperature for 60 minutes. Raise the temperature by infusion or direct heating to 168 °F (76 °C) to mashout. Recirculate for 15 minutes. Fly sparge with 168 °F (76 °C) water until 6.5 gallons (25 L) of wort is collected.

Boil the wort for 75 minutes, adding the hops at times indicated in the recipe. The first wort hops are added to the kettle just before lautering begins. The 0 minute hops get added right after the heat is turned off. Stir the wort gently and allow to cool to 180 °F (82 °C) then add the hop stand hops. Allow to stand for 20 minutes then chill to 64 °F (18 °C) and rack to the fermenter.

Oxygenate, then pitch the yeast. Start fermentation at 64 °F (18 °C), allowing temperature to rise naturally as fermentation progresses. Mix the dry hops and divide into three equal portions. The first portion gets added after two days of active fermentation. The second portion gets added at the end of fermentation.

The third portion gets added three days after fermentation ends. Allow each dry hop addition to be in contact with the beer for two to three days, then remove.

Rack the beer, prime and bottle condition, or keg and force carbonate to 2.5 volumes. Do not filter or fine the beer.

New England IPA

(5 gallons/19 L, extract with grains)
OG = 1.061 FG = 1.012
IBU = 56 SRM = 5 ABV = 6.5%


7.2 lbs. (3.3 kg) pale liquid malt extract
1 lb. (454 g) dried wheat or weizen malt extract
12.9 AAU Amarillo® hops (first wort hop) (1.5 oz./43 g at 8.6% alpha acids)
1.5 oz. (43 g) Amarillo® hops (0 min.)
1 oz. (28 g) Citra® hops (hop stand)
1 oz. (28 g) GalaxyTM hops (hop stand)
1 oz. (28 g) Mosaic® hops (hop stand)
3 oz. (85 g) Citra® hops (dry hop)
1.5 oz. (43 g) GalaxyTM hops (dry hop)
1.5 oz. (43 g) Mosaic® hops (dry hop)
GigaYeast GY054 (Vermont IPA) or White Labs WLP095 (Burlington Ale) yeast
3⁄4 cup corn sugar (if priming)

Step by Step

Use 6 gallons (23 L) of water in the brew kettle; heat to 158 °F (70 °C). Add the malt extracts and stir thoroughly to dissolve the extract completely. You do not want to feel liquid extract at the bottom of the kettle when stirring with your spoon. Turn the heat back on and bring to a boil.

Boil the wort for 60 minutes, adding the hops at times indicated. The first wort hops are added to the kettle just after the malt extract is dissolved but before bringing to a boil. The 0 minute hops get added right after the heat is turned off. Stir the wort gently and allow to cool to 180 °F (82 °C) then add the hop stand hops. Allow to stand for 20 minutes then chill to 64 °F (18 °C) and rack to the fermenter.

Oxygenate, then pitch the yeast. Start fermentation at 64 °F (18 °C), allowing temperature to rise naturally as fermentation progresses. Mix the dry hops and divide into three equal portions. The first portion gets added after two days of active fermentation. The second portion gets added at the end of fermentation. The third portion gets added three days after fermentation ends. Allow each dry hop addition to be in contact with the beer for two to three days, then remove.

Rack the beer, prime and bottle condition, or keg and force carbonate to 2.5 volumes. Do not filter or fine the beer.


Grand Haven Main Street Hopped-Up Homebrew Competition

The MOB has partnered with the Grand Haven Main Street Downtown Development Authority and Odd Side Ales to host a homebrew competition. This competition is part of the Grand Haven Main Street's Restaurant Week which is from February 17 through the 25th.

Competition entries will be accepted from January 16 through February 16, 2017, or until the maximum of 50 entries are received, the judging will take place on Saturday, February 18, 2017.

To view the competition rules and/or register your beer click here.

Upcoming Siciliano's Events

Here are the dates for the upcoming events that are sponsored by Siciliano's Market. Please put them on your calendar.

  • Siciliano’s Fourteenth Annual Homebrew Competition – Entries will be accepted from Monday, March 20, through Sunday, April 9, or until 200 entries are submitted. Judging will be held on Saturday, April 22, at the Guest House on Stocking Avenue. Please note that registration for judges & stewards is now open. Go here if you are interested in being a judge or steward at this year’s event.
  • The Fifth Annual Siciliano’s Big Brew Day – Saturday, May 6. 
  • The Fourteenth Annual Siciliano’s Homebrew Party – Saturday, May 20, at Johnson Park on Butterworth.

How To Sip Whiskey, Drink Beer

How To Sip Whiskey, Drink Beer
New Annals of Craft Collaboration

Jameson Caskmates whiskey aged in stout barrels.

The combination of drinking whiskey by the shot and chasing it with beer is known as a boilermaker, a process that generally is like throwing a haymaker to one’s head. It’s a method more familiar to the 1960s and B-movies than the current era, if only because whiskey and beer are so much better these days.

Yet, if you stop to consider that both whiskey and beer are made from malt, it can make sense to put them together again, precisely because the quality of each continues to improve with innovation. So I decided to give some thought to pairing whiskey and beer in the same three ways that one would pair food and beer. In other words, choose beers whose flavors are either complementary to the whiskey, a contrast to the whiskey or that refresh the palate.

The results were quite surprising.

Given the ruminative qualities of whiskey, which have inspired many an artist and writer, one might hope this pairing revelation initially resulted from intuitive thinking, if not drinking. Alas, I must confess that it was while working on a story about Caskmates made by Jameson Irish Whiskey that the idea occurred.

Caskmates is aged in barrels that previously held an Irish stout and prior to that, these same barrels were used to age Jameson Original. The Caskmates whiskey is highlighted by notes of cocoa with a hint of hops – which came from using the same aging barrels used by Franciscan Well of Cork, Ireland to make its Jameson Stout.

In the company’s media release about Caskmates, this mild-mannered suggestion was included: “With the subtle suggestion of hops in every sip, it also makes a perfect accompaniment to stout beer.”

Initially, I went to a Guinness stout as a pairing – in part because the Franciscan Well Jameson Stout is not available yet in the U.S. Alas, the Guinness pairing made me long for something richer.

So the journey began. At one of my favorite beer emporiums I bought a four-pack of Old Rasputin by North Coast Brewing Company, a truly rich Russian Imperial Stout. I also picked up a bottle of Taddy Porter by Samuel Smith’s as well as a six-pack of Boulevard Brewing Company’s Unfiltered Wheat. Once at the counter, I confessed that my selections were all whiskey chasers. “Oh, you’re going to have a merry holiday season,” was the reply. The pairing idea already seemed to be gaining traction.

Once at home by the fireplace (where there was no fire due to this year’s mild winter), my glass held two fingers of Caskmates and standing nearby was a pour of Old Rasputin, impenetrably black and topped by a creamy tan head. If straight whiskey invariably has a dry, hot finish, it quickly began to make real sense to follow it with the wetness and coolness of beer. And then start over. Soon the fire was roaring.

The Old Rasputin indeed offered a complementary richness to the cocoa and hop notes of the Caskmates and a soothing wet finish. It helped the palate find the subtle but noticeably present hoppiness in both. It was a warm, sensuous, flavorful and almost analgesic combination.

The next logical step was a sip of the whiskey followed by the Unfiltered Wheat in order to “cut” or cleanse the palate. I thought an American wheat style would be a bit more hoppy, less spicy and yeasty compared to European wheat beers, therefore a good selection as a palate restorer. What surprised me was how much the Caskmates and its distilled malt brought out the sweetness in the malt of the Boulevard. In one respect, this beer had never tasted so good, and the whiskey sustained its contrasting appeal of the cocoa and hop notes amidst the distilled malt. Still, it was not nearly as bracing or levitating as the complementary pairing of a Russian Imperial Stout.

The remaining method of food pairing calls for a beer that offers a contrast. I chose the Taddy Porter to pair with the whiskey because it tends to have a slightly more caramel and tangy flavor found in a classic English Porter, but is “stout” enough to hang with whiskey. Although a bit roasty, Taddy Porter is less hoppy and less chocolatey than many current stouts or American porters.

There was indeed a contrast – the Taddy blossomed in terms of its dark fruit notes and the whiskey retained its slightly dry notes of cocoa and hops plus a wee bit of the green apple, a flavor note in the Jameson Original used to make Caskmates.

The initial conclusion was that it only takes two fingers of whiskey straight up to handle three different pairings. So it’s not a volume thing like boilermakers. Certainly a feeling of bonhomie emerges, not surprisingly, with each beer and whiskey combo. But one combination stood out. The real upwardly bound sensation concerned the complementary matching with the mighty stout; the other two seemed to enhance the flavor of the beer without returning the favor to the whiskey.

After this heady introduction to sipping and drinking and maybe even a little thinking, it was logical to go for another tasting with a beer from my cellar, where I found a nicely aged year-old bottle of Gonzo Imperial Porter from Flying Dog Brewery – an extra hoppy version of a Baltic Porter first created in honor of Hunter S. Thompson. Gonzo journalist Thompson was fond of beer and whiskey, among other inebriants, and probably came up with a few pairings of his own along the way. So this seemed to be a perfect candidate for an alliance with the Caskmates, although I couldn’t decide if it should be considered a complementary or contrasting pairing.

The Gonzo Imperial is a thrilling beer, no doubt, starting with Ralph Steadman’s extraordinary label in tribute to Thompson; much like the various collaborations of these two journalists, the label tends to introduce hallucinogenic phobias. The beer is a meaty porter as opposed to tangy or chocolatey with an intentional burst of extra hops. These characteristics were emphasized by a year in the cellar before a brief stay in the freezer to bring it down to 55 degrees. Alas, the beer fell in between complementary or contrasting when drunk with the Caskmates – extra bitter and not enough cocoa or fruit.

So what about other whiskeys? I went to my liquor cabinet and brought out a bottle of Defiant, a single malt, which figured to be good for another round of pairings.

Alas, a similar result with the Gonzo Imperial Porter.

While it might be fun to report gonzo journalism lives and that I dove right into more whiskey and beer despite the bats flying through my house that had jumped off Steadman’s label amidst other paranoid ramblings, I concluded the inaugural whiskey and beer evening in favor of a second day’s sampling and a fresh palate.

Defiant, distilled in North Carolina by Blue Ridge Distillery, comes out of the same mountains that have been dominated for several centuries by Scotch-Irish distillers otherwise known as bootleggers. By creating a different way to distill it, this whiskey is made in the same spirit moonshiners often displayed. Defiant is made, surprisingly, without barrels. The influence of American oak comes from spirals of the wood used during the aging process in modern stainless steel tanks. It has been judged to be one of the most bourbon-like single malts made in the U.S.

The Day 2 tasting began with a trip to a neighborhood store, which yielded a bottle of Innis & Gunn Original as well as Lagunitas IPA.

A stab at making a complementary choice for the Defiant, the Innis & Gunn Original was one of the primogenitors of the movement to match beer with bourbon barrels. When paired with Defiant, the intense, flavorful whiskey highlighted the beer’s sweet vanilla notes, but otherwise, the beer and whiskey didn’t quite connect.

About this time, there seemed to be a pattern developing. I realized what was happening with each of the whiskeys and all of the pairings. Pairing the two alcohol types emphasizes retronasal tasting due to the volatized nature of whiskey, whose aromas are easily exhaled from the throat after a sip. A lesser known fact of life, retronasal tasting is something I first came across in Jeff Alworth’s recently released book The Beer Bible.

Alworth’s research is exacting and impeccable. In the case of explaining retronasal taste, he combined standard research on the nature of taste, which includes the limitations of the tongue, as well as insights from brewers who are charged with tasting beer daily and maintaining consistency. What Alworth confirmed was that the tasting of any flavor occurs most noticeably when the aromas come through the nose via the opening at the back of the throat, hence the phrase retronasal.

These retronasal “scents are always detected in the presence of the tongue’s taste,” writes Alworth. “That fusion may be why we are so easily fooled to think ‘flavor’ is something our taste buds sense. Yet, in most cases, when we say ‘taste,’ we mean the overall flavor of something, and when we say ‘flavor,’ we largely mean retronasal smell.”

Innis & Gunn Original and Lagunitas IPA

I seemed to be discovering that if a whiskey such as Caskmates has a cocoa and hops flavor, drinking a stout with a similar profile emphasizes the taste not only due to the complementary flavors. As the alcohol and intense flavors of whiskey continue to evaporate off the surface of the tongue and throat, they are exhaled into the back of the nose following a sip of beer and help carry the flavor of the beer, too. In other words, you get a real rush of flavor.

This is probably something already discovered by those drinking stouts enhanced by bourbon barrel-aging – alongside a few sips of bourbon.

In some cases, the whiskey tends to just enhance the beer. This would explain why even an American wheat tastes so flavorful after a sip of Caskmates. To take another example, the highlight of vanilla, which is the American oak flavor intensely imparted by Defiant, is brought to life by the Innis & Gunn Original. In these cases it seemed that the beer was enhanced considerably more than the whiskey.

It’s clearly more cerebral if the taste in the whiskey and the paired beer are similar in the manner of Caskmates and a rich Russian Imperial Stout, because one enhances the enjoyment of the other so noticeably.

The folks at Jameson, who are very interested in making the connection to the craft beer drinker, seem to have caught on to this, too. Starting with a small batch in 2016, Jameson intends to follow Caskmates with a whiskey influenced by an IPA that was made in Jameson barrels at KelSo Beer in Brooklyn.

KelSo owner Kelly Taylor, who began his brewing life in hop-heavy San Diego, made a floral IPA with highlights of spice and vanilla two years ago using six Jameson barrels. That beer was shared via kegs through the brewery’s distribution network in New York City and the barrels were sent back to Jameson’s distillery in Cork for experimentation with an IPA-influenced whiskey.

To me, the idea of making a whiskey influenced by an IPA through the wood of a barrel is interesting, because the lush, malty and bitter Lagunitas IPA, when paired with either of the whiskeys I experimented with, simply overwhelmed the connection. But what if you had a whiskey that accentuates the flavors of an IPA followed by a healthy swig of a lusty American IPA? That could be a one-two “barley-maker” punch worth trying.

As the winter wanes, meanwhile, consider enhancing the flavor of some of your favorite beers with a well-chosen pairing of some good sipping whiskey.

This story was copied from an email to The MOB by The Beer Connoisseur. For more articles, click here.

The Barley of the Gods

Connoisseur's Corner

The Barley of the Gods
(Photo Credit:

If you’ve been drinking porters and stouts this winter, then give a nod to the Mayans and Aztecs. The royalty of these cultures were the first to embrace chocolate by drinking it, and chances are, some of your favorite porters and stouts were brewed with chocolate malt, providing a hint of one of the world’s most famous drinkables and edibles.

When it came to liquid chocolate, the Mayans and Aztecs preferred consuming the foam, perhaps because it was easier to drink the slightly bitter substance this way in the absence of sugar. Although the Aztecs used some additives for flavoring, both cultures were known for repeatedly pouring or beating their chocolate drinks to create a foam head before sipping it right off the top.

So if that chocolatey Russian Imperial Stout you’re drinking with its nice foam head makes you feel like a member of the upper crust, maybe there’s something universal involved.

After the English Reformation, chocolate imported from the New World was drunk before coffee and tea started to dominate the hot drink scene in what became known as coffee houses. The English, like those across the water, were looking to chocolate for the effects of theobromine (food of the gods, directly translated) and caffeine, each a stimulant. On both sides of the Atlantic, the societies that endorsed the drinking of chocolate – or other caffeine-laced drinks – were flirting with the abandonment of what had made their societies strong. Their cultural ethic favored steady work and sobriety, not sitting and sipping stimulants or ingesting an aphrodisiac, a reputed quality of theobromine.

Photo Courtesy of Briess Malt & Ingredients Co.

These days, American and European cultures have learned to live with the "work hard, play hard" ethic. Should that porter or stout happen to also put you in the mood for love as Valentine’s Day approaches, forget about the feeling being sourced from any chocolate malt on three counts. First, theobromine has only been confirmed as a good accompaniment to caffeine. Second, chocolate malt is made from barley, which doesn’t have these ingredients or any other known stimulants – unless malted and brewed with hops! As importantly, there’s not much chocolate malt, which has a rather dry taste, in grist bills. Much of the flavor comes from other dark malts on the bill or roasted barley that is highlighted by the chocolate.

As far as the art of malt shoveling is concerned, not much has changed in the past century.
As far as the art of malt shoveling is concerned, not much has changed in the past century.
Photo Credit: Ian McIlwain

The story of chocolate malt doesn’t get much shrift in the mill that often provides the written grist on beer, its ingredients and history. Without stepping into the eternal debates surrounding porters and stouts, it’s well established that the malt roaster invented and patented by Daniel Wheeler in 1817 introduced black malt and was a key change in the darker beers favored by the British public and eventually around the world. Then a change in the laws regarding the taxation of malt in Britain in 1880 led to more widespread use of roasted barley.

Eventually, it caught on that roasting malt – after the usual techniques of germination – could be done in a way similar to roasting the beans of the cacao with a result remarkably similar to chocolate. The malted barley and cocoa nibs (the fermented beans of the cacao tree) have similar flavor precursors like peptides, amino acids and sugars, according to Cassie Liscomb, a technical services associate at Briess Malt & Ingredients Company in Wisconsin. The same roasting equipment used to make chocolate malt, she pointed out, is often used by companies that roast cocoa nibs prior to adding sugar and milk, among other ingredients, to create the familiar edible.

The Mayan
Some beers announce chocolate as a major flavor ingredient such as Young’s Double Chocolate Stout; Samuel Smith’s Chocolate Stout; or Choklat Stout, brewed by Southern Tier Brewing Co. In addition to chocolate malt, beers designated as chocolate generally have another source for flavoring such as cocoa nibs, cocoa or the chocolate we know in edible form. Invariably for all dark beers, the darker malts are a minority ingredient on the grist bill along with a majority of pale malt, which is more efficient for brewing.

Since Spaniards reported that pepper was one of the additives used by the Aztecs, it seems fitting that pepper-influenced dark beers have emerged with links to Mexico such as the Cocoa Mole Spiced Chocolate Porter from New Belgium Brewing Company; The Mayan from Britain’s Ilkley Brewery; or Chocolate Sombrero from Clown Shoes Brewing Company.

Chocolate Malt
Photo Courtesy of Briess Malt & Ingredients Co.

It took a while from the time Wheeler invented the roaster until chocolate malt first started showing up in beers made in Britain. It seemed to be a progression starting with the black malt that first came out of his patented device that was used primarily for coloring. Next, roasted barley gradually became a common ingredient, and apparently, only afterward came the use of chocolate malt in relatively small quantities.

Ironically, the use of chocolate malt in brewing may have resulted from the popularity of chocolate in something other than liquid form. British companies J.S. Fry & Sons and Cadbury made edible chocolate all the rage across a range of consumers in the 1920s along with Milton Hershey in America. This market change in consumer demand driven by producers happened about the same time chocolate malt began appearing in some grist bills in Britain.

If it’s difficult to pin down precisely when chocolate malt was first produced, it’s also hard to tell why. Due to the popularity of chocolate, perhaps there was a money-driven search for a method to replace production from cacao beans by starting with something home-grown – like barley. Brewers themselves might have wondered if there was a way to capitalize on the chocolate rage going on all round them and may have inquired about it at malting houses. The entire concept of specialty malts may have brought out more experimentation on many fronts due to better understanding of how to use the drum roaster invented by Wheeler.

After macro lager brewers began to dominate in America, a counter-reformation took place and chocolate in beer marched in the legion of this much larger movement. In 1972, Anchor Brewing Co. almost single-handedly saved the porter style in the U.S. and Britain, then the rest of the world by introducing its profoundly tasty Anchor Porter, which includes chocolate malt. It was the start of something compelling that led to other landmark dark beers brewed with chocolate malt once the craft movement was in full fermentation. The Bourbon County Stout from Goose Island Brewing Company, Obsidian Stout from Deschutes Brewery and the iconic Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Stout from Terrapin Brewing Company are among many others emerging along this arc of progression toward darker beers.

In light of Valentine’s Day, it’s almost enough to make one dream of amber/brown waves of chocolate barley growing in the heartland – even if there is no such thing until the barley meets a maltster and a roaster.

This story was copied from an email to The MOB by The Beer Connoisseur. For more articles, click here.