Malt Monday: Flower Power

8 March 2010
By Richard Pliny

Ithaca Brewing Company Flower Power IPA

Style: India Pale Ale
Color: Amber
ABV: 7.5%
Price Point: $8 for 6-12 oz bottles
Technical Notes:
From the Ithaca Beer Company Website:  “Enjoy the clover honey hue and tropical nose. Simultaneously Punchy and soothing with a big body and a finish that boasts pineapple and grapefruit. Flower power is hopped and dry-hopped five different times throughout the brewing and fermentation process.”

Hedonic notes:

The pour is a rich amber color with a slightly off white foam.  The carbonation persists at an appropriate level throughout the tasting though the foam dissipates in a few minutes.

A strong citrus hop aroma dominates and is clearly composed of Amarillo hops.  A pine scent floats around faintly in the hop scents.  Very slight honey malt notes rest in the background.

Citrus/floral hop flavors dominate the palate.  A sweet grapefruit and grassy note characteristic of Cascade hops forms the middle of the hop flavor, followed by an almost pungent or spicy, earthy lingering finish reminding one of Columbus hops.  A light malty sweetness balances slightly, but does not disrupt the hop flavor and does not linger.

The mouthfeel is somewhat light despite the low yet appropriate level of carbonation.  Mouthcoating bitterness lingers as a reminder.  One would never guess that this beer is 7.5% alcohol.

This beer is quite delightful to drink overall.  As far as American IPAs are concerned, this is a very good example.  The clear dominance of Cascade and Amarillo (Amarillo is often described as a “super cascade”) hops imparts a clear citrus flavor and aroma that clearly places this beer in the American style category.  Though not as balanced as some, the malt flavor is present merely to mask undesirable aspects of very high hop beers, allowing the beer to showcase the pleasant side of the selected hops.  That said, it is perhaps not the most drinkable beer for those who do not enjoy IPAs as it is quite bitter (Ithaca Brewing Company reports 75 IBUs).  Within its style, however, Flower Power is a great example of an American IPA that is able to showcase citrus characteristics of hops.

Rating: 4 Corks!4 Corks!4 Corks!4 Corks! 4/5 Corks.  This beer is a prime example of an American IPA.


History!

This week’s review was published to commemorate Ithaca Brewery’s Flower Power IPA making it to the top 8 in Brewing News’ Third Annual National IPA Championship.  Flower Power made it to the final four last year so it should show well this year.  I will depart from the usual format of beer and science to instead discuss beer history.

The pale ale style finds its origins in the mid 1600s, when malters began the practice of using coke fired kilns to dry the malt.  Prior to this point, malt was difficult to dry properly to create a pale grain.  Moreover, these ale styles demanded a harder water than was typically available.   Lacking sufficiently hard water, London is known more for its brown ales and the pale ales never caught on in Colonial America.  American Colonists used their cheap pale malt to make lagers, which would become the dominant style of American beer for some time.

The need for hard water meant that Burton-on-Trent  became the epicenter of pale ale production, where brown ales remained the dominant beer in London.  Today, Bass beer (brewed in Burton-on-Trent) is a good example of this style.  The high sulphate concentration brings out the hop flavors.  Addition of gypsum was discovered to emulate this effect in other water sources, bringing about pale ale production in London in the late 1700s.

In most of Britain, pale ale and bitter are synonymous words (except in Burton-on-Trent, where it denotes their unique local style).  A number of brewers in Britain lost their export licenses to Russia (a huge beer market at the time) in the late eighteenth century, causing the consolidation of a number of well known pale ale breweries in the area.  Reeling from the loss of a large market, brewers pursued contracts with the British East India Trading Company.

One of the first brewers to win a British East India contract was Samuel Allsop and Sons Brewer located in Burton-on-Trent.  Allsop made a pale ale in the style of Hodgson, a previously famous London pale ale that had failed due to the loss of the Russian market.  The beer was very light with a stronger hop flavor than most pales of the time.  It is unlikely that this beer was much stronger than the contemporary bitters, though it was hopped more aggressively.  These beers were fermented to a very low residual content, creating a very dry flavor and mouthfeel.

It happened that the Indian market very much enjoyed this beer.  Its lighter taste made it well suited for the warmer climate and the bitter flavor appealed to customers.  The legend that the beer was developed as a high alcohol and high hop beer for the lengthy sea voyage to India is probably not true.  Porters of the time survived the trip despite higher residual sugars and lower alcohol content than IPAs of the time.  It is sometimes said that these beers would be infected with Brettanomyces during the voyage, resulting in the characteristic horse blanket flavor.

The birth of the modern American IPA would not be until sometime after the British IPA was well established.  In the early 1990s, with the rapid growth of the American craft brewing industry on the west coast, the American IPA as we know it today developed gradually.  Availability of American hop varieties (Cascade, Centennial and Willamette most notably) enabled brewers to make the distinctly citrus aromas that are characteristic of American IPAs.

Cascade hops (photo by michaelstyne on Flickr)

Invention of the Double IPA marked the formalization of the American Style IPA.  In 1994, Vinnie Cilurzo (now of Russian River fame) made a mistake in producing an IPA while working at Blind Pig Brewery.  He accidentally added 50% too much grain, and made up for the balance by adding double the hops.  It should be noted that some often credit this invention to Rogue Ales’ I2PA, first brewed in 1990, which followed a similar formula of increased malt and hops.

American IPAs have relied on the development of super hop strains that provide sufficient bitterness.  While Cascade, Centennial and Willamette provide great aroma, varieties like Warrior and Chinook lend a bittering kick to any beer.  More recent developments (called super alpha hops) like Summit, Tomahawk and Apollo have enabled American brewers to take the IPA and double IPA to a new level of bitterness.


Further Reading:

Bamfroth, Charles. Beer: Tap Into the Art and Science of Brewing. Oxford University Press: Oxford.  2009.

Daniels, Ray.  Designing Great Beers.  Brewer’s Publications: Boulder, CO.  2000.

Woolsey, David Alan.  Libations of the Eighteenth Century.  Universal Publishers. 2002.

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