2020 was a tumultuous year for all of us, and as we have been posting on our blog, we have begun to make many changes for KBC in 2021. One of those changes was in taking a look at our current line-up of beers and deciding to create new series through which to showcase the new beers we want to make. Last week, we talked about our "locality" series. This week, we want to introduce our new "6 Tastes IPA" series.
A look back
It goes without saying that we love IPAs here at KBC. Our first release ever, Hajimemashite, was an American IPA, and the style was a large part of the reason we wanted to start a brewery that used both Belgian and American yeast. Since the beginning, we have ensured that there is a permanent spot in our lineup for these beers in our 'Kimagure' series. Additionally, many of our limited release brews were also variations on the IPA theme. Over the last five years, two things have really stood out to us regarding IPAs and the reaction they receive in the market. The first is the internal realisation that our most successful releases were those that had a clear purpose and reason for existing. The “Catcher” series that we released in 2016 was one good example of this, where each release was an expression of IPA that focused on different grains like wheat, oats, and rye. Another would be Yawara, which was an exploration of expressing softness through an IPA.
The second realisation, which is an external one, is the homogenisation of the style. IPA has always been something that continually changes due to brewer innovation and customer preferences. The first American IPAs were an extension of the pale ale style that started the craft beer movement - citrus and pine-heavy hop character laced upon a firm malt base. As double, triple, and imperial IPAs began to emerge, the style became something of a hops arms race: the more hops the better (and bitter)!!! Eventually, consumers got tired of all the extremes and experimentation started with drinkability and balance. For a while low ABV IPAs were the rage, then black, red, and white ones. Sometimes there would be a wild new departure like sour or milkshake IPA, but eventually preferences settled on what now typifies the style: low bitterness with high hop flavour and aroma.
The unfortunate outcome of this is a homogenisation of the style, with every brewery making some hazy interpretation of this combination. While it goes without saying that a well-made hazy IPA is delicious, we often wonder if we are the only ones who feel their flavour combinations fall within such a narrow range that it is nearly impossible to tell one from another. Honestly, for all the effort that breweries put in promoting the latest IPA release that uses a different hop combination than the last, how much does this affect the final flavour perception of these beers?
About This Series
These questions became the inspiration for our new "Six Tastes IPA" series. With IPAs becoming so one dimensional, we felt that exploring the portrayal of the six taste sensations (sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter, and savoury/umami) through a variety of IPAs would remind us all that there is more to the style than just one dimension. Thus, new instalments of this series will be released periodically over the year, each one exploring a different taste sensation.
How are you going to achieve that goal?
For spicy, does that mean the heat of cayenne pepper? Or the prickly sensation of Sansho? Or a blend of spices like curry? Do any of these components already exist in the style and if so, how can they be taken in a new direction? And bitter of course is a component of hops, but does it have to be a component of IPA? Or what would happen if the bitterness comes from something other than hops - is that still an IPA? These are the kind of things we will be thinking about as we craft each new release.
While it would be easier to simply fall in line and make IPAs the same way everyone else does, we find much more reward in attempting something new, different, and challenging. There will certainly be releases that are divisive and challenging for both brewers and consumers alike, but we will have achieved our goal if we spark conversations of what it means to be an IPA or inspire someone to create the IPA of the future. Join us on this journey of flavour exploration!