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The Confusing Case of Cold IPAs 

No one argues they're not cold. But are they IPAs?

If you're the type of craft beer drinker who casually peruses tap lists but really, you're just searching for the IPAs, you've possibly come across something called a cold IPA. Instead of that being something darker and maltier in the vein of a Winter IPA, it's actually lighter and drier. In short, it's an India Pale Ale that's been fermented with a lager yeast strain instead of an ale yeast strain, and like lagers, they're fermented at cooler temperatures. If you're asking, "Wouldn't that make it a lager instead of an ale?" you're not alone. But words have always changed meaning and marketing descriptions always keep up with the times, so all I can tell you is, a cold IPA is crafted in nearly the same way as the short-lived India Pale Lager style from the aughts, but updated for the '20s.

click to enlarge COURTESY OF UNSPLASH
  • Courtesy of Unsplash

Moreover, just as New England-style or hazy IPAs are marked by a sweeter juiciness and rely on what's called late-addition hops to emphasize fruitiness while de-emphasizing early-addition hops that contribute bitterness, dry and crisp cold IPAs are a reaction to hazies. The contemporary style's origins only date back to October, 2018, when brewmaster Kevin Davey devised it at Wayfinder Beer in Portland. The paradox of cold IPA is that it both promotes "juicy," fruit-forward notes courtesy of trendier, tropical hop flavors while also suppressing fruity esters—aromatic compounds—contributed by ale yeast strains.

In the ensuing four years, the style has begun to take flight around the Pacific Northwest and has reached not only the East Coast, but overseas craft breweries as well. Yet it has scarcely graced Central Oregon brewery draft lines.

Silver Moon released Cosmic Chill Cold IPA earlier this year and according to brewery owner James Watts, "It was a big hit that we're adding it to our core year-round lineup for 2023." Perhaps less of a hit? The style name. When it returns—in cans next time—it will simply be called Cosmic Chill IPA.

McMenamins Old St. Francis School, Crux Fermentation Project, and 10 Barrel are among the other few local breweries that dabbled in the style. Wild Ride brewed a one-off called Crazy Eight Cold IPA and its ephemeral Crazy Fresh, a fresh-hopped cold IPA, is currently available.

Andrew Rhine of Cascade Lakes Brewing Company left the door open to brewing a cold IPA in the near future. So, too, has GoodLife co-owner Ty Barnett, who pointed out that friend-of-the-brewery, G. Love (during a conversation while Love was in town performing at Hayden Homes Amphitheater) said he'd like to see his next duet with GoodLife be a cold IPA. More telling, though, is what Barnett added. "For now, we are sticking to traditional lager styles." He rattled off examples such as GoodLife's Pilsner, Helles and Oktoberfest.

That's what Franklin Gordon, the beer buyer at Third Street Beverage and a Certified Cicerone, likes to hear.

"As a beer educator and someone who works in sales, I can't get behind the cold IPA moniker. All beers are either ales or lagers, and the one and only differentiator of the two is which yeast strain was used to brew it." He further stressed, "IPA stands for India Pale Ale and if you brew a beer with a lager yeast, as the vast majority of cold IPAs do, and call it an IPA, it is inherently wrong...You end up with a trend in beer production and consumption that is detrimental to the industry. Now, people drinking beer often couldn't care less, and distributors love a hot, new beer trend, but brewers should know better than to get behind what is essentially an advertising gimmick."

It's hard to argue against Gordon's point. But the beer industry prefers to sell beer than get involved in pedantic arguments. Boss Rambler's Matt Molletta noted that his brewery has, indeed, brewed cold IPAs but has possibly already moved past them "like the Brut IPA fad," referring to the evanescent style from 2018 that, like cold IPA, offered a drier drinking experience but achieved it through enzymes rather than lager yeast. Because IPA is the most consumer-driven style, and consumers also want the new hotness, right now that may be cold IPA, but from bitter West Coast IPAs to juicy East Coast IPAs, there will always be something new under the IPA umbrella.

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