India Pale Ale, more commonly called IPA, has a become hugely popular style for craft brewers around the country, each trying to push the boundaries of bitterness and many ending up with a beer that’s all bite with no balance. That’s why when the brewers at AC Golden Brewing Co. decided to tackle a big, hoppy beer, they chose a slightly different route. Instead of a typical ale, they created a lager — the Colorado Native IPL.
“There’s two things that ale yeast does that lager yeast doesn’t do as much of if any,” said Glenn “Knip” Knippenberg, president and co-founder of AC Golden. “Ale yeast creates fruity esters and fusel alcohols, those you can smell and taste. So when you drink a beer that’s fermented with an ale yeast, you’re going to taste and smell the fruity esters and fusel alcohols to one level or another, either very pronounced or less pronounced.”
Knip said AC Golden figures that if you’re going after an IPA, it’s because you like hops, and if you like hop flavor and aroma, why would you want to taste other flavors left behind by the yeast?
“So we knew if we took a lager yeast and fermented it at colder temperatures, we could eliminate those and give our drinker a straight shot to the hop aroma and flavor without anything clouding it up,” Knip said. “So that’s what we did.”
Before brewing, bottling and unleashing a new IPL on the public, Knip’s team tested it on consumers, other brewers and IPA lovers to make sure they were on the right track. The first iteration was distributed to Old Chicago restaurants around the state for a full quarter of the year and it did really well, Knip said, but then brewers ran into a problem.
“We wanted to introduce an IPL, but we were going to have to come up with a different brand if we went with the IPL we put in Old Chicago,” he said. “We wanted it to be a Colorado Native brand, so the issue we had with the one that did so well in Old Chicago was one of the hops. Simcoe is a proprietary hop that’s not and won’t be grown in Colorado, so in order to make this a Colorado Native IPL, we had to reformulate, use hops that are readily available in Colorado, so it just took a while to get all that done.”
The brewers brewed and re-brewed to come up with a recipe they liked. Kegs of the different IPL recipes were toted to as many as 53 festivals around Colorado throughout the summer, and the local representatives provided feedback to the brewers on what consumers said about the beer. This means the beer you tried at a summer festival might not be the beer that heads to the bottling line.
“It’s always been a favorite, that’s the one people come back for,” Knip said of taking the IPL to festivals. “The brewers even come back and say, boy, this is quite a beer. We didn’t have a lot of negative feedback along the process, it was generally favorable the whole way, but they did give us feedback that allowed us to make a few tweaks here and there.”
Though AC Golden is owned by Coors, the little craft brewery doesn’t see much of big brother’s dollars for market research, so the beer was also sent out to craft-centric bars in the Denver area and even the employee bar at Coors for more feedback. The final recipe reflects months of beer guzzling by thousands of people — all in the name of research, of course.
THE FINAL PRODUCT
The end result is a dry-hopped India Pale Lager with a clean, dry finish made with a combination of Colorado-grown Chinook, Centennial, Cascade, Nugget and Crystal hops and Moravian two-row pale and Moravian two-row Munich malts processed at neighboring Golden Malting.
“One thing you can’t miss, when you take a drink of our IPL and you wait a minute after you swallow it, you have all the hop aroma and all the hop flavor you wanted but about a minute after you swallowed it, there’s not much left on your palate,” Knip said. “Even though you got a beer with 62 IBUs, the hop oils don’t linger on your palate. You reach for the glass to take another drink.”
The huge hop aroma comes with a 6.5 percent alcohol by volume tag, making the Colorado Native IPL much more sessionable than many bigger IPAs. With some IPAs, Knip said, you drink several of them and go home and wake up the next morning and you can still taste them. Not so with the IPL.
“It’s crisper and cleaner, cleans up very quickly, so if you wanted, you could have several of them,” Knip said.