Bursting onto the beer scene, brut IPAs are turning heads with their dry, champagne-like feel. Light and drinkable, these IPAs add variety to a beer list, tout low sugar and calorie counts, and pair well with a wealth of dishes.
“What differentiates the brut IPA is the dryness and effervescence,” says Melody Crisp, marketing director for Coronado Brewing Company in Coronado, California. “It’s a great alternative to something sparkly [and] also really refreshing. It can help cleanse the palate for a lot of different kinds of food.”
Because the brut IPA is a new brew, experimentation is ongoing, but there are a few qualities that differentiate it from other IPAs. Bryan Winslow, co-owner and head brewer at St Elmo Brewing Company in Austin, Texas, says its super-dry, aromatic, and bubbly personality stands out alongside its drinkability, low bitterness, brut champagne inspiration, and light, floral hops. Additionally, the hops brewers use mirror fruits like green grapes, melons, gooseberry, passion fruit, mango, and guava.
Due to their extreme dryness, brut IPAs have nuanced flavors like wines, says Mike Francis, founder and CEO at Payette Brewing Co. in Boise, Idaho. Where some beers like stouts clearly taste like chocolate or vanilla, he says these beers have subtle flavor hints that surface during the drinking experience.
Brut IPAs are also exciting brewers because they’re a technical challenge to create due to their low sugar, and careful attention is required to forge a good batch.
“For me as a brewer, I have to be on top of my game to make sure I’m producing it well. I’ve found a lot of brut IPAs that if you don’t handle them with care, there’s a lot of off flavors,” says Ross Koenigs, research and development brewer for New Belgium Brewing Company. “It’s a really neat and interesting challenge. … I need to be diligent, as to my processing techniques, how I’m handling it, and how I’m moving it through my brewery so I’m not potentially causing off flavors or anything like that.”
Not only are brut IPAs breaking through as the new beer on the block, but their versatility complements a wide range of cuisines and beer lists. The diverse flavor also casts a wide net in terms of consumer appeal. IPA lovers and wine drinkers alike may enjoy this beer and find that it’s a bridge into a broader range of beverages.
“I fell in love with [brut IPAs] because they have the light, bright, and crisp characteristics of a lager, but they have the experience of an IPA,” says Paige Francis, owner and marketing director at Payette Brewing Co. in Boise, Idaho. “It’s refreshing and a good go-to beer, but I still feel I’m having this awesome IPA that as a beer drinker I crave.”
The low-sugar content has an inherent health halo and also increases drinkability, leading patrons to drink more than one in a single visit. Brut IPAs boast a relatively low calorie count, typically hovering around 120–130 calories per serving.
Both Mike Francis and Koenigs say that at a time when seltzers are booming, brut IPAs can attract a similar, wellness-minded audience. The key, says Mike Francis, is for restaurants to highlight low sugar alongside low carb, similar to the seltzer category.
Playing to its dual nature, brut IPAs can pair with foods from both the wine and beer sides of the aisle. Like a standard IPA, the brut variety can counteract indulgent foods that skew salty and fatty like burgers, pizza, and fried chicken. Dry sparkling wines temper spice-forward cuisines including Indian, Thai, Sichuan, and Mexican and the same goes for brut IPAs.
Crisp recommends restaurants test various brut IPAs to determine which ones knock it out of the park with top-selling dishes.
“At the end of the day, what are you trying to put the focus on?” Crisp says. “Are you trying to highlight a certain element of a dish, or are you trying to temper the heat? Are you trying to bring out the herbaceous or fruity notes? Depending on what you’re going for, I’m sure there’s a beer that’s going to be a home run pairing.”
The approaching holiday season could also mark a new opportunity for brut IPAs. Although the beer is far from a Champagne competitor, the effervescent texture and dry finish fall in line with the festive libation. As Winslow points out, customers who aren’t avid wine drinkers may gravitate toward a brut IPA. The clean palate also makes it an ideal base for craft cocktails.
“That’s what’s nice about this style in particular; it’s reaching an audience that might not necessarily be drinking wine or going for something sparkling like a cava or Champagne, and this is a great alternative to play in that space,” Crisp says. “It’s also a great beer to experiment with for cocktails [and] could be something fun to explore [in adding] effervescence to a beer cocktail.”