Author Topic: Commercial IPA Variants Getting Worse/Less Hoppy  (Read 1132 times)

Offline skyler

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Commercial IPA Variants Getting Worse/Less Hoppy
« on: January 23, 2017, 09:15:06 PM »
We've all done it - ordered that seasonal IPA variant (black IPA, rye IPA, Northeastern IPA, etc) thinking it may be interesting. Sometimes we are offered something great (2010 Wookey Jack and Sublimely Self Righteous come to mind) and sometimes it's just a way to market a new beer that costs less to brew for some reason (using up old hops, often).

Seasonal and one-off products are always going to trend towards "hit and miss" territory. They are unproven, often experimental, and they are not a product that the brewery has declared worthy of year-round production. Still, one expects a level of consistency from the same product produced a different year. A craft beer consumer expects Wookey Jack to taste roughly the same in 2017 as it did in 2015. After all, Pale 31 tastes the same, doesn't it?

But something I have noticed is that many of these beers that have become seasonal rotations or year-round brews have greatly worsened recipes since they first came out. In some cases, hops have been swapped out or reduced. In other cases, we are given essentially just dry porters called "CDA" or or strangely-balanced strong pale ales called "RyePA with some kind of M. Night Shyamalan-style twist (personally I hate it most when dry hops are replaced with a fruit or vegetable in an "IPA").

This trend towards making things slowly worse after they have developed a following is nothing new to the beer business or the restaurant industry, for that matter. The reason you don't see Bob's Big Boy or El Torito in your neighborhood anymore? Corporate leadership sought profit growth through cost reduction, leading to an increasingly inferior product that eventually got abandoned by its customers. The same thing happened to a number of once-iconic beers like Ballantine Ale and Henry Weinhart's lager.

I have found that the IPA variant has become ground zero for quality drift in the craft beer sector (though sometimes, even flagship beers like Ninkasi's Total Domination IPA and Double Mountain's IRA get nerfed by recipe changes).

Example: I remember the instant that I decided I liked Black IPA and that it wasn't just a gimmick or a way to make cloudy beer look more presentable. It was in 2009 and I drank a glass of Hopworks Secession Black IPA (now called Secession CDA). This was a Simcoe/Amarillo IPA that was pitch black and had a subtle chocolate complexity from Carafa II (I asked the brewers and they told me). I recently had a pint of this same beer (first keg of the season) and it tasted like a thin, slightly hoppy porter. Having spoken to some of the brewery staff, I know they switched to a domestic malt "that they already use in other beers" instead of Carafa (I think black patent) and they switched hops a few times (I assume it's now a blend of leftover hops rather than a consistent recipe, but no one would confirm that). The color has gone from black to cola-like (though it tastes roastier than it did before) and the aroma has shifted from A+ IPA to B- American Porter. The balance is all off and it now seems like "Black IPA" would be a poor descriptor (they do call it a "Cascadian Dark Ale," FWIW).

Why are breweries seemingly unable or unwilling to maintain quality with these seasonal beers? Do they think customers don't notice? Do they assume that people with discriminating tastes only order their year-round products? Are hop prices continuing to rise at an unmanageable rate? I just don't get it.

Is this a nationwide thing or just something here on the west coast?

Offline Kutaka

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Re: Commercial IPA Variants Getting Worse/Less Hoppy
« Reply #1 on: January 24, 2017, 10:01:42 PM »
Because most people don't notice anything different. 

Because many people think they notice a major difference based on a taste from one or two years ago don't have a firm grasp on reality.

If the recipe has been weakened to produce more profit and less profit is made, then something can change to produce more profit.  This can be retiring the seasonal or advertising something people think would be an improvement, such as an unadvertised strategy of "this is the beer that used to be awesome, then we ruined it, but now it has CITRA and a cooler label !!!"   

Offline HoosierBrew

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Re: Commercial IPA Variants Getting Worse/Less Hoppy
« Reply #2 on: January 24, 2017, 10:39:32 PM »
IPA is a victim of its own success. It's fairly easy to brew a decent, mediocre at best IPA. And that's evidently enough for a lot of breweries. Young craft drinkers, whose goal is more number of pints than quality, taste a hoppy beer and assume it's good. Brewer brews more. Rinse and repeat. A great IPA is much harder to brew and less often strived for unfortunately. Hopefully drinkers' palates evolve as more time goes by.
Jon H.

Offline yso191

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Re: Commercial IPA Variants Getting Worse/Less Hoppy
« Reply #3 on: January 28, 2017, 05:36:36 PM »
Noooo!!   Bale Breaker is just about to release their seasonal triple IPA, Mt. St. Humulus, which is my favorite imperial IPA bar none (yes I have tried Pliny, etc.)

Where's my worry stone...
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Offline denny

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Re: Commercial IPA Variants Getting Worse/Less Hoppy
« Reply #4 on: January 28, 2017, 06:06:41 PM »
Noooo!!   Bale Breaker is just about to release their seasonal triple IPA, Mt. St. Humulus, which is my favorite imperial IPA bar none (yes I have tried Pliny, etc.)

Where's my worry stone...

I agree.  If you think IPAs are getting worse, blame the choices you have or make, not the producers.  There are some incredible IPAs out there.
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Offline narvin

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Re: Commercial IPA Variants Getting Worse/Less Hoppy
« Reply #5 on: January 28, 2017, 09:36:14 PM »
It's possible that you've changed.  Some IPAs that I used to think were killer seem just ok now.  Higher standards, plus older palate, I suppose... how fast do taste buds die?  :)
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Offline Phil_M

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Re: Commercial IPA Variants Getting Worse/Less Hoppy
« Reply #6 on: January 30, 2017, 05:52:41 PM »
Don't discount freshness (or lack thereof) for why IPAs don't taste like they used too. All to often a new microbrewery becomes available in my area, with plenty of fresh examples to be found. 6 months later, we're still getting cases from what must be the same pallet...and then it goes downhill from there. One distributor is working to stock less so the beer is fresher, hopefully others will follow. (Ironically, it's the local Bud distributor. They've actually been pretty supportive of the craft beer movement.)
Corn is a fine adjunct in beer.

And don't buy stale beer.

Offline erockrph

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Re: Commercial IPA Variants Getting Worse/Less Hoppy
« Reply #7 on: January 30, 2017, 05:58:23 PM »
Don't discount freshness (or lack thereof) for why IPAs don't taste like they used too. All to often a new microbrewery becomes available in my area, with plenty of fresh examples to be found. 6 months later, we're still getting cases from what must be the same pallet...and then it goes downhill from there. One distributor is working to stock less so the beer is fresher, hopefully others will follow. (Ironically, it's the local Bud distributor. They've actually been pretty supportive of the craft beer movement.)

That's because they're buying them all up...
Eric B.

Finally got around to starting a homebrewing blog: The Hop Whisperer

Offline Phil_M

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Re: Commercial IPA Variants Getting Worse/Less Hoppy
« Reply #8 on: January 30, 2017, 06:03:21 PM »
Don't discount freshness (or lack thereof) for why IPAs don't taste like they used too. All to often a new microbrewery becomes available in my area, with plenty of fresh examples to be found. 6 months later, we're still getting cases from what must be the same pallet...and then it goes downhill from there. One distributor is working to stock less so the beer is fresher, hopefully others will follow. (Ironically, it's the local Bud distributor. They've actually been pretty supportive of the craft beer movement.)

That's because they're buying them all up...

Could also be everyone else is that bad. The local Miller distributor regularly stock beer from a brewery that's 1.5 hours from my house...that are usually a couple months past the drink by date...
Corn is a fine adjunct in beer.

And don't buy stale beer.

Offline erockrph

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Re: Commercial IPA Variants Getting Worse/Less Hoppy
« Reply #9 on: January 30, 2017, 06:16:56 PM »
Don't discount freshness (or lack thereof) for why IPAs don't taste like they used too. All to often a new microbrewery becomes available in my area, with plenty of fresh examples to be found. 6 months later, we're still getting cases from what must be the same pallet...and then it goes downhill from there. One distributor is working to stock less so the beer is fresher, hopefully others will follow. (Ironically, it's the local Bud distributor. They've actually been pretty supportive of the craft beer movement.)

That's because they're buying them all up...

Could also be everyone else is that bad. The local Miller distributor regularly stock beer from a brewery that's 1.5 hours from my house...that are usually a couple months past the drink by date...
:facepalm: This is why I brew my own beer..
Eric B.

Finally got around to starting a homebrewing blog: The Hop Whisperer

Offline HoosierBrew

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Re: Commercial IPA Variants Getting Worse/Less Hoppy
« Reply #10 on: January 30, 2017, 06:26:52 PM »
:facepalm: This is why I brew my own beer..


No doubt! Nobody's hoppy beer beats your own, especially when it's fresh.
Jon H.