The IPA is evolving. Since Boston Beer Company's launch in 1984, the India Pale Ale has taken on many iterations. The original pioneers of the style as we know it in this country were largely on the West Coast. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is technically not an IPA, but that beer and IPAs from Stone Brewing Co. and Lagunitas Brewing Co. set the standard of brews where bitter, earthy hop character was balanced by a heavy malt content.
Recently, up in Vermont, brewers like John Kimmich (The Alchemist), Shaun Hill (Hill Farmstead), and Sean Lawson (Lawson's Finest Liquids) have started something of their own IPA revolution, helping to loosely create the category of "East Coast IPAs". While these beers can be as bitter as their counterparts out west, they're generally less so, focusing on aromatics and perceived bitterness rather than actual pucker-factor. These brews are heavily dry-hopped and lighter on the palate, forgoing malt sweetness for levity in the quest for balance. Since trekking up to ski country to try brews like the Alchemist's Heady Topper and Hill Farmstead's Edward (technically a pale ale) last summer, it's a style I can't seem to get enough of.
The distinctions between "East Coast IPAs" and "West Coast IPAs" are loose. Plenty of beers west of the Mississippi are heavily dry-hopped, and today's en vogue Vermont brewers didn't invent the technique. Still, the descriptor functions as a useful jumping off point for discussing one of America's most popular beer styles. It comes in handy when describing Samuel Adams Rebel IPA, a beer brewed entirely with West Coast hops, in the trendy style of aromatic East Coast IPAs, by one of the East Coast's craft beer pioneers. Got it? I'll do my best to explain.
Rebel IPA is brewed with five hop varieties grown in the Pacific Northwest: Cascade, Simcoe, Centennial, Chinook, and Amarillo. It's not overly bitter. At 45 international bitterness units (IBUs), Rebel IPA clocks in well below Stone IPA (70 IBUs) and Bear Republic's Racer 5 (75 IBUs), two popular examples of the style from California. While the hops in the new Sam Adams brew are all from the West Coast, stylistically this beer falls in line more with Hill's creations in Vermont than it does with any of Stone's aggressively hopped products.
Rebel IPA was born in Samuel Adams' 10-gallon nanobrewery system, which operates within the walls of Boston Beer's Jamaica Plain facility. Brewer Seth Adams was in charge of the experiment, and the hops are some of his personal favorites. The goal, says Adams, was to create an IPA that "isn't based solely on bitterness level, like many other West Coast style IPAs, but pays homage to the aromatics and flavors of these West Coast hop varieties."
Boston Beer sent over a couple of test bottles of Rebel before its official release. It pours a bright copper color with an active white head.
The aroma on this beer really is something; tons of grapefruit, tangerine, and clean pine waft up from the glass. Sam Adams' ale yeast also imparts some fruity flavors. The first sip is awash in tropical fruit. As expected, there aren't a lot of pungent pine or damp earth flavors here. The mouthfeel is light-to-medium, and the bitterness of the brew is countered by the lack of a closing bite rather than malty sweetness. This one goes down very, very easily.
Boston Beer has struggled to produce a flagship IPA (though I'd argue that people are constantly overlooking the tremendous hop character in Boston Lager). With this beer they're attacking that problem head on, from the bold label, sans swigging patriot, to plans to roll out the beer all over the country. Samuel Adams makes a decent IPA mixed pack, but none of those beers, including Whitewater IPA and Latitude 48, have taken off as their own brand. While it's the preferred style of those who are already fans of craft beer, IPAs are a tougher sell to those that aren't. Rebel's aggressive branding, as well as its not being too bitter, give it a chance to approach more potential IPA drinkers.
Rebel IPA has been making appearances all over Boston in recent weeks, but Samuel Adams officially launches the beer nationwide on draft in January. Bottles will follow in February, for a suggested retail price of $7.99 to $9.99 per six-pack.