What does “IPA” mean? Really? Beyond the acronym for India Pale Ale, what does it stand for? And how has that changed over the last 10 years, or over the last 100? Beer styles evolve, change, disappear and then sometimes reappear. None are authentic, and at best some are traditional, but only if we know the exact period in time this tradition took place. IPA in the US is not authentic, and it certainly is not traditional. It is an evolved style based on consumer preference. What the hell does this have to do with Notch Left of the Dial IPA? Hang on, we’ll get there, promise.
In the UK, IPA is a bit harder to explain, but war rationing, taxes and the love of pub drinking drove down the alcohol content and hop profile over time. It was never a strong beer relative to other styles in the first place, and the stories of a stronger beer brewed especially for export to India are bunk. Today it is hard to tell the difference between bitter, pale ale and IPA in the mother land.
In the US, it is a bit simpler. Since the first really hoppy craft brewed US beers were called IPA (which were really just strong pale ales), all hoppy beer styles now have IPA stuck in the style description. Why? Marketing. It shifts units, as the Brits would say. These new IPA styles (black, white, double, etc) are really just hoppy version of an existing style, or some new experiment that is hop forward. But “IPA” is shorthand for hoppy, and that is easier to communicate.
And Notch enters the fray with an IPA. Why? Because Notch fans have been relentless in this request, and sometimes you need to reward folks for their loyalty. I’m sure you could find at least a dozen quotes where I say the world does not need another IPA, or that it’s one of my least favorite styles, or some other curmudgeonly, dogmatic anti-IPA rant. Guilty. But the requests were inspiring, and got me thinking hard about IPA again.
But I am not naming it a Session IPA. It’s simply an IPA, because when I formulated the recipe, I wasn’t thinking of how I could dumb down a 6 – 7% ABV IPA. I thought about what I want in an IPA in the first place, and built it ground up. My ideal IPA has hop flavor that does not overwhelm the malt and has a drying bitterness in the finish that leaves you wanting more. And with a moderate ABV, you can have more. And for those looking for a low gravity IPA that mimics a 7% IPA, you will be disappointed. It’s not the point, just as a Helles is not trying to be a Bock.
I’m not big on the term “Session IPA”, and maybe that is surprising, but I’ve fought against the idea that a session beer is a watered down version of an existing style. (Is an IPA a watered down DIPA? Is a Bock a watered down Double Bock?) All of my beers (unless non-style specific) have been styles in their own right, brewed for centuries, and not some compromise of ABV and flavor. Session IPA sounds like a compromise to me. Session IPA is also the easiest and most obvious entry into session beer for most brewers, as there is not a lot of risk taking with that direction. Additionally, most of the “Session IPAs” I’ve seen fall into the “normal” ABV category. My head hurts, let’s move on.
So onto the beer! Left of the Dial is where British malt, hard water and low gravity meets a new wave hop profile. The base malt (the entire base malt, not some or partial, the whole thing) is Fawcett Golden Promise, and that really sets this beer apart, along with a touch of Weyerman Vienna and Fawcett oat malt. The hops are Citra, Galaxy and Simcoe, with a smidge of Centennial. The hops are forward, but balanced. This is session beer, even if we are not calling it that. There is more detail to this beer, but you’ll draw conclusions if I tell you more. For example, IBUs (International Bittering Units), one of the most useless pieces of information a brewer could give their consumer! Sorry, been wanting to say that for a long, long time.
So, after all that, how does it taste? Like an IPA, but without any cloying sweetness and booze that fatigues and gets in the way of multiple pints and extended good times. Call it a Session IPA if you want, but to me it’s simply the IPA I’d like to drink, and I think Notch fans would like to drink. It may be the only time you see this beer, because it broke the bank, so I hope you enjoy!
Oh, and the beer name, the first ever for a Notch beer. What’s up with that, a beer name? Fun! And since we are not calling it “Session IPA”, it was time to name a beer. So, if you are old enough to remember using analog FM dials to find WMBR and listen to the Late Risers Club, you’ll understand the double meaning.