When Brewmaster Matt Brynildson and his team set out to create our new Hopnosis IPA, they embarked on an ambitious new challenge: redefining the future of the classic West Coast IPA style.
To understand how we got here, let’s first take a look at the improbable success story of American IPAs over the past 20 years–and how it ultimately led to Hopnosis and the next generation of West Coast IPAs.
West Coast Revolution
West Coast IPA is the style that sparked the craft beer revolution in the early 2000s. It’s why the term “IPA” went from obscure beer geek moniker to household name in the span of a decade. The appeal was obvious–big flavors built upon bold hop profiles, awakening the collective palate to new possibilities and standing in stark contrast to fizzy industry American beer.
Firestone Walker was established in 1996, in the pre-IPA era. We specialized in pale ales, the stylistic precursor to the IPA. In fact, and IPA is a form of pale ale, but with an amplified hop profile and everything that goes along with that. The West Coast IPA style itself was distinguished by its new age hop flavors and aromas; distinct and even aggressive hop bitterness; and a dash of malt middle.
Anchor, Russian River, Sierra Nevada, Bear Republic, Stone, Green Flash, and Pizza Port were among the California breweries with early iterations of what became known as the “West Coast IPA” style, and by the mid-aughts it really began to take off. From there, it was off to the races and by 2010, the style was infiltrating the mainstream and becoming “a thing.” We were proudly in that mix of that revolution with our Union Jack IPA starting in 2006, and it remains one of our flagships to this day.
East Coast Evolution
The next big IPA style was sparked 3,000 miles away on the East Coast–the Hazy IPA, also known as the New England style. In contrast to the West Coast IPAs, these IPAs had a distinct hazy look that was a byproduct of the brewing techniques used to create the style: fruity and juicy hop flavors, with a lower bitterness and less assertive malt presence.
We need not overstate the obvious here–hazy IPAs took the world by storm over the past five years, and they overtook the West Coast style as the predominant IPA of the moment.
Not that West Coast IPAs ever went away. Far from it. And in some ways, you could say that the West Coast IPA was biding its time, and that its time has now come again–but with a new school twist.
As beer writer Joshua Bernstein noted in a recent story on SevenFifty Daily, “As hazy-IPA fatigue sets in, breweries across the U.S. are finding success revamping the bitter West Coast style…To overhaul the West Coast IPA, breweries are employing cutting-edge hops, ingredients, and brewing techniques.”
Which precisely describes our approach to creating Hopnosis, as Bernstein notes: “Fifteen years ago, Firestone Walker released Union Jack, its flagship West Coast IPA known for its generous bitterness. About a year ago, the Paso Robles, California, brewery set out to create what brewmaster Matt Brynildson calls the ‘ultimate new-school expression of the West Coast IPA’…To make Hopnosis, Firestone Walker settled on a blend of New Zealand and Pacific Northwest hops, including Mosaic Cryo Hops, and swapped its house British ale yeast for a lager strain–a clean platform for hop expression.”
The most noticeable difference between the classic West Coast style and where it’s now headed can be summed up in two words: less bitterness. In that way, the hazy IPA has made its mark on the style that started it all.
“This is where the West Coast style is headed,” Matt said. “Aromatic hops and new hopping techniques that are driving the future. On top of that, Cryo Hops® are opening up fresh possibilities. Now you can get all the ‘oomph’ of hop saturation that you want form a West Coast IPA, but with less of that classic bitterness, more of these new-age hop flavors, and a whole new level of balance and drinkability.”