While of course the American IPA is quite popular here in Japan, the English-style IPA doesn’t get quite as much love here. In fact, there aren’t that many examples of them, but today we’ll look at a couple of the better-known ones here – the Iwate Kura India Pale Ale and the Kobushi-hana IPA. For some context we’ll try them together with the Brooklyn Brewery East IPA.
Iwate Kura India Pale Ale (いわて蔵ビール・インディアペールエール)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Orange-gold, very cloudy, lots of sediment, initially frothy but settles down
Aroma – Very earthy and dirty, bready malts
Flavor – Taste is also malty and bready, lots of yeast, finish is earthy bitter with some sweetness, crackers again on finish, very nice overall, gets a bit sweet as it warms up
With the American IPA being so dominant in the craft beer scene, sometimes it’s hard to remember that the IPA is actually English in origin. As with most origin stories the one about the India Pale Ale being brewed with more hops to survive the voyage out to India is hotly contested, but the fact that the IPA did originate in England is basically well-accepted. Stylistically they’re actually not as far apart as you might think, at least in concept – they both take the pale ale and hop it up to really showcase the hop character.
Of course, you can clearly taste the differences in the two styles, so of course there are some differences in the kinds and amounts of ingredients used, with most of that being in the hops. The English-style IPAs traditionally have generous amounts of Goldings hops, but won’t be overwhelmingly bitter and will focus on producing a floral, earthy hoppiness. As you probably know their American siblings tend to go fairly nuts with the hops, and the more commonly used hops (the C-hops, Simcoe, Amarillo, etc.) will produce a noticeable citrus effect and really ramp up the bitterness.
As far as Iwate Kura goes, while they don’t specifically have a particular stylistic heritage that they profess to adhere to, they do have a strong English bent to them. In addition to this IPA, their Pale Ale, Red Ale, Stout and Oyster Stout are all English-style, with the latter two being very well-made beers. Of course they also make some not-so-great German style beers like their poor Weizen and Weizen Bock, so let’s see if how their take on the English IPA does.
The Iwate Kura India Pale Ale is a very nicely balanced English IPA, with a good variety of bold flavors. It is quite malty and bready, so if that’s not your thing you may not enjoy this one, but it does also have a good amount of yeast and dirt and earthy hops, and even a hint of citrus, especially on the finish. I quite liked this one, and I think the combination of bread and crackers with the bitterness was a good one. It does get a little bit on the sweet side as it warms up, so you might have to dock it some points for that. Overall, though, this is a good, flavorful beer that really nails the English IPA style very well.
Kobushi-hana IPA (こぶし花ビール・インディアペールエール)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 40
Pour – Hazy orange gold, foamy
Aroma – Hint of earth, some citrus hops, as it warms up very grassy
Flavor – Quite mild, sweet malts in the middle, grainy, finish is malty bitter, thin overall
Kobushi-hana, in our experience with them, are a very inconsistent brewer in terms of quality. Splitting up the beers we’ve reviewed from them by style, they are most successful with their Belgian-style beers (the nice Grand Cru and solid Belgian White), while the German-style beers were on the whole a bit less successful (the decent Marzen and pretty poor Maibock). As you can see from that list right there they are all over the map stylistically, although they generally stick to classic European styles rather than trying bolder American-type beers. You might call them rather conservative in that way, and that word might also best describe many of their beers we’ve tried before, so probably best to temper expectations on their English IPA take as well.
The Kobushi-hana IPA is not the most exciting IPA out there, even if we’re just looking at the less-heralded English IPAs. It’s very thin, and it doesn’t have much to offer besides some malty graininess to it – it could definitely use more earth/grass/yeast to give it some character, and the hops are also a bit too muted here. Fundamentally it just doesn’t have much flavor and doesn’t leave much of an impact, and we can’t really recommend this beer. While we didn’t necessarily expect a whole lot out of this one, this would still have to be categorized as a disappointment.
Brooklyn Brewery East IPA
Package: 12 fl oz bottle
Misc: Hops – Summit, Celeia, East Kent Golding, Centennial, Cascade, Amarillo
Pour – Gold in color, lots of creamy foam
Aroma – Tropical fruit and bubble gum
Flavor – Sweet and fruity, bubble gum on the finish, some malts in there but mostly fruity, some hop bitterness on finish but surprisingly light
Brooklyn Brewery is at the same time fairly ubiquitous and fairly anonymous, with most people having heard of them and had their beers but not being super excited about them. They certainly don’t have the cache of the newer and bolder breweries, but they’ve been a fairly steady presence in the craft beer world for a long time now. They also have a strong affinity for more traditional styles, with their Brooklyn Lager take on the Vienna lager being their flagship beer. This East IPA, which rather unexpectedly for an American craft brewer is an English-style IPA, was one of the early beers developed by brewmaster (and brewing legend) Garrett Oliver for Brooklyn, and while the Lager is by far their best-selling beer the East IPA is their number 2 beer in terms of sales.
The Brooklyn East IPA is very heavy on the tropical fruit and bubble gum, and given the ABV surprising how little bitterness it carries. It’s actually also surprising how little maltiness it carries, and really the bubble gum and tropical fruit sweetness are most prominent. In that sense this beer is perhaps a little bit of a cross between an English IPA and an American IPA, with a lot more fruit and pine then you would typically see in an English IPA, but also with a very restrained bitterness which would be unusual in an American IPA. The ingredients also reflect that kind of hybrid approach – the hops used do include East Kent Golding, but also include typical American IPA hops like Cascade, Centennial, and Amarillo, among others.
Putting all three of them together, for me the Iwate Kura India Pale Ale is the clear winner here. Not only does it adhere pretty closely to the style, it does so while bringing out those various flavor elements quite nicely and with good balance. The Brooklyn East IPA was also an interesting more hybrid English/American approach, and while it was certainly pleasant enough to drink it didn’t have a whole lot pizzazz to it. Bringing up the rear was the poor Kobushi-hana IPA, which while you could see the attempt at stylistic faithfulness to the English IPA didn’t really succeed on any level.
So with that a rare victory for the local contender over the overseas heavyweight! The Iwate Kura is actually not very easy to find, though, so if you can’t find it the Brooklyn East IPA (which is paradoxically much more readily available, thanks in part to Kirin’s 25% stake in Brooklyn Brewery) should do just fine, even though it won’t really give you a 100% accurate representation of the English IPA style.