Brewer Q&A: The Making of a Well-Balanced Double IPA

To say that IPAs are popular these days is a huge understatement. They’re literally everywhere. From sessions to doubles to even triples, beer drinkers love their hops. But how hoppy is too hoppy? Is there such a thing?

With the recent release of our Angel City Double IPA in limited 22 oz. bottles, we decided to sit down with one of the brains behind the beer and get his thoughts in our latest Brewer Q&A. Here’s what Jon, our brewmaster who’s been scheming and dreaming up beers at the Public House for the past 3 years, had to say.

So first things first. How long have you been brewing? When did you realize you wanted to brew professionally?

About 15 yrs now. I was lucky enough to have chosen to go to school at UC Davis, though initially not pursuing a career in the Brewing Sciences at all. Shortly into my studies there, I began home brewing with a good friend, and now Brewmaster of Captain Lawrence in NY, Scott Vaccaro. His enthusiasm for the craft undeniably inspired me to shift course and dive deep into both the art and sciences of brewing. Fortunately for me, I was in the right place and had the privilege of studying brewing science at UC Davis for the next several years under the guidance of Dr. Charlie Bamforth. After that, there was no going back.

What was the first beer you ever brewed? How’d it go?

I couldn’t tell you the first beer I brewed – Scott was crafting all sorts of different tasty juice back then and I was just along for the ride to learn (and of course partake). I can tell you that my first beer solo was an extract brewed Pale Ale put together from an online home-brew store. It surprisingly went terribly well (after having been mentored on much more demanding brew days in Scott’s garage/brew-lab), which certainly gave me the itch to keep on going. Along the way, there were certainly plenty of flops, and moving from extract home-brewing to all grain certainly accelerated the whoopsies… But in the end, the process was as much a part of the pleasure as was the final product. Never a brew day gone by without a few good laughs and a lesson or two to grow with.

What is your favorite style of beer to brew? To drink?

Ha! Those constant questions…. Not a chance I could ever truthfully answer either of those with an easy word or two. I don’t think I’m that different from most craft beer drinkers – each beer has its time and place. You’re probably not gonna find me throwing back Imperial Stouts on a hot day on the river or taking dainty, indulgent sips of a well balanced Helles on a freezing winter evening in the mountains. I think my favorite beer to drink matches the mood I’m in and the tone of my surroundings.

As far as favorite style to brew – anything that gets me opening a fresh, vacuum-sealed bag of juicy hops. Theres nothing like the sensation of walking into the cooler and cutting into a brand new foil bag of Citra, Motueka, or Centennial (or really anything with that big juicy aromatic burst). That being said, the smells of mashing in a big heavy wheat grain bill for a traditional Hefeweizen before the sun comes up, and mixing in a scoop or two into your oatmeal is another tough one to beat. Im terribly lucky to do what I do, in that front to back I get little gifts of the senses that make all the work both meaningful and rewarding.

Social IPA is among Jon’s Favorite Angel City Beers.

Do you have a favorite Angel City beer from everything we’ve ever brewed? What’s your favorite beer on tap right now?

Come on now – you know its rude to pick favorites. I’d say what I probably drink most at the Public House is our Social IPA. Its just so easy to be on my third pint and still be refreshed while at the same time having that beautiful fruity hop aroma and pleasant moderate bitterness pulling me back to the glass. I do think it’s rare though that I ever end up drinking any of our beers back to back all evening – now that we’ve got a great full brewing team and are constantly faced with 14-16 different offerings on draught at any time, jumping flavor to flavor is just too easy and enjoyable to pass up. The team is constantly coming up with new ideas for beers and pushing everyone’s palates in different directions. One of my favorites to sip on, that’s coming back on tap ready to start the year out, is our Baltic Porter. It’s big and malty, with just that subtle roastiness that makes it a graceful and complex sipper for any damp day and at 7%, just warming enough to keep warm with too.

Are you a fan of hop-heavy beers and Double IPAs? Is there such a thing as too hoppy?

While I do loves me some hops, there’s definitely a balancing point between aggressively well-hopped, and just overdone (at least in my humble opinion). My favorite hop heavy beers are those that can balance a heavy hand of juicy hop aroma and a pleasant cutting bitterness against other, equally important attributes of the beer. Just as a good pastry chef must balance the line of decadent sweetness against cloying sugariness, and play each keynote of the dessert amongst each other to create a complex and wonderful treat, so must the talented brewer use malt, yeast, and water to play in harmony with the hops.

You mentioned that some doubles can be really overpowering. What makes for the perfect DIPA and how did you guys approach our latest limited release, Angel City Double IPA?

For me, the perfect DIPA cannot be too sweet, nor lacking of body. It’s really important, I think, that once you start crossing the 7% ABV and 65 BU points in a beer, that your malt provide the robust canvas to paint upon. Angel City’s DIPA has been the culmination of several different recipe variations, finding just the right balance of bitterness, big sweet fruity and lightly floral hop notes, and just the right balance of caramel and base brewers malt, fermented nice and dry, to give a completely balanced beer in each sip

And finally, if you could brew anything, without any restraints, what would it be? What would you name it and why?

Finally, an easy question. Fortunately for us at Angel City, there really haven’t been many restraints. The beauty of being able to work with such a diverse and talented team as we have here is that the frame of reference is always being shifted. New ideas are floated all the time and the creative process here really relies upon the think tank of our whole team. We’ve been able to brew everything from our standards of IPA, Pilsner, and Wit, to oddballs like the Srirachelada, Mexican Cola Ale (fermented with over 30 cases of Mexican Coke), and Sake Ale (fermented over 2 1/2 months using an ancient Sake yeast strain and multiple brews into a single extended fermentation). We’ve been able to play with barrels ranging from obscure French wineries, to Honduran rum casks, to domestic brandy and whiskey, and even had the opportunity to collaborate direct with Jameson Irish Whiskey and their distillers and coopers out of Ireland. I really think if I could brew anything, it’ll be as exciting as the next one our team comes up with.

Angel City Double IPA is now available in limited quantities in 22 oz. bottles at the Public House and in stores.