Bubbly like champagne: Austin brewers clamoring to make new brut IPA

There is seemingly no end to the number of ways that brewers will play with what has became a quintessential American beer: the hop-forward India Pale Ale. This year, the not-so-newfangled hazy IPA has officially been recognized as a bona fide beer style by the Brewers Association — and is already the most entered category in next month’s Great American Beer Festival — but it’s not the only IPA variation that has captured the attention of Austin brewers of late.

Within a span of a couple weeks, a growing number of local breweries have introduced their takes on the brut IPA, the latest beer trend to emerge from California. The name is a nod to the beer’s champagne-like, bone-dry profile. It’s also supposed to be pale, effervescent and low in bitterness, a lively liquid that its creator, San Francisco brewmaster Kim Sturdavant, said in Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine “is just unlike anything else I’ve had.”

On Aug. 7, an Instagram caption on Oasis, Texas Brewing’s account announced its Semi-Brut IPA: “As far as we know, we’re the first to brew this style in Texas!” The Lake Travis brewery might well be able to claim that honor, but it wasn’t the only beer producer with a brut IPA on its tap wall for very long. (So far, most of the brut-like brews have been limited, draft-only releases.)

Within the past week or two, Hops & Grain, Last Stand Brewing and North by Northwest have all released versions, and St. Elmo Brewing is in the process of making one.

“It seems like everybody in Texas found out about brut IPAs at the same time and immediately made them,” Last Stand brewer Jim Sampson said. “We don’t usually play the fad game, but when I read about them about a month ago, that’s pretty much when Kerry (Richardson, Last Stand co-owner) and I said, ‘Let’s do this now.’”

Last Stand’s I Am Bruticus tapped for the first time last weekend with a double dry-hopped profile of Amarillo, Centennial and El Dorado hops. The tangerine-hued brew is light, bright and crisp, with all the enticing hop aromas and flavors of a hazy IPA as well as extra carbonation to make it more like champagne.

The key to producing the brut IPA is an enzyme called amyloglucosidase, which is sometimes used to cut down the sweetness of an imperial stout. But San Francisco brewer Sturdavant had the idea to use it in a traditional IPA — the enzyme is able to break down complex sugars that are ordinarily not able to be fermented. What results is a beer without any residual sugar at all. Last Stand’s brut IPA, in fact, had so little left behind that it was measured at negative degrees plato.

Both Last Stand and Hops & Grain relied on the amyloglucosidase to achieve their beers’ bone-dry quality. Hops & Grain debuted two brut IPAs, Broot Point and Brut Scootin Boogie, in its East Austin taproom last week and released them more widely this week. The brewery’s founder and president, Josh Hare, noted another important element of the beer is how the hops are used: not to add bitterness, as in traditional IPAs, but to contribute lots of flavor and aroma.

MORE: Get to know Austin’s breweries, distilleries and more in the Austin360 Boozery Guide

He said the hops shine particularly well in the new IPA style. The goal with it is to “create a hop-forward beer that (marries) the dry nature of a brut champagne with the juicy, tropical and citrus hop character that many brewers are trying to represent with some of the newer-school IPAs being produced,” Hare said. “It sounded pretty cool to us, so we decided to give it a shot. And I can say with a firm degree of certainty that we’ll be brewing plenty more examples of the style.”

Make no mistake, however: Brut IPAs are still in their infancy, and brewers are still experimenting, figuring out what the parameters of the style are. For instance, does it have to be made with amyloglucosidase to be considered a brut IPA? Is an extra effervescence as requisite to the beer as the dryness is? And will it achieve the popularity of the hazy IPA, enough to be officially added as a beer style someday?

“It’s still a style in the making, and my guess is over the next year or two, we’ll kind of see what the general consensus is,” Sampson said. “Is it supposed to be hazy? Do we prefer it clear? Maybe GABF will add it to the competition one day and have general guidelines for it. (Last Stand) decided not to have haze for ours because if you’re thinking of it as beer champagne, you would want it to be crystal clear.”

The straw-colored Brutylicious IPA that is going on tap to celebrate North by Northwest’s nineteenth anniversary this weekend is yet another take on the style. NXNW head brewer Kevin Roark used the enzyme — which is also called amylase — to produce a dry finish that “blends well with the smaller bubbles and higher carbonation in this beer,” he said.

Having the low residual sugar levels and fairly high carbonation levels, he said, “really help the hops take center stage.”

NXNW founder Davis Tucker also noted that champagne yeast can be used to achieve the greater effervescence and dryness sought in the style. Brewers have been branching out and using the traditionally wine-producing yeast because of how well it eats up sugar.

“The idea is to end up with a beer that’s highly drinkable and a good transition from summer to fall,” Tucker said.

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