With this last round of snowstorms behind us, I think we could all use a tropical escape. But if that’s not possible, the next best thing just might be some tropical drinks, and I’m not talking sugary cocktails with tiny umbrellas.
In recent times, I’ve noticed a surge of “tropical IPAs” on tap and in stores. Of course, tropical IPA is not a formal category. It’s basically just a focused spinoff of the “fruit IPA” (also not a real style category), which has been all the rage as of late.
Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine recently (Feb.-Mar. 2017) asked the question, “What words does the industry, in aggregate, overuse in their own descriptions?” After searching more than 8,000 IPA descriptions, as written by breweries about their own beer, they generated a list of 30 of the most common descriptors. “Tropical” came in eighth, “citrusy” came in first, and “fruity” came in sixth. Not only does this hint at the type of IPAs being brewed, but it also gives us an idea of the buzz words consumers are craving.
Some tropical IPAs are made with actual fruit; some only use certain hop varieties to get their tropical fruit flavors; and some employ a combination of both. Characteristics range from West Coast style (i.e., aggressively hopped, bitter, dry, and snappy) to New England style (i.e., hazy, lightly carbonated, oaty and wheaty, mildly bitter, very fruity and highly aromatic from loads of late-addition hops and dry hopping).
The one thing all tropical IPAs seem to have in common is that they’re brewed with hop varieties that produce various notes of pineapple, mango, guava, melon, and more, such as Citra, Mosaic, Falconer’s Flight, Motueka, Triplepearl, Zythos, El Dorado, and Ekuanot (formerly Equinox), plus other fruit-forward and floral varieties such as Mosaic, Amarillo, Cascade, and Bravo.
Super Hop Neo-Tropic IPA by Stillwater Artisanal (6% ABV) pours hazy-gold with a fruity nose, reminiscent of your typical New England-style IPA. Flavor-wise, however, it sharply deviates from there with its bold bitterness. Up front, the beer offers juicy notes of pineapple, mango, melon, and grapefruit peel, which I liked. But in the finish – and well into the aftertaste – it has a pithy bitterness that comes off a bit harsh. Based on what I could find, Super Hop (sometimes written “Superhop”) is brewed with Citra, Galaxy and Hallertau Blanc hops. I’m not sure what yeast strain this beer was fermented with, but I tasted some estery notes of lemon and pepper, which I enjoyed.
Tropical Torpedo by Sierra Nevada (6.7% ABV) is a non-fruited IPA that still manages to exude tropical fruit flavors. Bittered with Amarillo hops and finished with Mosaic, Citra, El Dorado, and Comet, this is a bold IPA similar to Sierra Nevada’s “regular” Torpedo IPA, but with a “tropical twist” and “an intense rush of mango, papaya, and passionfruit,” in Sierra Nevada’s words. Its 55 IBUs easily cut through the pale, Munich and Honey malts, providing a solid but balanced bitterness.
IPAPAYA Papaya IPA by Full Sail (6.2% ABV) is a sharp IPA with noticeable papaya flavors in the background. Unfortunately, the fruit comes across a bit too earthy, mealy, muddled, and funky. Some say papaya is an acquired taste, or that it has to be enjoyed at its optimum ripeness. If you’re a papaya fan, maybe you’ll love this beer. I just couldn’t get into it, and I don’t like fruit that comes with excuses.
Citrus Zest IPA by pFriem Family Brewers (6.3% ABV) is crisp and clean with fruity accents. It has a dry finish and a balanced, pithy bitterness. This beer is made with grapefruit and tangelo zest along with fruity and citrusy hops. Beyond its rind notes, it also offers delicate aromas of melon.
Brewed with Equinox (now Ekuanot), Comet, and Cascade hops, Extrovert IPA by Left Hand (7.1% ABV) is a snappy and assertive IPA with bright, green notes of tropical fruit, pine and grass. It has a healthy 75 IBUs, but the bitterness is complemented well by rich, biscuity malt flavors.
This month, Stone Brewing unveiled its newest addition to its lineup of year-round offerings, Tangerine Express IPA (6.7% ABV), which is made with tangerines and pineapples. Fruit IPAs have gotten a bit out of control these days, and in my opinion most contain awkward, unintentional flavors that you wouldn’t expect from the fruit. But that’s not the case with Tangerine Express. Its fruit flavors shine through with authenticity, and it’s difficult to tell where the fruit flavors begin and the hop flavors end, and vice versa. Chinook, Magnum, Centennial, Azacca, Citra, Sterling, Mosaic, and Simcoe hops all add to the beer’s fruity complexity.
On a recent visit to Kulshan, I enjoyed the Brewers Select #27 Session IPA (4.2%), which offers lots of tropical and stone fruit flavors derived from Apollo, Cascade, Mosaic, Citra, and Calypso hops. I also appreciated Greenwood Tropical IPA (5.5% ABV), which has some tropical and piney aspects.
Aslan Brewing has produced many beers with a taste of the tropics. Dawn Patrol Pacific Ale (5.3% ABV) provides notes of mango and pineapple coupled with a gentle bitterness. Mosaic IPA (6.4% ABV), made with Mosaic and Summit hops, exudes juicy-floral goodness. And its recently released Megathrust Triple IPA (9.99% ABV), made with Bravo, Cascade, Chinook, Citra, and Mosaic hops, is a beast of a beer with flavorful elements of pineapple, mango, and melon.
My hunt for tropical-tasting IPAs continues in the Banana Belt of Bellingham. Aside from Kulshan and Aslan, perhaps I’ll find what I’m looking for at Structures, Boundary Bay, Gruff, Wander, Menace, or Stones Throw. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, please share your discoveries with us. Even better, snap a photo for a chance to win $100 worth of beer.