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The Making of a 100-Point IPA

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Two out of hundreds of beers tasted in Wine Enthusiast’s 2022 blind tastings received a perfect score. Both of these 100-point beers were in the American India pale ale (IPA) category, and while the beers hail from different coasts and are uniquely their own, they surprisingly have a lot in common. We chatted with the brewers to reveal the similarities in history, process and ingredients that make up a 100-point IPA.

The two beers that received the elusive score are Power Tools from Industrial Arts Brewing Co. in Beacon, New York and Volatile Substance from Von Ebert Brewing in Portland, Oregon. But, what makes these brews so special?

The Evolution of the IPA

First, it’s important to understand that the nature of IPAs has changed dramatically over the last decade, ultimately bringing us these two 100-point sips.

Throughout the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, the traditional hop varieties were added during the boiling process and would impart aromas of pine needles and grapefruit peel. The resulting ales would be clear as a bell, ranging in color from light gold, bronze and even amber. The malts would have pleasant flavors of biscuit, cereal and oftentimes light citrus fruitiness from yeast fermentation.

The style of IPA was mainly known for being assertively hop-forward, and drinkers focused on the bitter sensation left by the hops instead of the vibrant flavors or aromas.

Over the last decade, newer hop varieties have taken center stage, like Citra and Mosaic, that have challenged what an IPA can be. Additionally, many breweries have taken to adding hops during fermentation instead of during boiling, a process known as dry hopping. This drastically cuts down on bitterness leaving a juicy flavor and pleasant aromas. These beers are often called New England-style IPA and tend to be cloudy or hazy with a heavier mouthfeel.

The Making of Volatile Substance

Image Courtesy of Von Ebert Brewing

Head brewer Sam Pecoraro, says he carried the concept for Volatile Substance with him through a few different breweries before getting the chance to brew it at Von Ebert.

“I wanted to do it back when I worked at Burnside Brewing in the early 2010s, just something that was very, very forward with pine resin but still balanced,” he says.

Pecoraro recalls that when Volatile Substance was introduced it “did not sell very well. In our first six months, I think it barely cracked the top ten in sales. I’m not quite sure why that was other than just being in a new company and right in the middle of the hazy IPA era.”

But the brewery tweaked the recipe and the IPA won gold at the 2019 North American Beer Awards, finally gaining some momentum.

Pecoraro has changed the recipe over the years due to the availability of seasonal hop crops and other raw materials, while also adjusting based on what the brewing team felt worked best in the brewhouse. The recipe typically maintains 80% premium pilsner malt and 20% Weyermann Vienna malt.