This has been a hot year for hops. Who are we kidding? Hops have been hot for decades now. This year in particular we’ve already covered “The 5 Hottest Hops of 2022, According to an Expert” and “The Four Hottest Hop Trends.” So maybe it’s time to cool things down. One of the newer trends in the hop-forward IPA category is Cold IPAs.
First pioneered by Wayfinder Beer in Portland, OR, Cold IPAs have popped up in the portfolios of revered breweries all across the country. For instance, WeldWerks, Necromancer, Reuben’s Brews, Alvarado Street, Great Notion, and so many more.
But what exactly is a Cold IPA? And why are brewers so hot on them?
What Is the Origin of the Cold IPA?
Between 2017 and 2018, Wayfinder Brewmaster Kevin Davey pioneered the Cold IPA.
At the time, Davey had been experimenting with IPAs, looking to put his own spin on the category.
He played around with a blend of techniques.
First, he used rice and corn in the grain bill to give the beer body and mouthfeel while keeping it dry. Second, he used Wayfinder’s house lager strain of yeast, which would allow the hops to shine through. And lastly, he dry-hopped the beer towards the end of fermentation.
Wayfinder’s first Cold IPA debuted in October 2018. With Relapse IPA, Davey made a West Coast IPA that showcased American hops, but one drier and cleaner than a typical IPA.
A new style of beer, a carefully curated approach to brewing an IPA from grain to glass. One, that since Davey’s initial experiments, many other brewers across the country have notched on their belt.
What Exactly Is a Cold IPA?
In a nutshell, “a Cold IPA is an IPA fermented at lower temperatures than what is normally used to ferment an ale,” writes Skip Schwartz, head brewer at WeldWerks Brewing Co., in an email to Hop Culture. Fermenting an IPA at colder temperatures means brewers often use a lager yeast or a combination of a lager and an ale yeast.
“It’s going to be super crushable, super crispy, but stronger than lagers,” says Lauren Hughes, head brewer at Necromancer who brewed their own version of a Cold IPA called Cold Feet. “You’re looking for alcohol content equal to a regular IPA or West Coast IPA, something that’s really going to showcase the hops you’re working with to get that clean grain bill.”
In other words, a Cold IPA should be a hop-forward ale with characteristics common in an IPA, but a beer that’s ultimately crisper, cleaner, and more crushable like a lager.
But it’s not an India Pale Lager (IPL). Instead, Cold IPAs are a category all their own.
What Is the Difference between an India Pale Lager and a Cold IPA?
At first glance, these two styles may seem similar. But dig into the details and you’ll find very separate beers.
“A lot of people think [a Cold IPA] is an IPL, but it’s not,” says Hughes. “In my mind, an IPL is like making an IPA into a lager and that’s not what this is… To me it’s taking a West Coast IPA and making it more West Coast by showcasing the hops and having a really crispy grain bill.”
While the Beer Judge Certification Program does not officially have a category for IPLs (preferring to add it under an all-encompassing umbrella “Specialty IPA” segment), IPLs are widely recognized in the industry as an IPA fermented with a lager yeast instead of an ale yeast.
IPLs can be a bit clunkier because they simply take an IPA recipe and substitute an ale yeast with a lager yeast.
“Recipes in this fashion employ a clean, American IPA recipe and sub the yeast from Chico to lager yeast, usually 34/70, ferment cold and see what happens,” writes Davey in an article for The New School. “The lager esters and uptick in SO2 really does not work with American hops. That sticks out like a sore thumb. Usually, the fermentation is hurried, or it is mis-handled because brewers that try this approach don’t hang their hats on lager styles. They just do not stand out enough to gain any footing.”
On the other hand, Davey specifically designed Cold IPAs to enhance the West Coast IPA. Everything from the grain bill to the hops to the dry-hopping technique to the yeast strain have been engineered to develop a crispy, clean, hop-heavy IPA that one hundred percent showcases the hops in brilliant clarity.
The 4 Main Steps to Brewing a Cold IPA
A Cold IPA should include a simple grain bill, predominant American hops, dry-hopping during fermentation, and either a lager yeast or a hybrid lager and ale yeast.
Since Wayfinder’s experimentation has set the standard for much of the industry, many brewers look to their recipe as a framework.
A Simple Grain Bill
Wayfinder’s original Cold IPA used an adjunct lager malt bill with twenty to forty percent rice or corn and American 2-row pilsner malt.
At Necromancer, Hughes loosely follows this formula starting with pilsner malt. “Some folks just use pilsner, corn, or flaked rice, but we used a little bit more because we did want it to have a little bit more depth to play with the hops, but not too much where the malt overshadowed the hops,” says Hughes.
But no matter what combination of clean malts a brewer uses, no caramel malts should find their way into the grist of a Cold IPA.
“Caramel malts give you some residual sugar that gives sweetness that pulls away from showcasing the hops,” says Hughes. “For a Cold IPA, what you’re trying to do is get a medium bready malt base that’s not overwhelmed by the hops but complementing the hops.”
Punchy American or New-World Hops
Ultimately, the hops are still the star. At its core, a Cold IPA is…well, an IPA afterall.
In Cold Feet, Hughes deploys Citra and Simcoe, “just straight up powerhouses of American hops …because you’re going for something less towards a hazy IPA hop profile,” says Hughes. “If you take a West Coast IPA and try to get all the fluff out of the way to really showcase the hops, that’s what a Cold IPA is doing.”
When WeldWerks Brewing Co. releases its first Cold IPA this month, you’ll find pilsner malt and dextrin malt in the base hopped with Strata, Citra, and El Dorado.
And if you go all the way back to Wayfinders Original Cold IPA you’ll find a blend of American hops, which has since been updated to include a few new world hops as well.
Dry-Hopping During Fermentation
One of the more crucial elements of a Cold IPA is the dry hopping during fermentation. This technique boosts the bevy and bounty of hops in the beer.
It’s a technique borrowed from making Italian pilsners, where dry hopping takes the pilsner style to an entirely new level.
Similarly, with Cold IPAs, dry hopping helps accentuate the hop character.
Lager or Hybrid Yeast
Lastly, the yeast is what will give a Cold IPA its characteristic clean, crisp, and dry body.
Wayfinder writes on its website that they use a quick fermenting lager yeast; they do suggest that Kölsch, Chico, or California Common yeast could be substituted here. The only hard and fast rule? “[The yeast] MUST not have high sulfur or high ester notes,” because the beer ultimately needs to showcase the hops, not hide them.
Some breweries today have leveraged a hybridization of yeasts.
“We worked really hard early on trying to figure out what we wanted our Cold IPA to be,” says Schwartz. “We settled on a blend of seventy percent of a beer with a lager strain fermented at higher temperatures than normal blended with thirty percent of a beer with an ale strain fermented at colder temperatures than normal.”
Similarly, at Necromancer Hughes uses a hybrid yeast, the same one she deploys in the brewery’s kolsch. “I like that yeast. It works really well…and is super clean,” says Hughes.
Tasting a Cold IPA: What to Expect
“It’s crisp, clear, and going to be a golden yellow color,” says Hughes. “These are fairly bitter beers…so it does have a bite to it, but you want that little bit of maltiness so you’re not overwhelmed.” Cold Feet hits at around 65 IBUs, similar to a West Coast IPA, as opposed to the juicier New England-style IPAs.
For Cold Feet in particular Hughes says, “The first thing that should hit you is an aroma of dank orange… It’s an all-hop showcase of candied orange, passionfruit, and dank citrus flavor.”
Similarly, Chill pours out a light golden and crystal clear with a pillowy head. “The aroma is citrus forward followed by pineapple and peach ring candy,” writes Schwartz in an email to Hop Culture. “The body is light and crisp with tons of fruit flavors from the nose followed by a dry finish. It’s very different from our hazy/juicy IPAs with the mouthfeel and dry finish, and very different flavor-wise from our West Coast IPAs.”
Cold IPAs are a style unto themselves. More bitter than a hazy IPA, but crisper and cleaner than a West Coast IPA, this IPA style can only be described as incredibly unique.
Meaning, if you’re already a proclaimed hop-head, you should definitely check out Cold IPAs because the taste, body, and mouthfeel will be completely new and different.
What’s Next for the Cold IPA?
This style is still trickling into the mainstream. While we have seen major breweries like WeldWerks, Necromancer, Alvarado Street, Reuben’s Brews, Great Notion, and more already pick up on Cold IPAs, consumers are still catching up.
“People are still getting educated and figuring out exactly what it is,” says Hughes. “It’s tough with a Cold IPA because people just think you’re making an IPL and that’s nothing different.”
But Hughes hopes this style will have real staying power. “I really like them because out of all the lets-make-the-new-IPA-trends, this is one of my favorites,” says Hughes. “Brut IPAs came and went and IPLs came and went. This one has a little bit more meat to it.”
Which Necromancer has already proven with Cold Feet. According to Hughes, their version of a Cold IPA has been one of the brewery’s fastest-moving beers. “[Cold Feet] sold as fast as one of our hazy IPAs, which is massive considering how bitter it is…but when you have that much hop aroma, people look past it. Plus, it’s such a crushable beer, with warmer weather that’s what people are looking for.”
Similarly, Schwartz sees the value in Cold IPAs. “I really think they are a fun style of beer,” writes Schwartz. “I have no clue what the future holds for Cold IPAs, but I for one hope they stay around for a while and we can see how other people make this style their own.”
A Few Cold IPAs to Try Right Now
Original Cold IPA – Wayfinder Beer
The beer that started it all. Wayfinder’s Original Cold IPA features a simple grain bill and tons of American and now also new-school hops. “Clean, clear, and hoppy… We call it Cold IPA because it tastes cold,” as the brewery writes on the beer’s Untappd page, the Original Cold IPA still stands today as the paragon of the Cold IPA style. Today, breweries around the country and even the world mimic this OG. If you want a true taste of a Cold IPA, you have to get your hands on some of Wayfinder’s original.
Chill – WeldWerks Brewing Co.
Citra, El Dorado, and Strata hops shine through in WeldWerks’ version of a Cold IPA. Interestingly enough, WeldWerks ended up blending three different batches of beer to make their Cold IPA recipe. One fermented with lager yeast, one with the brewery’s hazy IPA yeast, and one with their Kölsch yeast. “Each was delicious and unique on its own, but we ended up blending all three batches together to create something truly special,” writes WeldWerk’s in the beer’s Untappd description. “It is clean and light like our lagers, yet also soft and super hoppy like our hazy IPAs.”
Cold Feet – Necromancer Brewing Co.
Necromancer Founder Ben Butler first heard of a Cold IPA from Kevin Davey at Wayfinder. When he showed the style to Head Brewer Lauren Hughes and asked her to make a version for Necromancer, she took the challenge head on.
Hughes deploys a hybrid yeast strain, fermenting the beer at a lower temperature over a longer time to craft Cold Feet. Plus, a strong duo of Citra and Simcoe hops give this Cold IPA a really frosty punch. “My thought was to use two really great powerhouses (and two of my favorite hops) to get that passion fruit and candied orange to play nicely,” says Hughes. “I’m really happy with the way [Cold Feet] came out. It’s one of my favorite beers we make now. I could drink this all the time.”
Cold Throw – Single Hill Brewing
“Brewed cold, hopped cold, and served cold,” as Single Hill writes in its Untappd description, Cold Throw features Sultana and Strata hops for a double dose of fruitiness. Specifically, citrus and strawberry.
Stay Frosty – Reuben’s Brews
Reuben’s Brews ferments this West Coast IPA at cooler temperatures to create a cool, crisp, and hoppy beer. Another great example of the style from a fantastic brewery in the Pacific Northwest, Stay Frosty should definitely be on your list of Cold IPAs to try.
Arctos – Great Notion Brewing
Staying again in the Pacific Northwest, Great Notion created its own Cold IPA last November. Featuring a winter’s snow storm worth of Citra and Amarillo hops, Great Notion’s own Cold IPA includes rice in the mash for a super crushable, light-bodied IPA. One that leads the wolfpack, if you will.
Acapulco Cold – Alvarado Street Brewery
A collaboration with Figueroa Mountain Brewing in Santa Barbara, CA, Acapulco Cold combines Alvarado Street’s IPA prowess with Figueroa Mountains lager legends.
You’ll find contributions from both breweries throughout, including rice in the grain bill, a mix of new-world and old-world Noble hops, and a clean lager yeast.
“Floral vibes and fresh-cut grass along with peach rings and fresh strawberry,” writes Alvarado Street in the beer’s Untappd description. This is a crisp, dry, yet fruity IPA that’s “incredibly easy to throw back.”