I’m way late getting to this and I sorta don’t care.
See, EVERY TIME I mention “Cold IPA” to anyone, I wind up having to explain what it is. But the fact is that I don’t fully understand what it is or where the fug one of my long-ago Facebook friends, Kevin Davey, got the idea. Kevin, who worked at America’s lager wizard, Will Kemper at Chckanut Brewing, was brewmaster at the Seattle branch of Gordon Biersch Brewpubs when we met via social media, and has now gone on to the brewmaster slot at Portland’s dynamic, lager-centric Wayfinder Beer, the brainchild of Double Mountain Brewing founder, Charlie Devereux, Matt Jacobsen of Portland’s sublime Sizzle Pie Pizza, and Rodney Muirhead, honcho at Podnah’s Pit BBQ and slick Mexi joint, La Taq. They opened Wayfinder in 2016, after doing what they all regarded as Job One. As Jacobsen put it, when asked how Wayfinder hit the ground running the brewery equivalent of a Usian Bolt 9 flat, “Hire a great brewer!“. They went after Kevin Davey not in spite of his long background in making lagers, primarily, but because of it.
As Devereux told The Oregonian, they all love IPAs but wanted their own lane and fresh ideas about how to approach the Northwest’s hop-centric culture.
And in Kevin, they got all that and a bag of rice flour.
I’m going to shamelessly gloss over all the truly STUNNING – and you should take that literally, as I sat speechless, groping for adjectives, at my first tasting flight of the Wayfinder catalog – lagers and ales that Wayfinder is guilty of and focus on the two that have knocked my personal aesthetics loose ever since I tasted the first one. That loosening was moved along, frankly, by the fact of tasting six other examples of this emerging style – the “Cold IPA” – from other breweries and being forced to conclude that it ain’t the style, it’s the brewer.
I tried Wayfinder “Chronokinetic” Cold IPA before I tasted its forerunner, “Relapse“. Relapse hit Northwest brewing like a pipe bomb, shaking a thin skrim of gathering dust off the venerable, uber-hoppy IPA that has largely defined Pacific Northwest brewing for most of the past decade. We grow about 3/4 of the hops used in America, up here, and one tasting of the idea of “IPA” in WA/OR/ID versus “IPA” from the Midwest, Back East, or the Southeast clearly reveals the different tastes of different regions. The PNW is even substantively different from many California IPAs, which have tended to be less assertive and more mellow, a RASH generalization that I have backed up only by my own palate. I can recount almost countless episodes of visitors from the Rest of America going out for beers with Portland, Seattle, Astoria, Bend, Spokane, and Boise residents and making Bitter Beer Face when tasting what we all think of as fairly typical IPAs. The struggle is real, beer fans: our tongues have been forever corrupted and, well, we kinda like it that way.
Enter Kevin Davey, Lagermiester.
There has been this thing happening for about a decade, now, as a part of the ongoing effort to build a lager that will satisfy the Average Joe PNW’s hops cravings. It’s called the “IPL” or “India Pale Lager”. Kevin steadfastly refused to dump on the style but just didn’t care for it, himself. The idea was and is just fine: lighter body of a German-style lager (I would also say Czech lager but that may be just my tongue), the same refreshment quotient of a Kölsch or Kellerbier or Helles, and an elevated hops profile that’s entirely at odds with what most German brewers favor. But, to Kevin, most came off as “clunky” and a bit forced. I was an early fan of the style but they eventually struck me the same way.
Kevin’s idea for an alternative involves a LOT of geeky chemistry acumen with which this website don’t have no truck. Simplified, then, (even Kevin laughs at the geekiness of the process) what he came up with is a grain bill that involves a lot of rice, for lightness and clarity, and corn for smoothness and mouthfeel and a provocatively yellow color which a lesser writer would compare to a very healthy urine sample.
I won’t do that here.
The very BudMillerCoorsPabst-ish grain bill is dosed with Wayfinder’s own preferred lager yeast and fermented warm (65 degrees) to avoid excessive buildup of sulphur dioxide. Then do a really imaginative thing that recalls the Belgian process for making Gueuze: they combine still-fermenting new beer to finished tanks OR dry-hop the tail end of the fermentation, adding a more foamy level of carbonation and scrubbing oxygen that results from the dry-hopping. This also drives what’s called “biotransformation”, a process by which hops lose a lot of their undesirable flavor elements and accentuate their desirable, bold, flavors and aromas.
Got all that? Yeah, me neither.
One basic tenet of this website, though, is that it should not be geeky. I understand MAYBE 75 – 80 % of what I have read about the Cold IPA method but my main concern, in writing about it here, is to let you know that this is a MAJOR rethinking of the idea of lighter beers with forward (possibly even aggressive) hops.
Chronokinetic Cold IPA caused a shift in my persona beer paradigm that felt like a small earthquake. I was ONE sip in and turned to my wife and said, “I sure hope they’re planning to keep making this because I will drink it all summer.”
I admit to being one of those crusty beer snobs who would rather surrender a body part that have anyone I know (or even strangers) see me buying Bud or Miller or Rainier or Coors at a store, somewhere. Our son left a can of Rainier here, his last visit, and I came in from mowing the lawn, one unseasonably warm spring day, and thought, “Well, it’s been twenty years. Maybe it’s better.” I took two sips and poured it down my kitchen sink. I really cannot express how utterly sick and contemptuous I am of the whole thang of that dumbed-down German recipe that Adolphus Busch handed to his brewers at the beginnings of Anheuser Busch, saying, “Just make this. Americans don’t know beer, anyway, it’ll be good enough for them.” And, of course, he was right and we drank virtually nothing else but that and its thousands of imitators for over 100 years.
Kevin was unafraid of all of our collective snobbery and Bud Loathing and wanted the lightness of the (rightly) vilified American Adjunct Lager style – a debased Pilsner, using cheaper ingredients – which had as its main virtue that lightness that America evidently craved. He also wanted to preserve the wide appeal of the West Coast IPA and offer some caramel malt that many lager makers labor to avoid. Well…Mission Accomplished.
“Chronokinetic” and it’s daddy, “Relapse” are, compared to most lagers, crazily flavorful. The hops brand this a full-fledged IPA but it renders moot that ongoing whine about IPAs not being summer beers because they’re “too heavy“. The only heaviness in these two beers is the heavy-hand on the clarity and vivid range of flavors. The means of getting to this is a process called “decoction”, the extraction of favor elements from a particular ingredient, much as you would do when making a cup of tea. (See the embedded video at the end of this post) Tea solids floating in your tea would be kinda gross. But the flavors extracted by the use of hot water are aromatic and heavenly. Kevin decocts grains, which removes most of their dissolved solids, giving the beer a far lighter body, while retaining the essential flavors of the grains.
You end up, if you have Kevin Davey’s skills, with a beer that mildly recalls the best moments of those wretched mass-producers domestic lagers and ejects the bad parts. Both are stunningly light on the palate, crammed with real, fresh, unapologetic flavors of the flaked rice, the corn, and the barley, and the hops of a very assertive, 60-ish IBU IPA. He stated, right up front, that he wanted a beer that practically compels the next sip and that, too, was accomplished. I don’t drink four or five beers ever, anymore, even at home on my patio. And this is generally not a struggle. The only time I do struggle is when I’m drinking Chronokinetic and maybe one or two ales I like.
The main difference I find between Chrono and Relapse is the more lusty carbonation of Chrono and the hops, which lean more toward grapefruit and herbs in Relapse and more citrus and florals in Chrono. Both are kinda wickedly easy to drink but both require caution because their ABV is NOT down yonder in the BudMillerCoors range. Relapse runs 6.2% and Chrono a muscular 7.2%. They’ll get ya drunk, if you’re heading that way.
Kevin has said, several times, that he doesn’t understand what the commotion is about his Cold IPA brainchild, proving only that the guy doesn’t get out enough. And, as with most people who possess various levels of, ahem, genius, what they’re doing that seems so basic to them has A) never been thought of and realized by anyone before them, and B) actually does hit all us unwashed masses in a whole new way that we have never seen.
Along with Kevin’s epic collaboration with Ecliptic’s legendary John Harris on their Cold IPA, these represent the best examples…YET…of what I firmly believe will become a genuine gateway beer by which craft newbies will come to the modern IPA in a familiar, non-threatening way. If I was able to sit down at some taproom and just pour samples of these beers for strangers, I would gladly do it. I know they would love them and, in an age in which so much of beer aesthetics are savagely under attack, it would be a public service to give the Milkshake/Pastry/Seltzer kids a delicious and viable alternative.
More breweries all the time are embracing the idea. Georgetown Brewing, Reuben’s Brews, and Fremont Brewing, all of Seattle, either have one available now or will by this summer. StormBreaker Brewing “Liquid Hot Enigma” is coming soon and I sure hope they’re watching for typos. Aslan, Foghorn, Claim 52, Hop Butcher, Moscow Brewing, New Image, and the iconic pFriem Brewing are all in the works. I fully expect to find some out of that bunch that will measure up to Wayfinder’s (my money is on pFriem and Reuben’s) and I plan to explore them all.
Even if he doesn’t get the fuss, Kevin Davey has done a LOT of us beer geeks a big, fat favor, chasing this idea until he caught it. I love lighter beers but, in general, they lack the oomph and range of flavors I want in what I drink for my own enjoyment. Relapse and Chronokinetic lack for not a damned thing. A four-pack is gonna run ya about $16, which may seem steep until you realize that they’re 16 ouncers and…it’s FOUR bucks a beer, which you would think was howlin’ bargain in any taproom.
Both 98 Points