Shmaltz Brewing Co., the brewery that produces the familiar line of He’Brew Beers, laid out quite the concept Tuesday afternoon when they announced a new brew via Beer Street Journal: “Wishbone Session Double IPA.”
Session double IPA, people. This is where the out-of-control freight train that is beer nomenclature has taken us—straight to the most confusing, pointless descriptor for a beer that I’ve ever heard.
Granted, I wasn’t even crazy about the concept of “session IPA” when it first began to arrive a couple of years ago. “Isn’t that just a hop-forward pale ale?” I asked, many, many times to people who couldn’t have cared less about how beers were described. What do you call something like Three Floyd’s Zombie Dust, a “pale ale” that’s 6.2% ABV and hoppier than almost everything out there calling itself an IPA? If that’s still a pale ale, then what differentiates a session IPA?
Over time, I’ve cooled on my dislike of that particular term, as “session IPA” settled into a definition that tends to imply a drier, lighter in color, less balanced, more intensely hoppy session beer under 5% ABV. But “session Double IPA”? I can’t let that go. That term is just too stupid to be allowed to exist.
First of all, this “session DIPA” is 8% ABV, which makes it both too high to qualify as “session” anything and still well within the BJCP-stated range for regular ‘ole DIPA. It’s no different from a brewery making a 6.5% ABV “session IPA”—which is to say, it makes no sense. It will be on the shelves right next to plenty of “regular” DIPAs that are the exact same alcoholic strength.
I assume, or hope at least, that this is simply Shmaltz being a little cheeky and perhaps poking fun at beer culture itself, but either way, this cannot set a precedent for more “session double IPAs.” It’s indicative of the way that the beer industry is currently in a cycle where they seem to be attempting to apply dozens of new labels to substyles that simply don’t need new labels, because they fit fine within the already existing definition of larger styles. Let me provide a few examples, as well as a few other terms I hope to never hear again.
How many beers have you seen labeled “red IPA” over the course of the last year? If you’re anything like me, the answer is “a lot,” because breweries have been trying to use the term to establish a new substyle. The only problem is that there’s never been anything saying an American IPA can’t be amber to red in color—IPAs have fallen into that color range from the beginning of IPA brewing in America. Once again, consult the BJCP definition, which lists a maximum color rating as SRM 14—which equates to a bright amber. An IPA, by definition, can be as vibrantly red as any American amber ale/red ale. Therefore, “red IPA” is just one more superfluous style name that we don’t need—this isn’t like “black IPA” where a new term had to be invented to describe a new style no one had tasted before. Note: I’ll also give a pass to “white IPA,” as the “white” implies that the style has been crossed with a Belgian wit/white. Note also that my objection is pointless, because the BJCP has now added “Red IPA” in their 2014 revisions, stating that the SRM range can be anywhere from 11-18.
This of course raises more questions than it answers. So if I have an 11 SRM “red IPA” next to a 14 SRM “American IPA,” I’m supposed to identify the significantly lighter-colored one as the “red IPA” and the darker one as a standard IPA? Oh thanks, that makes a lot of sense.
Same oxymoronic problems as “session double IPA.” If you brew an English mild to double the strength, guess what? It’s not a mild any more. In fact, it probably has more in common with a brown ale or porter at this point, depending on the degree of roasted malt presence. It’s just a pointless term. If the end product fits an already established style, then that’s the style you’ve created. You don’t get to say “Well, this is a dark mild, except it’s actually light, and it’s 9 percent ABV, and I hopped the shit out of as well, I hope that’s okay.” Guess what? You just made a DIPA.
Black Belgian white ale
Just kidding, nobody would dare make a beer as boldly oxymoronic as a “black white ale,” I’ll just mov … wait. Somebody made that too? Goddamnit.
Etc., etc. The point is, there’s nothing wrong with creating new beer styles and new definitions. The problem arises when you’re trying to find new styles for the sake of marketing between the ranges of already existing styles. You’re brewers, not anthropologists looking for the next unique species of human evolution between Australopithecus and Homo Habilis. Let’s not fall back on naming gimmickry just to make the beer stand out on the shelf.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor, and he was happy to bury his hatchet with session IPA. He is not changing his mind about “session double IPA.” You can follow him on Twitter.