Aaron Reames has positive, early beer memories of traveling the West Coast looking for the next great sappy brew.
Before founding Bent Water Brewing Company in Lynn, Reames recalls a visit to Laurelwood Brewing Co. in Portland, Ore., and trying a beer called “Workhorse,” still the company’s flagship IPA. He rattles off other beer names like “Racer 5,” from Bear Republic, and “Sculpin,” from Ballast Point, as touchstones.
What those brews have in common are traits that can be summed up, maybe not completely, by the moniker of “West Coast IPA.” At one time, most American IPAs at least took influence from this style, which is characterized by a balance of bitter, piney elements and citrus flavors derived from the hops from which the beers were brewed.
If you’ll allow an interlude here, it should be noted that prior to the early 2010s, the so-called New England-style IPA did not exist. To differentiate in simple terms, West Coast IPAs are known more for their bitterness, while the New England style has come to be defined by sweeter, juicier flavors. The latter proved to be hugely popular, but there are more than a few brewers who think things have gone too far, including The Alchemist’s John Kimmich, brewer of the OG New England IPA “Heady Topper.” In a recent interview with Jeff Alworth of Beervana, Kimmich lamented the move toward hazy, fruitier IPAs.
“A hazy IPA has become synonymous with soft, extravagantly soft, beers that are way beyond hazy into the realm of murky and muddy,” Kimmich says in the interview. “It’s the nature of the business that more is better, more is better. But more often than not, more is more.”
Count me among the beer drinkers who think that some hazy IPAs could use recalibrating. While some of these beers are remarkable in their softness and flavor, I often find myself missing the days when IPAs on the whole had more bite. It’s with this spirit in mind that Reames and Bent Water recently brought back their West Coast pale ale, “The Shaka.”
It’s ironic that bitterness was once the thing that scared many away from IPAs, and that now that trait may be making a comeback. On the bitterness in “The Shaka,” Reames assures that the beer is easy drinking.
“It has hints of caramel in the flavor profile. And that is supported by both aroma and flavor of oranges and pink grapefruit. And certainly that explosion of sticky pine needles,” says Reames.
It’s also important to note here that unlike the hazies, “The Shaka” pours crystal clear. Reames is diplomatic in describing the differences between this beer and other hazy IPAs, some of which Bent Water still makes. But for him there’s one key to a good, West Coast-style IPA or pale ale.
“Balance is the way I think to describe it, from citrus flavors derived from the hops to a touch of sweetness from the malt,” says Reames. “It’s not overpowering one way or another.”