Trop­i­cal, Not Tur­bid

Wayne Wam­bles, brew­mas­ter for Cigar City Brew­ing in Tampa, Florida, set out to cre­ate a trop­i­cal and juicy IPA called “Jai Alai” way back in 2008, be­fore it was trendy. A decade later, Jai Alai still tastes fresh and cur­rent and has proven cu­ri­ously timel

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Brewers Perspective - By Jamie Bogner

DE­SIGN­ING AN IPA TO AP­PEAL to a wide range of beer drinkers is hard. De­sign­ing one that re­mains ap­peal­ing to drinkers ten years later is damn near im­pos­si­ble. To­day, com­mer­cial brew­ers reg­u­larly re­for­mu­late even flag­ship brands to make them more ap­peal­ing to cur­rent palates, but a very small cadre of Ipas—fire­stone Walker’s Union Jack and Odell Brew­ing’s IPA come to mind—re­main as fresh and rel­e­vant to­day as they did when they first ap­peared in the 2000s. Cigar City Brew­ing’s Jai Alai IPA is a mem­ber of that elu­sive club, but Brew­mas­ter Wayne Wam­bles had more hum­ble goals when de­sign­ing the beer.

“My whole con­cept for that beer was to make an IPA as trop­i­cal as I could pos­si­bly make it,” says Wam­bles. “If you take a look back when the beer was ac­tu­ally de­signed—it was pi­loted for the first time in 2008 and re­leased in March of 2009—no one was mak­ing IPAS like that back then. A lot of peo­ple were mak­ing IPAS that were more citrus-for­ward, or citrus and piney, but they weren’t mak­ing IPAS that were more fo­cused on mango and pineap­ple and or­ange mar­malade. I was try­ing to em­u­late our trop­i­cal feel, our lo­ca­tion and con­cept, through the beer.”

One key to ev­ery great IPA is the overused yet elu­sive con­cept of bal­ance. For Wam­bles, this meant di­al­ing in resid­ual sweet­ness from malt and spe­cialty grains to ac­cent and re­in­force the trop­i­cal hops notes and pre­vent the in­her­ent bit­ter­ness from tilt­ing the per­cep­tion into West Coast bit­ter and dry IPA ter­ri­tory.

“That sweet­ness turned the hops char­ac­ter into some­thing more lus­cious and juicy, be­fore ‘juicy’ be­came a New Eng­land thing. Even to­day when you drink it, the cen­ter of the fla­vor pro­file will still have that caramel sweet­ness, then as it trails off, the hops rush in and help to bal­ance that in the fin­ish. It’s not an East Coast IPA, and it’s not a West Coast IPA. I was try­ing to strad­dle that fence right in the mid­dle.”

To­day, many brew­ers are push­ing the trend of us­ing less and less caramel and crys­tal malts in their IPAS, lead­ing to beers that are more golden than am­ber. While Cigar City has main­tained the orig­i­nal malt bill (for the sake of brand con­sis­tency) in Jai Alai, Wam­bles sup­ports the gen­eral trend of di­al­ing down cara­malts in or­der to re­duce ox­i­da­tion and pro­mote shelf sta­bil­ity.

“Over the course of time, we started to no­tice a re­la­tion­ship be­tween shelf sta­bil­ity and grist per­cent­age us­age rate of cara­malts,” says Wam­bles. “The beers that tend-

ed to have higher caramel malt us­age rates and are hops-for­ward like our IPAS and pale ales—all of th­ese hops-for­ward beers that might have higher per­cent­ages of cara­malt us­age—tend to be less shelf sta­ble.

“All th­ese spec­u­la­tions and ap­proaches from other com­mer­cial brew­ers to re­duce caramel malt have some va­lid­ity be­hind them. Our sen­sory anal­y­sis has shown that higher amounts of cara­malt ex­pe­dite ox­i­da­tion when com­pared to beers with lower per­cent­ages of cara­malt or none at all. We don’t know ex­actly why that’s hap­pen­ing, but we do know that it is hap­pen­ing, and that’s re­gard­less of dis­solved oxy­gen lev­els in the beer. Even with the best dis­solved oxy­gen lev­els ever, we’re still see­ing that degra­da­tion. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing and frus­trat­ing at the same time be­cause we still don’t know ex­actly why; we just know that through our sen­sory pan­els, it’s a fac­tor that’s on the ta­ble.”

While re­for­mu­lat­ing their core brands is some­thing Cigar City won’t touch, Wam­bles has been work­ing to ad­just in­fre­quent or sea­sonal beers ac­cord­ingly.

“Florida Man is a dou­ble IPA that we make, and we pretty much pulled all the cara­malt out of it. With dou­ble IPA, it’s re­ally a bal­anc­ing act and even more com­plex.”

Like many brew­ers at their com­mer­cial scale, Wam­bles is a self-pro­fessed hops fa­natic. Over many years of walk­ing hops fields, rub­bing and smelling hops with grow­ers, and brew­ing test batches, he’s built a men­tal li­brary of fla­vors and im­pacts that var­i­ous hops will have when used in var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties. His reci­pede­vel­op­ment process is an ex­er­cise in vi­su­al­iza­tion.

“I think of the over­all con­tri­bu­tion I want from each hop va­ri­ety, at cer­tain points on the hot side or dur­ing the dry­hop­ping process,” says Wam­bles. “Since I know what each one does in­de­pen­dently, I en­vi­sion what they will do col­lec­tively. So I can build to­gether groups of mul­ti­ple charges for a sin­gle hot-side ad­di­tion or sin­gle charges on the dry-hop side, and al­ready have a sen­sory vi­su­al­iza­tion of what that’s go­ing to be like in my head be­fore that’s beer is ever made. Most of the time that works out—i’ve been thrown very few curve­balls.”

As tech­nol­ogy in the brew­ing world pro­gresses and brew­ers be­come more and more spe­cific about their pa­ram­e­ters for raw ma­te­ri­als, Wam­bles looks for­ward to us­ing tools such as gas chro­matog­ra­phy to build a more con­sis­tent base­line pro­file for the hops they pre­fer, so that farms can sim­plify the se­lec­tion process by only pre­sent­ing lots within that pre­ar­ranged spec. It’s a data-driven, pre­ci­sion ap­proach to brew­ing that fits his no-non­sense per­son­al­ity, but he’s quick to note that all of th­ese tools still don’t re­place the sen­sory foun­da­tion for the craft of brew­ing.

“It’s just know­ing your raw ma­te­ri­als, re­ally. It’s no dif­fer­ent than a chef know­ing what some­thing is go­ing to taste like when he/she adds spices to­gether into a dish.”

Our sen­sory anal­y­sis has shown that higher amounts of cara­malt ex­pe­dites ox­i­da­tion when com­pared to beers with lower per­cent­ages of cara­malt or none at all. We don’t know ex­actly why that’s hap­pen­ing, but we do know that it is hap­pen­ing, and that’s re­gard­less of dis­solved oxy­gen lev­els in the beer. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing and frus­trat­ing at the same time…

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