Brewing Wheat IPA: Tips from the Pros

As IPAs became all the rage among craft beer consumers in the last decade, brewers looked to capitalize on their Humulus lupulus obsessions by adding greater amounts of hops to other beer styles. One of the popular hybrid beer styles to come from it is white IPA, which blends the hoppiness of an IPA with the Belgian characteristics of white ales. We pulled together three pro brewers with different takes on brewing a white IPA to help you craft your own at home.

Brewer: Steven Pauwels, Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City, MO

The idea of making a white IPA came from talking with Larry Sidor (the Brewmaster of Deschutes Brewery at the time) at a Great American Beer Festival in Denver in 2010. Everyone was brewing black IPAs and we said, “Why don’t we try to make a white IPA?” We did a couple of test batches in our brewery, as did Deschutes over at the Deschutes Brewery Public House in Portland, Oregon and ended up each making our own white IPA at our respective breweries based on the same recipe.

For a long time the spicy, fruity Belgian yeast strain character was thought to be at odds with the hop-forward beers, but I think what changed was the availability of new hop varieties that paired better with these yeasts. Hop breeding has made strides in recent years with varieties like Amarillo®, Citra®, and others that have a nice grapefruit aroma and citrus characteristics were not available or were hard to find years ago. These citrusy hops are complementary to the characteristics in Belgian beers that are known for their aroma of fruit, banana, and spiciness.

Brewing a white IPA, or any hybrid beer style, is all about combining different flavors and understanding how flavors work together. Brewing styles that are overlapping allows for greater complexity because you get more flavors from each style. With white IPA it’s all about balance and moderation. You need to find a way to get the hop characteristics, the spice notes, and the Belgian characteristics to blend together smoothly. If one component is overpowering the other then you’re not really making a nice balanced beer.

When we brewed Collaboration No. 2 (released in 2011) we used a tiny bit of Bravo as a bittering hop and then we added Citra®, Cascade, and Centennial at the end of the boil, in the whirlpool, and at dry hopping. After the first trial batch we were still looking for something more citrusy so we used quite a bit of lemongrass in the beer to spruce up the citrus and lemony characteristics. We found there was still a missing link between the hops and spice character of the yeast and that’s when we came up with the idea to add sage in the beer, which we added just a little bit of to make the link between the two. For the malt bill we used 40% wheat and just a little bit of oats to give it body, and then a blend of 2-row and Pilsner malt for better head retention and so it wouldn’t be overloaded with protein because of the wheat.

We haven’t brewed another white IPA at Boulevard since Collaboration No. 2 however we are planning on releasing one next year, which we’re actually working on a recipe for right now. There are some things I would probably change with a white IPA today, for instance adding some hop varieties with a more expressed lemon characteristic such as Lemondrop or Mandarina Bavaria.

Brewer: Mark Medlin, Sweetwater Brewing Company in Atlanta, GA

White IPA is open to a wide range of styles and flavors. My personal preference with this style is a spin on an American IPA, using a typical Wit malt bill and similar hop bill to your favorite IPA, along with a subtly phenolic Belgian yeast strain. I’ve had success brewing this style with a simple malt bill: 2-row, wheat, and oats. Wheat can be as much as 10-50% of the malt bill, depending on the type of white IPA being brewed. Specialty malts such as Carapils® or Munich could be used, but I feel a simple malt bill lets the yeast and hops shine through in the finished beer.

Centennial, Simcoe®, and Amarillo® are some of my favorite hops for this style. I haven’t tried them, but I think Cascade, Citra®, and Columbus would be good choices for white IPAs as well. Pick your favorite hop from an American IPA and it should fit nicely into this style. I typically use anywhere from 1.5–2 lbs. (0.69–0.91 kg) of hops per barrel (3.7–5 oz. per 5 gallons/19 L), adding half of that in a dry hop. Most of the hops are added at the end of boil, whirlpool, and dry hop. Bitterness should be used to balance sweetness depending on the malt bill, with an appropriate range of 40–70 IBU.

We do not add any spices or peels to our white IPA, Whiplash. The yeast used produces some subtle phenolics and spicy flavors and aromas. I selected hops that exhibit an orange, citrus, and grapefruit character. A couple of my favorite yeasts include Wyeast 1388 (Belgian Strong Ale) and Wyeast 3522 (Belgian Ardennes.) In my opinion those types of yeast flavors meld perfectly with a citrusy/piney hop such as Centennial. A more aggressive wit or hefeweizen yeast can tend to mask or conflict with these types of hops. Of course, this is all subjective; everyone has their own tastes and preferences.

If you are brewing your first white IPA, I would recommend using one of your favorite Belgian yeasts from a past brew with a simple IPA recipe.

Brewer: John Rehm, Two Roads Brewing Company in Stratford, CT

For me, anything with wit in the name must have a citrusy bright aroma and flavor with a pleasant underlying earthy spice character. Our white IPA, Honeyspot Road, achieves this goal without a traditional Belgian yeast or coriander. When designing it we tried many of the white IPAs on the market and decided the “hopped-up” witbier approach created a hop-yeast imbalance of flavors. Our road-less-traveled approach was to go with a clean ale yeast, no spices, and then chose hops and malt that would emulate the flavors and aromas of a traditional wit — but better.

Honeyspot Road utilizes 30% un-malted wheat in the grist bill. The raw wheat provides a classic wheat flavor but also lends an additional layer of earthy flavor and a rounded mouthfeel. The wheat also helps to stabilize haze in the finished product. The remainder of the grist is a quality continental Pilsner malt and a very small addition of flaked oats at less than 3%.

Since Honeyspot Road is designed to taste and smell like a both a wit and an IPA we have had to find hop varieties that pair well together while serving that purpose. For example we can utilize the earthy subtle spice of Styrian Goldings and pair them with Citra® for a citrusy and resinous hop punch. Then we utilize the newer technique of “hop-bursting” that is finding favor among many craft (and home) brewers for hoppy beers. This is done most simply by adding the majority of hops in large quantities at the end of the boil. This creates a softer bitterness and lots of fresh hop character that remains through to the finished beer.

For homebrewing a white IPA, keep the design simple. Don’t overcomplicate the grist bill and rather focus on creating interesting hop combinations to produce the character you want. There are so many good hop varieties available to play with — some of which are forgotten or underrated. Use spices or mixed yeast cultures if you feel it’s appropriate. Take the road less traveled and try something completely different that nobody has done!

Issue: December 2015