Look at Paste’s drink section, and you won’t see all that many beer reviews these days. We’ll still do a formal review of the occasional craft beer release, but it’s primarily driven by novelty—is this new beer really doing something different from the hundreds we’ve reviewed in the past? Does it have a strong rationale for why it exists in the first place?
For that reason, it’s especially rare to see me taste and review a new IPA at this point. Do I still drink plenty of IPA? Sure, and I’m blessed to live in a great IPA city in the form of Richmond, Virginia, with its more than 40 breweries. But the world of India pale ale has become increasingly staid in recent years, with little evolutionary momentum—just endless retreads of the same juicy, hazy formula, which the need for constant “fresh can” releases has only amplified. So many breweries continue to pump out new hazies each and every week, to the point that it becomes impossible to pretend that any of them have a chance at permanency.
But there are some things going on in the IPA world that I do find interesting, such as the ongoing cultural reemergence and hype surrounding a newer generation of West Coast IPA. In some places, “old school” WC IPA has effectively become the new hotness, albeit in an evolved format that incorporates both elements of the past and future. And this is the segment that this new IPA from Firestone Walker, Hopnosis, seems to be acknowledging and targeting.
New-school West Coast IPA, as it were, combines the bright fruitiness and vivacious hop rate of hazy IPAs with the crisp texture and bitterness of an earlier generation of hoppy American beers. The hop profiles are more akin to tropically redolent hazy IPA than the piney IPAs of the mid-2000s, but they simultaneously don’t have much in the way of malt balance, as these beers might have had back in that era. They’re dry, but also have flashes of sweetness. They’re significantly bitter. They lack the over-the-top, incredibly heavy and creamy mouthfeel that brewers have chased in recent years for hazy IPA. They’re refreshing, which is a nice change of pace. All in all, there’s a lot of things about this emerging style that I really like, and it seems like a healthy evolution for IPA as a whole after the unrestrained decadence of “quadruple dry hopped juicy pond water.”
Hopnosis, meanwhile, is what Firestone Walker calls “the culmination of the brewery’s 15-year quest to master the West Coast IPA style,” which is no small declaration. Firestone directly ties this beer back to their classic flagship IPA Union Jack, saying that the new year-round Hopnosis (available in 6-packs and 12-packs) is effectively where the style has eventually landed after using Union Jack as a starting point. Along the way, the brewery says they’ve incorporated lessons learned via products such as Luponic Distortion and Mind Haze to eventually land of Hopnosis. All in all, it feels like they consider this a momentous release, and that’s why I took a particular interest.
“Hopnosis represents everything we’ve learned about hopping techniques over the years, all rolled into one beer,” said Brewmaster Matt Brynildson in the announcement press release. “This is where the West Coast style is headed. Aromatic hops and new hopping techniques are driving the future. On top of that, Cryo Hops are opening up fresh possibilities. Now you can get all of the ‘oomph’ of hop saturation that you want from a West Coast IPA, but with less of that classic bitterness, more of these new-age hop flavors, and a whole new level of balance and drinkability.”
As Brynildson references, Hopnosis makes use of Mosaic Cryo hops, along with varietals such as Simcoe, Talus, Callista, Idaho 7, El Dorado, Cashmere, Nelson Sauvin and Riwaka. Cryo Hops® are “made by collecting the concentrated lupulin from whole-leaf hops, which contains the pure resins for bitterness and aromatic oils,” and they play a starring role here, although this is obviously meant to be a complex profile with so many different varietals involved. Regardless, this is a heavily hopped IPA that weighs in at 6.7% ABV. All that’s left to do is to taste the stuff, and see how they did, so let’s get into it.
On the nose, Hopnosis is well balanced with many different elements all sort of vying for their moment in the spotlight. The overall nose strikes me as moderately assertive, but quite complex—there are a lot of different notes, but they have a nice harmony with each other. Bright citrus is a big one, combined with mustier tropical fruit. I’m getting passion fruit, mango, lemon, and more. It’s also slightly catty, and somewhat dank, but also a little savory and herbaceous. There’s even a bit of berry poking through as well. I appreciate how many different things this has going on.
On the palate, I’m getting bright citrus again, with grapefruit, lemon and passion fruit, but unlike the typical hazy IPA it’s fairly dry rather than sticky or decadent—you won’t find the residual sweetness or big creamy mouthfeel that has become par for the course with hazies. I’m also getting the same dankness and herbaceousness here, and very little malt—just a whisper of something like water crackers. Bitterness is moderate in intensity and lingers in a pleasurable way—again, not as much as you would have gotten in West Coast IPA’s original heyday, but more than you’d expect in pretty much any hazy. That sort of balance between extremes typifies this beer and the new generation of West Coast IPAs—a versatile and balanced synthesis of where the style has been, and where it’s going.
Personally, I’m pretty happy to see even major IPA brands moving in this direction, mirroring some of the nouveau West Coast IPAs I’ve seen on a local level in Richmond. It feels like a new evolutionary stage that is long overdue.
Brewery: Firestone Walker Brewing Co.
City: Paso Robles, CA
Style: American IPA
Availability: 12 oz cans, 6 and 12-packs
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.