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Fresh takes on a mainstay 

On Wednesday, March 11, I'll be part of a panel discussion at Sager Beer Works, speaking on the topic, "What's new in IPAs?" I relish the opportunity to ramble away about my wide-ranging interests, and being that I'm a white, bearded man in my mid-to-late-20s, you'd be right to assume IPAs are among them.

click to enlarge Left to right: Don't  Sweat the Technique by Barrier Brewing and Other Half, You Can't There From Here by Burlington Beer Co., Triple Mosaic Daydream by Other Half, Dream Ale by Genesee and Other Half, Scaphism by Nightmare Brewing Company. Not all of these are IPAs. - PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
  • PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
  • Left to right: Don't Sweat the Technique by Barrier Brewing and Other Half, You Can't There From Here by Burlington Beer Co., Triple Mosaic Daydream by Other Half, Dream Ale by Genesee and Other Half, Scaphism by Nightmare Brewing Company. Not all of these are IPAs.

Spiritually, the modern IPA is a pinnacle example of Americanization done right. Short for India Pale Ales, IPAs are originally an English style of beer imbued with more hops and a higher alcohol content, which helped the beers survive the voyage at sea during the British Raj. Those English styles — Sager's "Burton-on-Genesee" being an excellent example — are malty and slightly sweet with a touch of herbal bitterness.

From that root, American brewers created a galaxy of different styles, including milkshake IPA, sour IPAs, New England IPAs, brut IPAs, and so on, resoundingly in the mindset of maximalism and excess.

I say this having visited a good chunk of the best beer towns in the nation: Rochester has some of the best IPAs available. Bloomfield's Other Half has added a bit of world-renowned prestige to Rochester's IPA scene, but offerings from Fifth Frame, Mortalis, Rising Storm, and Swiftwater can all rival the best from beer icons like Trillium, Alchemist, or Tired Hands.

One could argue it's in our roots — the Finger Lakes region was once one of the nation's premier locations for growing hops, and is gradually making a comeback. But the better reason for the quality of IPAs here is simply the tight marketplace. There are a lot of breweries competing in Rochester, and there's no room for bad beer. IPAs have a special distinction of being the best-selling craft style. These beers may be a person's first, and last, impression of a brewery, so it had better be a damn good impression.

click to enlarge Bottom left: Triple Mosaic Daydream by Other Half , bottom right: Cherry Crumble Sundae IPA by Fifth Frame, and on top is a Double Dry Hop Galaxy IPA by K2 Brothers - PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
  • PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
  • Bottom left: Triple Mosaic Daydream by Other Half , bottom right: Cherry Crumble Sundae IPA by Fifth Frame, and on top is a Double Dry Hop Galaxy IPA by K2 Brothers

And this lends to a push for experimentation, like K2 Brothers' Milkshake IPA series, which have been blended with virtually every fruit under the sun after two years of brewing. The withstanding popularity of IPAs has spurred a relentless drive to experiment and create something truly unique.

For the easily-bored crowd of craft beer devotees, that's a promise your glass will always be filled with something fresh and new.

The "What's new in IPAs" panel discussion takes place on Wednesday, March 11, at 6:30 p.m. at Sager Beer Works, featuring CITY's Gino Fanelli, Democrat & Chronicle's Will Cleveland, and Rochester Beer Blog's Otto Vondrak.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at gfanelli@rochester-citynews.com.

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