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The Belgian Witbier and the India Pale Ale are among the most pervasive beer styles available to today's breed of beer drinker. Most breweries produce versions of at least one if not both, and finding them in your favorite pubs is never a challenge. With all the innovation and experimentation in the craft beer world, it seemed only natural that at some point these two styles would join forces. Like most craft beer mutations, it's hard to pinpoint exactly when and where it was born, but the White IPA has certainly begun to secure its place in the current craft beer landscape.
The White IPA's DNA is, in spirit, a blend of the spicy, spritzy Belgian Wit and the hop-forward India Pale Ale. It draws characteristics from two styles that seem to have an inherent compatibility. If beer participated in online dating profiles, this would be a simple match. "I love citrus, spice, and am particularly into refreshment on a summer day," said the Witbier. "Get out—those are my favorite things!" replied the IPA. And through examples like the five below, they lived happily ever after.
Deschutes Chainbreaker White IPA
According to Jason Randles of Deschutes Brewery, it was during the creation of their collaboration in July of 2011 that Larry Sidor (who brewed for Deschutes at the time) and Steven Pauwels of Boulevard Brewing Company planted the seed for what would become Chainbreaker. "We'd done our black IPA, and that had really taken off. The brewers thought, why don't we do the opposite? Before that, we'd been exploring how to do a wheat beer that had the Deschutes signature, then this came together and a light bulb went off." Following the success of the collaboration, they set to work on creating a White IPA that could be incorporated into their regular offerings, and Chainbreaker was born.
Significantly lighter in color than most other examples, this beer's aroma carries the traditional orange notes you'd expect from a Belgian Wit. In fact, everything about this beer says Wit to me until I take the first sip. That's when the citrus character we know and love is amped way up to deliver the hop punch we expect from an IPA. The grapefruity flavors of the hops emphasize the citrus inherent to the Belgian white. Chainbreaker spryly snaps between traditionally Belgian and aggressively American characteristics, and the back-and-forth works.
Saranac White IPA
Fred Matt, owner of FX Matt Brewing, explains their version as a "Belgian white aggressively hopped like an IPA. It's very citrusy from the Citra hops, almost grapefruity, with the spice character of a Belgian white." The beer was originally released as a seasonal in 2012, but proved to be so successful that it was quickly integrated into the year-round Saranac offerings.
Out of the blue-labeled bottle comes a pale, hazy brew with an aroma that calls kumquats to mind. The beer is lighter in body than some of the other examples here, and it boasts a pronounced bitterness that you might not expect from the scent, plus a peachy fruit flavor.
Sam Adams Whitewater IPA
Boston Beer put a different spin on this already innovative style with the addition of apricots. Jennifer Glanville, a brewer for Sam Adams, explains the choice: "While the brewers looked at a lot of fruits, they settled on the subtle addition of apricots and orange peel to provide a slight sweetness to round out the brew and to add zest that plays on the citrusy, fruity notes from the hops." The beer was introduced in 2012, and the brewery recommends bold, firm cheeses—particularly blues—to pair with the beer.
The apricot aroma is immediate apparent, gently bolstered by the coriander character we've come expect in the Belgian Wit. The scent of the hops seems to marry seamlessly with the fruit, but there is a pithy, grapefruity bitterness in the first sip. The finish is all spice; it is clear that this brand leverages European hops more than the other white IPAs we tried.
Harpoon Brewing Company White IPA
Harpoon's version, according to developing brewer Ken Herman "leans more toward the IPA style due to its alcoholic strength, strong hop aroma, and bitterness." The inspiration for Harpoon White IPA came from an experiment that was conducted with their UFO White Ale. "I transferred some UFO White to a firkin and dry hopped it generously with Cascade and Citra hops," explains Herman. The result was again so well received that they decided to create the iteration that we see on tap towers today.
Loads of summery citrus fill the scent of this beer: it's tough to tell what should be attributed to the hops and what is owed to the spritzy, ever-lemony wheat. Harpoon's version boasts decidedly less coriander and a pronounced bitterness than others we tried; the beer is definitely more IPA than Wit. There's some spice in the mid-palate, buoyed by a full mouthfeel and creamy carbonation. It's easy to see why Liz Melby of Harpoon Brewery recommends crab cakes and summer salads as a pairing.
Blue Point Brewing Company White IPA
The Long Island based brewery introduced an early batch of their White IPA for their 13th anniversary party in 2011 where it was such a hit that they, too, have since made a spot for it in their year-round lineup. Curt Potter, Director of Communication for Blue Point, explains its origin: "Mark Burford (founder, brewmaster) wanted to do something to appeal to folks who enjoy a good wheat or white beer but miss the hops not typically associated with the style. At Blue Point we don't utilize the all of the spices or the amount of unmalted wheat associated with a traditional wit and our yeast strain is German so we refer to it as more of a white beer/IPA."
This beer has a spicy, slightly floral aroma—there's that wheat beer character! The taste delivers a bitterness that pinches the corners of your tongue, with hops announcing their presence with a bit of grapefruit pith. But the hops are not aggressive, taking on a role that is more balancing than taste-bud scraping. Blue Point's White IPA is available in cans, which can be especially handy for taking camping or sipping poolside.
Have you tried these White IPAs? Spotted any other good examples of this beer style?
About the Author: Stef Ferrari is a Brooklyn-based Certified Cicerone, food writer/photographer, and author of a forthcoming beer industry guidebook with Wiley & Sons Publishing. In addition to her passion for craft beer, cocktails, and fine food, she considers ice cream to be life's greatest pleasure and spends most spare moments in pursuit of the Mr. Softee truck.