Booze Banter

An All-IPA BrewChat with Dick Cantwell, Author of Brewing Eclectic IPA

For those of you that aren’t familiar with Dick Cantwell, author of the IPA-centric book shown above, here are a few facts about his experiences in the ever expanding and ever evolving Craft Beer industry:

Given all that knowledge and experience, when approached about a possible interview with Mr. Cantwell, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was a little intimidated. So what did I do to get the interview ball rolling? Easy! I did what any smartish blogger would do, and called upon the services of our resident Craft Beer Savant, The Alemonger. For those of you that aren’t familiar with The Alemonger, let’s just say that he’s an absolute Rain Man when it comes to anything Craft Beer related (as of this writing, he has well over 2,100 unique check-ins on Untappd), and is especially well versed in the Craft Beer vernacular when it comes to IPA.

Shortly after receiving a copy of Mr. Cantwell’s book, I skimmed it briefly while sipping an IPA, (or four, because reading about beer makes me very thirsty!), and then sent it on it’s merry way to The Alemonger via G-LO Express (i.e. I drove it over to his house). As The Alemonger is wont to do, he too perused the book while polishing off a few IPAs and quickly got to work on some IPA-centric questions for the Brewing Eclectic IPA author.

Now that you know a bit about Mr. Cantwell and how I roped The Alemonger into helping me with this interview (Craft Beer is an excellent motivational tool), let’s get on with the BrewChat…

The Alemonger (TAM): Do you worry at all that the explosion of fruit and other adjunct-centered IPAs is not so subtly detracting from what was, as you touch upon early in the book, a historical art in brewing unique (geographically or otherwise) varieties of IPAs?

Dick Cantwell (DC): Actually, I don’t consider beer something to worry about, especially when it’s being altered by creativity and nuance. There are a lot of other things I do worry about—especially these days. The classic beer styles are still being brewed, including more traditional versions of IPA. Another observation I make in the book is that the IPA style, along with others such as Barley Wine and Porter, had nearly died out in England, their country of origin, and were resuscitated by American craft brewers who then put their own interpretive spins on them. With beer, you can always go back—there will always be people making versions that purists will recognize and appreciate—but movement into a creative and innovative future is also inevitable.

TAM: Many craft beer bars now feature IPAs so prominently that it’s not unusual to find 50% or more of the taps dedicated to them. With competition for tap and shelf space so fierce, are you concerned that brewers are putting out more and “different” IPAs simply out of a perceived financial necessity?

DC: To some extent you’re right, people are feeling the pressure to come up with new things—many of them IPAs—to maintain commercial relevance. Some of it is also dictated by the simple facts of changing times. A beer that’s been around for several years may not pack the punch or carry the same intensity of flavor that newer things are. That and brewers can’t help themselves—they’re going to create new things no matter what, especially as consumers have signaled that their willing to come along.

TAM: Does it surprise you to see many long-standing established craft brewers brewing so many IPA varieties (i.e., Ballast Point’s line of Sculpin IPAs)?

DC: Not at all. Once you become conscious of the building blocks of essential oils—terpenes—in hops and all other fruits, vegetables, herbs spices and whatever, the way is pointed for creative combination and experimentation.

TAM: What’s next? We’ve grown quickly accustomed to the fruit salad IPAs, coffee IPAs, and I’ve even seen more than a few vegetable (cucumber) IPAs in recent months. Where do you see both established and newer, locally-focused brewers going?

DC: In every direction possible. Lately we’ve seen lots of hazy IPAs, beers that are brewed with great hop flavor and aroma without much of the bitterness of IPA as we’ve come to know it, and now on the West Coast (and spreading) we’re seeing Brut IPAs, which also don’t have so much bitterness, but that are cleaner and drier to show off hop character in a different way.

TAM: You relied to some extent upon Mitch Steele, arguably the – or one of the – true fathers of West Coast IPAs. He was – still is – a master of pushing IPA boundaries and introducing new IPA styles such as black IPAs without adding fruit or any other ingredients. Far from the Mitch Steele of the early nineties or, perhaps Fritz Maytag before him, is the future of IPAs now firmly in the hands of the Sam Calgiones and other boldly adventurous brewers?

DC: All due respect to Sam and the wonderfully wild things Dogfish Head has done, but I think the future is in the hands of people younger than Mitch and him and me. I know us old guys still have a bunch of tricks up our sleeve (and in fairness I’ve got quite a few years on them), but it’s the crazy sourcing scientists of our movement that will come up with combinations none of the rest us have thought of yet.

TAM: It can be argued that there are certain geographically recognized styles of IPAs with classically identifiable flavor profiles: West Coast, Pacific Northwest, Northeast, Mid Coast, and, more recently, New England. Are those tags valuable or practically descriptive based upon your experience? Which region(s) is left out? Which region will emerge in coming years with its own identifiable IPA?

DC: I think those terms describe a family of beers tolerably well, with a collective understanding of what each of those things means. And I know Brewers Publications plans to publish monographs like the one I just did, each devoted to those styles you mention. What region is next? Gee, I don’t know. I’ve had great IPAs all over the US, in Japan, Brazil, Vietnam—even England. That’s a joke. Craft brewers in England are making IPAs as fierce and interesting as anywhere. I do think any indigenous ingredient that people have an appreciation for in their native market will burst out in IPA, such as jabuticaba and caju in Brazil and sudachi and yuzu in Japan.


Many thanks to Raquel Hockroth of The Rosen Group Public Relations for helping to make this interview happen, and to The Alemonger for being the mensch that he is!

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