The BridgePort India Pale Ale originally created by Australia’s Phil Sexton might look somewhat conservative by modern brewing standards, but current head brewer Jeff Edgerton has no intention of dialling up the alcohol and bitterness.
Edgerton told Australian Brews News that the brewing landscape had changed considerably since Sexton – co-founder of Matilda Bay and then Little Creatures – created the IPA for the pioneering Portland brewery in 1996.
“In the US, when we first brought out that IPA, at 5.5 per cent alcohol and 50 IBUs [International Bitterness Units], it was considered to be an outrageous beer,” he said.
“We can’t even enter that beer into IPA contests anymore, because generally it’s considered to be a Pale Ale by most contest standards, because of that evolution that’s occurred of people wanting more hops and more bitterness and more alcohol.”
And with an ABV of 9.5 per cent, Bridgeport’s Old Knucklehead is dwarfed by some of its modern counterparts in the barleywine category.
“It’s like the IPA, the category’s evolved and gotten more outrageous,” Edgerton said.
“If I was going to make a barleywine today I’d probably shoot for like 11 or 12 per cent.”
It’s a similar predicament to that of Fuller’s Brewery, creator of the globally recognised Extra Special Bitter style, but whose own Fuller’s ESB no longer fits within ESB style guidelines, as UK beer writer Pete Brown recently told Radio Brews News.
Easy to make a super hoppy beer
But BridgePort’s Edgerton said he has no intention of beefing up the beers or relabelling them with their modern style equivalent.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily a good thing to keep pushing the alcohol higher and the BUs higher,” he said.
“I use the analogy of making super hot chilli. It’s really easy to make super hot chilli… it’s really easy to make a really over the top, super hoppy beer. But is it balanced, is it drinkable?
“I want to shoot for balance. I’ve had some beers lately where it’s like all I taste is alcohol – you get a lot of ethanol flavour through it. Ethanol’s not that pleasant a flavour for most people,” Edgerton said.
The ultimate test: Would you have another one?
In what he said is an incredibly fickle and difficult US market, Edgerton is putting his money on a return to more sessionable styles.
His latest creations have been the Longball, a 5 per cent ABV summer ale, and the Conviction Pale Ale, which comes in at 5.2 per cent.
“You can sit and have two or three of them over a period of time in an afternoon and it’s not going to be over the top for you,” he said.
“Maybe the public is looking for something more sessionable.”
While he acknowledged there will always be a place for bigger beers, Edgerton said he prefers to appraise beers by their drinkability rather than ABV or IBUs.
“My measure for a lot of people is if they come to the bar and they drink a beer, then I see them order another one of the same beer,” he said.
“To me that means they like it, it was a good flavour for them and they enjoyed the experience – I’ve performed my brewer’s art to the best of my abilities,” he said.
Trumer Australia began importing the BridgePort beers to Australia in 2012. Click here to read Pete Mitcham’s article introducing the range.