craft beer

What’s the Deal with IPAs, Anyway?

Thomas Hartman, Innovation Brewer at ZX Ventures, sat down with us to chat about IPAs.

Photograph Courtesy of  The Muse

Photograph Courtesy of The Muse

Let’s talk about the history of IPAs to get started.

The IPA, or India Pale Ale, was one of the first real bastions of American craft beer. At its beginning, craft beer was a revolution against “big beer” and “lite beer.” IPAs allowed budding craft brewers to produce intense flavors in a light-colored beer instead of a traditional heavy stout. In a typical enthusiastic all-or-nothing fashion, the craft beer pendulum swung rapidly toward over-the-top bitterness.

What’s the flavor profile of an IPA? How do we get there?

Craft brewers seeking to highlight American ingredients—and to differentiate themselves from macro breweries—put as many hops and as much flavor in their beers as they could manage. (Note that while hops have distinct flavors besides bitterness, hops are the easiest way to enhance a brew’s bitterness.) These styles evolved over time to showcase the intense flavors of local and specialty ingredients. Using different hop varieties, adding hops at multiple brewing stages, experimenting with lupulin powder (purified resins and aromatics from hop flowers), and dry-hopping are all methods to enhance the hop flavor and bitterness of IPAs.

Speaking of bitterness: a beer’s bitterness is measured in International Bitterness Units, or IBUs. The higher the number, the more bitter the beer. It’s widely believed that most drinkers’ palates cannot differentiate bitterness beyond a certain point, somewhere around 80 IBUs. Therefore, an imperial or double IPA logging 100 IBUs is probably overachieving, delivering more bitterness than most drinkers will detect (much less appreciate).

How do you see the IPA trends evolving over time?

I’m really glad to hear that the trend in IPAs today is toward lower ABVs and lower IBUs—less bitter beers with a more balanced flavor profile. Another great development in IPAs focuses on local hops or single-hop varieties. I’m particularly excited about rotating-hop recipes. For these, a single beer recipe is produced repeatedly, each time using a single hop variety but changing that variety from batch to batch. Each time the recipe is reproduced and a new hop is cycled in, the variations in flavor and mouthfeel reflect the hop used. For instance, Cascade hops bring a floral, citrusy flavor, emphasizing grapefruit. The same recipe brewed with Mosaic hops will tend to be more tropical and floral, whereas a third cycle using Simcoe hops will have more of a piney flavor. New hop varieties are in development all over the world today, including some that are truly out there! Perhaps there’s a hop variety that will appeal more to you.

Believe it or not, there’s an IPA style to suit nearly every beer drinker. If you want to dive back in and give IPAs another try, look for session versions, which are lighter and more palatable (one session IPA I’ve really been enjoying lately is Blue Point’s Mosaic). Avoid the hoppier West Coast styles and especially anything described as an imperial, double, or triple IPA—these are the “bitter is better” styles with double-digit ABVs and extreme IBUs. Also, consider trying some regional IPAs or specialty styles. From cloudy New England IPAs to roasty black IPAs, where the hops are most evident in the finish, to fruity or flavored IPAs, there’s something for everyone.

 

Beer Etiquette: How to Order a Beer You’ll Enjoy

We sat down with Etkin Tekin, Global Manager of Specialties and Innovation, to get some insight on how to order a great beer. Check out his tips here!

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With the popularity of craft beer and local breweries today, how do you get started in deciding what kind of beer to order?

No one can possibly be familiar with every beer available everywhere today. It’s worth it to develop your ability to order a beer you’ll enjoy, even when you don’t recognize anything on the tap list. This is especially true when traveling and looking for a great beer to wind down after a long day.

Remember that craft beer practically begs for exploration, with its myriad styles and flavors. In the face of that much variety, people are often afraid they’ll waste their money (or their drink quota) on something they won’t enjoy. It’s the same way with food: if a menu offers both a range of intimidating specialty entrees and a simple burger, customers will skew toward ordering the burger. Initially, it might be difficult to step out of your beer comfort zone, but the rewards are tremendous. Challenging yourself and intentionally expanding your palate will help you discover new beers—some of which are bound to be excellent—and enable you to enjoy an increasing range of choices.

How should you approach picking out a location to start trying something new?

A dive bar won’t have the diverse beer list or the experienced staff you need to make an informed decision. Look for a draft beer list with depth—both a variety of offerings and a complexity of styles and flavors. Online reviews can be a great resource when you’re unfamiliar with the options in your area. Some things to look for are restaurants that offer beer-pairing dinners and bars that host tap takeovers, since this shows focus and a passion for good beer. When you enter an establishment, judge for yourself: how clean is the bar? Does it have an appropriate variety of glassware, properly stored upside-down? Do servers rinse their glasses before pouring beers? Do they pour with care or sloppily dunk the tap head into each glass? Finding a reputable craft beer bar with staff that can be trusted is the key to having a great experience.

What about asking questions once you’ve found the right bar?

Once you’ve chosen your location, grab a seat at the bar, and be as engaging as possible with your bartender. Relay information about what you like and what you’re in the mood for. Are you a hophead? Do you love complex barrel-aged stouts? Let your server know! Be inquisitive, especially when traveling to a new destination. Asking the right questions— such as what a beer tastes like, what it’s similar to, what it pairs well with—is the best way to identify beers that you’ll enjoy. Ask what your server enjoys or what the best beer on tap is. What would your server order for his or her shift drink? Depending on the sophistication of the bar and your bartender, you can glean some outstanding recommendations this way. And, most importantly, be courteous and friendly—your goal is for your bartender to want to guide you on your tasting journey.

Trying new beers is one of the best parts about traveling. The next time you’re in an unfamiliar location, seek out a great beer bar and make friends with your bartender. You’ll have an experience you can remember, and might even find your next favorite beer too!

When Knowing About Beer Is Your Job: Educational Happy Hours

Etkin Tekin, Global Manager of Specialties and Innovation, talks to us about one of the most engaging aspects of his job: The Educational Happy Hour.

What’s the main purpose behind the educational happy hour?

Working for AB InBev and ZX Ventures requires a solid base of knowledge about beer to effectively promote our business. That means we need to speak the language of beer! So, one of our constant goals is to enhance the education of our team.

We have an ongoing educational program to ensure that all our employees have the knowledge and tools they need. We want to convey a consistent, accurate message as beer ambassadors, which means having a standard vocabulary and complete understanding of beer flavors and styles. The Specialties team at ZX Ventures has the amazing privilege of heading up that effort, and one of our favorite methods is an instructive happy hour.

What is the structure of these events?

Our happy hours begin with a short lecture. We walk our participants through a few technical aspects of the beers we’re describing, explaining the key flavors and characteristics they should notice. For example, one of our classes focused on the difference between ales and lagers. These styles are distinguished by the different major yeast strains used, with each producing a distinct beer with qualities typical of that style. Another recent class compared a pale ale with a German pilsner.

After the discussion comes the tasting. Once we’ve given everyone some context regarding what they’re about to try, we put their palates to the test. We provide beers for blind tastings and ask our attendees to describe what they experience; what they can taste, smell, and feel for each beer, as well as their overall impressions. It’s also an opportunity to see how well people can articulate a beer’s characteristics, which is a valuable skill for us to have.

Can you give us an example of a comparison that might come up at an educational happy hour?

Some of our comparisons are quite sophisticated. Take our last happy hour, where we discussed Belgian golden ales. We provided three examples, including our own Leffe Blonde, for tasting. We often do these blind tastings to compare our portfolio of beers to other major brands. For example, we provided our Goose IPA along with two other brands to see how many people could differentiate those and recognize our beer! We also ask which beer everyone prefers and why.One important note about our happy hours is that we work with real market conditions to give our team relevant context for our portfolio. We get the beer for our tastings from a retail store, so we get what’s on the shelf. Sometimes we find that beers have been on the shelf too long or haven’t been stored well. It gives us a real-world market context, reminding us that there are limits to what we can control in producing beer. These happy hours are an opportunity for us to see what’s actually being sold and identify what we can do better.

Why We Use Experiences to Build Brands

 
 
 

By Sergio Esteves

Every interaction with a strong, memorable brand—every sip, Instagram post, or point of discovery—combines to create a unified brand experience. Do you recall the first beer you ever had? Can you remember how cold the glass felt in your hand or the weight of it? What about that new cell phone you eagerly awaited? Do you remember what it was like getting the box, opening it, and turning on your phone for the first time? These moments and events, while not directly related to the product’s use or function, are integral to how a consumer feels about and engages with a product.

When customers have a positive experience with a product, they are more likely to tell people about that experience. Others then want to engage with the brand to create their own memorable experiences. This process creates value for the brand and is crucial to growth. But when customers don’t have anything to talk about—or, worse, when they only have bad experiences to share—how can a brand expect to grow?

At ZX Ventures, we know that a consumer’s authentic experience with a product—especially beer—is more important than ever before. In fact, 63% of customer experience decision-makers say that customers’ experience has risen in importance in the last few years (Forrester Research). Coupled with the fact that 95% of people who have a bad experience are going to tell others about it (Dimensional Research), it’s easy to see why we are so invested in creating the optimal consumer experience from beginning to end.

This is why we set up the Brand Experiences team. We work to make sure that we are with consumers from their first sip of a new style of beer to the first time they introduce others to the beers that changed their drinking experience. We value each of these moments as much as our customers do.

To create the best possible experience for a customer, we take a 360-degree approach to our brands. We work at each and every touchpoint a customer will encounter to communicate the brand’s soul. This isn’t just about making great beer or beautiful packaging; it’s about being with consumers at every point, encouraging them to tell their story using our products.

At the end of the day, customers won’t necessarily recall a brand that they’ve only seen on TV, but they will recollect the moments in their lives that our brands enabled. If they remember how the TV ad, the brewpub aesthetic, and the product itself all came together to tell one authentic story, that story will become part of their own journey. We use every aspect of our brands and product to connect consumers to the heart and soul behind them, no matter where they are. We want a person drinking a Goose Island IPA in China to experience the same feeling as someone sitting in the Goose Island brewpub in Chicago.

We can’t do that unless we work as a team filled with a diversity of thoughts and experiences all connected by a shared passion for great craft beer. Our unified passion is what allows us to create memorable brand experiences for consumers around the world.