ON IPA DAY WE LOOK AT BALTER’S LATEST WEST COAST VERSION – ELECTRIC WONDERLAND – AND CHAT WITH THEIR HEAD BREWER SCOTT HARGRAVE ABOUT THE EVOLUTION OF THE CATEGORY.
As it’s often been the case in cinematic history, the third entry in a movie franchise series is often so noticeably weaker than its predecessors. The past is littered with examples, from The Godfather to Back to the Future, where by the third instalment it’s so clearly obvious that the movie makers have run out of ideas or steam or both, you’ve really had to ask “what was the point?”.
But in Balter’s case, with the Electric Wonderland West Coast IPA (7.0%, 54 IBU), the third stanza of their four act limited release IPA experiment with Cryogenics, they’ve not only avoided those same pitfalls but have simultaneously kept an audience engaged in an age of fleeting attention spans when it comes to new beers, while bringing further depth of meaning to their 2021 run of limited releases. The scene is now set for the denouement to come.
Electric Wonderland picks up Balter’s storyline of blurring the lines between what a modern IPA actually is – that started with the first in the series, the CryoMofo West Coast IPA, before its narrative was flipped on its head with the East Coast alter ego – CryoHaze. And now, by harnessing the Cryo version of Idaho 7 as the pineapple juice hero, and by bringing in the candied, tropical fruit nuances from T90 Sabro and Strata as supporting actors on a stage of pale malt and wheat, Balter have delivered a wholly approachable yet flamboyant West Coast IPA that’s full of characters you wouldn’t have associated with the style a few years ago – but are utilised in such a way that it’s still unmistakably a West Coast IPA.
It tips its hat to both coasts while having a distinguished personality all of its own. Alongside firm, balanced bitterness and a refreshingly dry finish, the new world hops of Idaho and Sabro are so clearly pushing the boundaries of how this falls into West Coast territory. But for those fans not quite ready to grasp the future, the addition of Strata (where its pungent dankness is so similar in ways to the classic West Coast hops like Cascade and Columbus) helps root this in the past and acts like a gentle tug on those conventional palates, leading them to their inevitable evolution.
Balter’s head brewer Scott Hargrave (pictured) told us he calls it an “IPA in motion”.
“We love both styles of beer but it feels like there’s this almost eternal battle going on with IPAs in terms of the consumer saying ‘what’s the better IPA?’.
“But we’ve turned that on its head because the West Coast IPA is going through the same level of evolution as the hazy is. I didn’t set out to make a 1997 West Coast IPA or a 2005 West Coast IPA – it’s where I think they are and where they’re heading to. There’s now the emerging terminology of ‘Modern IPA’ and it’s a descriptor for what I think I’ve been doing for the last couple of years – with Dimples and CryoMofo and now this one (and numerous taproom only releases). I love West Coast IPAs but they still need to be updating themselves and moving with the times.
“I’ve got this idea of ‘IPA in motion’ and I think that’s what this is – a real barometer of craft beer in general – that asks ‘what does IPA mean right now?’. That definition is changing all the time as people come up with new brewing techniques and new hop combos.
“We’ve moved on and part of the IPA in motion concept, and keeping the West Coast style alive, is to be able to compete with the hazies. You’ve got beers that are designed to be so soft and juicy and so approachable and sometimes much more like breakfast juice than beer itself. You can’t turn your back on that completely if you want to stand up against it. You’ve got to acknowledge that it’s there and it’s about how you integrate 2021 into a West Coast IPA.”
Just like CryoMofo, the first shoots of Electric Wonderland started emerging long before the concept to compartmentalise it in a four-part series was settled upon. A late 2020 taproom only release, part of Balter’s Smile Lab series, was a pretty close cousin of it, even though it used Talus as its hero and had experimental hop varieties 630 and 522 in tow.
“I brewed (that one) a couple of times, tweaking it a little bit each time. And it just started heading more in the Idaho direction. I was like ‘holy shit, this is like electric grapefruit or something’ when I tried that beer out of the tank. We kept the electric part because, like that one, drinking (Electric Wonderland) is like you’re being zapped.
“Cryo Idaho 7 is what I ultimately settled on because I thought it was going to make the best part three of the series and it was also going to allow me to set up part four like I want it to be – using predominantly those three hops but just used in a different way and at a different time in the ferment in varying ratios.”
With that fourth and final release in the series – Hazy Wonderland – due out in the coming months – Balter face the challenge of not only telling a great story that stands on its own, but they also need to tie the four together, bringing a satisfying conclusion to the saga. Scotty assures us he’s far from being out of ideas – or steam.
“For me, it’s just cool to be on the journey, brewing the beers and conceiving them. And then in conjunction with (brand director Stirling Howland) telling the story. It gives our whole limited release program for this year a nice continuity.
“By the time (Hazy Wonderland) arrives I think people will go ‘ yeah, that makes sense, that’s a logical conclusion’. I’ve got a very good idea in my mind what that beer is like already. I can already taste it. I just need to get on the pilot system and work out how it’ll get tweaked.”
Electric Wonderland is out now. Head here to find where you can find it.