Jim Koch has been eyeing India Pale Ales (IPAs) for a while now.
Over the years, the Boston Beer Company founder has dabbled in the space, sure. The company released its first “Boston IPA,” an English style made with the Fuggle and East Kent Golding hop varietals, in the 1990s. It’s played with hops over the years, rolling out offerings like Latitude 48, Whitewater IPA, Third Voyage Double IPA, even a mixed-IPA variety pack.
But the industry has changed in the 30 years since Koch founded Boston Beer, and rather than remaining just another style for brewers to play with, the IPA category now dominates the craft beer scene. For proof, look no further than the 2013 Great American Beer Festival (GABF), where more than 200 different IPA entries will be judged.
“We have been making IPAs for a long time but never really done a straight ahead, West Coast IPA, which is what everyone else has been doing,” Koch said.
Until now. Boston Beer opened the taps on a new, year-round West Coast style IPA called Rebel at this years GABF. The company has already tested the new beer in markets like Dallas. Brewed with Chinook, Centennial, Cascade, Simcoe and Amarillo hop varieties, the beer checks in at 6.5 percent ABV and is scheduled to rollout nationally next February.
The business reality is compelling, according to Koch, who told Brewbound, “Right now, IPA has become a sub-industry in itself.”
The company plans to make Rebel a primary focus in 2014, alongside its flagship Boston Lager and various seasonal offerings. Koch explained his idea for the beer’s composition at the GABF today
“Essentially what we are trying to do is a beer that has a huge amount of hop character without relying on simple bitterness to define its flavor,” he said. “I have never been a fan of the ‘IBU wars.’ Everyone latches on to the quantifiable element of it to represent hop character. It really misses the point of why you use hops. You use them for the flavor, the aroma, the spiciness; not the pure bitterness.
To help catch the consumer eye, Boston Beer has departed from its familiar, traditional look. The Rebel label features an edgy and chaotic graffiti design. The tap handle is a spray can, which the brewers believe will stand out in the large, multi-tap draft accounts that the brand will initially target.
“Those are a natural home to get it started so that people can taste it and see how they feel about it,” he said.
Boston Beer will also bottle Rebel in 6-packs and 12-packs, and Koch said he could envision the brand making its way to cans — even 16 oz. packages for the convenience channel — down the road.