Cold IPA vs IPL – Let’s Examine the Facts About These Brews

Looking through a local beer distributor’s stock list I recently noticed a Cold IPA and thought surely an ale that has been brewed cold is a lager?

Or does it just mean the IPA should be served extra cold? Wouldn’t that kill a lot of the hoppy flavors and aromas we associate with an IPA? This begs the question :

What is a Cold IPA and is it just a fad?

Although it’s not recognized as a style by the esteemed BJCP Style Guidelines yet, some of the more noticeable craft brewers have been known to brew a Cold IPA, such as Sierra Nevada’s Cold Torpedo IPA or Bell’s Cold Hearted IPA.

It looks like Cold IPAs are here to stay, and, surely, it’s only a matter of time until they are officially recognized.

To confuse matters even more there’s the category of IPL (India Pale Lager), a lager/IPA hybrid that is brewed using lager yeast. As an IPA drinker, I’m not too sure I like the idea of an India Pale Lager!

Are these two styles of beer the same and, if not, what makes them different?

What is a Cold IPA?

reflection of cold brew neon sign on glass wall
Photo by Lex Guerra on Unsplash

A Cold IPA is a modern take on a classic American IPA that offers a hoppy beer with a cleaner, clearer, crisper-dry finish. It basically makes a West Coast IPA even more West Coast, accentuating the hops used.

Normally, beer is classified as a lager or an ale depending on the type of yeast it uses during fermentation. A Cold IPA uses a strain of lager yeast, but, unlike a lager and ironically despite the name, a Cold IPA is brewed at warmer temperatures.

Purists argue that this warmer fermentation means a Cold India Pale Ale doesn’t fall into the lager category but is still an ale.

Originally pioneered by Wayfinder beer in Portland, Oregon, USA back in 2018, this beer style has quickly grown in popularity with beer lovers and is now produced by many other breweries throughout the USA and across the world, including the UK and Australia.

Although the IPL style of cold brewed IPA style lagers or dry-hopped lagers already existed back in 2017, the head brewer at Wayfinder beers, Kevin Davey, didn’t want to just make another IPL.

Instead, he built a Cold IPA from the ground upwards.

Adding adjuncts like rice or corn could add more beer body and mouthfeel allowing the ale to still be dry but without feeling too naked or overly bitter.

Using a lager yeast but fermenting it warmer allowed the hops to shine through without the backdrop of ale yeast aromas.

Finally, Wayfinder used a technique of dry hopping they had previously used in Italian pilsners, the dry hop Krausen, where they dry hop right at the very end of the primary fermentation process and there is still plenty of yeast activity.

Another technique was to add the fresh fermenting beer to a secondary tank with the dry hops, which helps achieve full carbonation, the active yeast scrubbing any oxygen which may have been added during dry hopping, and biotransformation of the hops.

Wayfinder’s first Cold IPA, Relapse IPA, was decidedly different from the typical IPLs of the time.

A hop-forward beer that features many of the characteristics of an IPA but is ultimately cleaner and crisper and a more crushable beer, like a lager.

What is an IPL?

clear glass beer mug
Photo by Raphael Bernhart on Unsplash

IPLs haven’t proven as popular as the Cold IPA, even though they are very similar in style. Most beer lovers find them a bit “clunky” with a mish-mash of flavors and aromas that don’t really fit into the lager or ale category.

Although, again, not officially recognized as beer style (although the less acknowledged Brewers Association does list them), IPLs are widely acknowledged by the craft beer industry to be an IPA fermented with a lager yeast rather than the traditional ale yeast.

Rather than change the grain bill like a Cold IPA will, an IPL only substitutes the yeast from Chico to lager yeast and ferments cold.

Dry-hopped lagers or pilsner, often called IPLs, will use a traditional lager recipe but employ modern dry-hopping methods using new world hops.

Kevin Davey from Wayfinder Beers argues the ester notes found in the lager yeasts at colder temperatures don’t really work with American hops and stick out like a sore thumb.

Additionally, the fermentation of a lager is sometimes hurried or mishandled as brewers of this style don’t traditionally know about the cold conditioning a lager needs.

The IPLs don’t really stand out enough from traditional lagers to be a popular choice among beer drinkers (as the generally accepted creator of the Cold IPA, Kevin from Wayfinder should know a thing or two!).

The Key Differences Between Cold IPA vs IPL?

1. Cold IPAs are normally designed from the grain bill up, using a base of pilsner malts and then adding adjuncts like rice or corn at around 20 – 40% rather than specialty malts like biscuit or Munich found in many IPAs.

IPLs essentially just take an IPA recipe as it stands and swap out the ale yeast for a lager bottom-fermenting yeast. IPLs simply take a basic IPA grain bill and hops then gel it together with a lager yeast – not always providing the cleaner crisp flavors a Cold IPA will.

2. Cold IPAs are fermented at a warmer temperature than the traditional cold lager yeast temperature. IPLs take a clean lager yeast and ferment it at the recommended temperature for a lager yeast.

3. Cold IPAs tend to be more hop-forward than an IPL, will feature a higher bitterness, and use new world hop varieties. IPLs will normally feature classic European or noble hop varieties and generally have a lower bitterness.

4. The biggest difference is the alcoholic strength of an IPA and a Cold India Pale Ale beer. IPLs will normally have a lower ABV than a Cold IPA, something more in line with a traditional premium lager of about 4% ABV to 6.5 ABV%. A Cold IPA will feature an ABV similar to a traditional IPA, anywhere up to 7.9% ABV.

To sum up in one sentence – an IPL is a lager that has taken an IPA and simply swapped the yeast strain used, whereas a Cold IPA redesigns the IPA recipe by adding more adjuncts, ferments at the top end of a lager yeast strain temperature range and is a showcase for hops.

You could almost call a Cold IPA a “Warm Lager” but who would buy a beer called that?

A Cold IPA will often be hoppier than the hoppiest of Doble or Imperial IPAs, more bitter but with a drier finish and without the super strong ABV of an Imperial.

The Brewing Process of a Cold IPA

There’s not really any need to look at the brewing process of an IPL. It’s quite basic – you just take any IPA recipe and use a lager yeast with colder fermentation temperatures, as you would a lager.

Although some IPLs may add a further dry hopping stage to the brew, it’s not really revolutionary.

Some cynics may even argue it’s an attempt to cash in on American beer culture and the popularity of the IPA by just labeling any lager beer with loads of hops as an IPA, or at least adding the words ‘India Pale’ to the label.

The brewing techniques used in a Cold IPA, although not revolutionary, could be classed as an evolution of beer – in particular the IPA style.

A Cold IPA is formulated from scratch, different from a traditional IPA. It should include a simple grain bill, predominantly American hops, be dry-hopped during fermentation rather than after fermentation, and use either a lager yeast or a hybrid ale and lager yeast.

With Wayfinder being the pioneer of the Cold IPA, their recipe and process for brewing a Cold IPA are seen as the industry standard framework.

Wayfinder even has its own style description page for the Cold IPA style similar to those found on the BJCP style guidelines website.

The Simple Grain Bill

The Relapse IPA, the Original Cold IPA brewed by Wayfinder, uses an adjunct lager malt bill of American 2-row pilsner malt and 20 – 40% rice or corn.

Necromancer, who now brew their own Cold Feet Cold IPA, loosely follow this recipe but use pilsner malt along with flaked rice, while Sierra Nevada uses a mixture of Carapils, Two-row pale, and Vienna Malts in their popular Cold Torpedo Cold IPA.

The Cold IPA brewing process in each case helps to keep the malt profile restrained and ultra-crisp, allowing the hops to shine.

No matter what clean malts the brewer uses, a Cold IPA shouldn’t use caramel malts as they can leave some residual sugars with the sweetness pulling away from the showcasing of the hops.

With a Cold IPA, the beer is aiming for a medium-bready malt base that is not going to be too overwhelmed by the hops but instead compliments that hoppy flavor.

The Hops – Punchy American or New World Hops

It’s all about the hops with a Cold IPA, which are ultimately still the star. After all, a Cold IPA is still an IPA at heart!

Wayfinder’s Original Cold IPA used a fine blend of American hops but has more recently updated the hop bill to include big, bold New World hops too.

Necromancer uses the powerhouses of American hops, Citra and Simcoe, in their fast-moving beer Cold Feet Cold IPA, while Weldwerks, who recently joined the Cold IPA market, uses Strata, Citra and Eldorado hops.

As you would expect, Sierra Nevada also goes for the big hops using Chinook, CTZ, El Dorado, and Motueka hops for their extremely hoppy Cold IPA, which also uses the hop torpedo system to ensure hops are delivered at every stage of the brewing process.

Dry Hopping During Fermentation

Normally, dry hopping would be carried out after a beer has finished its primary fermentation, but in the brewing of a Cold IPA dry hops are added right at the tail end of the fermentation.

This technique not only boosts the amount of hops in the beer but also takes the hop character to a new level.

Dry hopping during fermentation is a process borrowed from the brewers of Italian pilsners, where dry hopping makes the pilsners much hoppier than a traditional pilsner.

Yeast – Lager or Hybrid

Finally, the yeast is what gives the Cold IPA that clean, crisp, and dry body for which it is known.

On their guidelines for brewing a Cold IPA, Wayfinder beers recommend using a quick fermenting lager yeast, although they do also suggest a Kölsch, Chico, or California Common yeast could be used.

The only rule, really, when choosing a yeast is it must not have high levels of sulfur or any high ester notes which may hide the hop flavor rather than showcase it.

Some breweries use a hybrid yeast such as a blend of 70% lager yeast fermented at a higher temperature than normal and 30% of an ale strain, fermented at lower temperatures than you would normally.

The shorter fermentation time than a traditional lager brings out the more aggressive hop flavors compared to a dry hopped lager, which is fermented much cooler and usually involves a less active yeast.

What Does A Cold IPA Taste Like?

Cold IPAs really are a style all of their own. They are more bitter than a hazy or New England IPA but much cleaner and crisper than a West Coast Style IPA – they can only be described as unique.

A Cold IPA is going to be a clean and crisp beer with a golden yellow color. It should be bitter but never harsh. You also want to taste a little maltiness but not enough to outshine the hops.

If you are a self-proclaimed hop head then a Cold IPA is the beer for you. The taste, body, and mouthfeel will be something completely different from most of the IPAs you have tried before.

IPL vs Cold IPA – The Conclusion

An IPL may seem like a very similar style of beer to a Cold IPA but there are a handful of differences that distinguish the two styles from each other.

With no official style guidelines (yet!), there’s a lot of room for interpretation when it comes to what is an IPL or a Cold IPA.

Some beer purists would argue that a Cold IPA, using a lager yeast, makes it a lager rather than an ale, but the recipe of the IPA has been reformulated in the case of a Cold IPA, and, despite the name, it is brewed at warmer temperatures than your standard lager brew.

The taste is very much more of an IPA showcasing the American hops with just a hint of maltiness, whereas an India Pale Lager is basically a dry-hopped lager with very few characteristics of an IPA – some would say a cynical marketing hype to sell more of what is basically a hoppy lager.

Hop fans will surely love the Cold IPA, but it’s hard to predict just how popular it will become.

New England IPAs were seen for a long time as just the latest fad, but now they dominate the IPA style alongside the ubiquitous West Coast IPAs.

However, Black IPAs and Brut IPA have struggled to find any constant following, with many falling by the wayside. Cold IPA is definitely a “fun” style of beer, so let’s give it a chance!

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