What is Cold IPA?

By / Wine + Drinks / April 19th, 2023 / 5

Brewers are still looking for new versions of old beer styles

The term “lagered ale” has been heard a lot more recently, even though it is arguably an oxymoron. By definition a lager beer is a beer that has been lagered (cold aged) for smoothness and to get rid of esters (fruity character), making for a clean, crisp, dry beer.  But what if you cold aged an ale to get a similar effect? That is what traditional German Kölsch has always been, lagered ale. 

Anchor Steam in San Francisco came up with a new style decades ago, Steam Beer (also known as California Common Beer), made with an ale yeast that could ferment at cold temperatures. And now there is a new (as of 2018 or so) style that takes it even further: Cold IPA, an India Pale Ale made with lager yeast. What?

If you are very traditional, you might say a beer is either a lager or an ale, and can’t be both. Lager is brewed with lager yeast, which works well in very cold temperatures and also ferments more sugars, making for a drier beer. Ale is brewed with ale yeasts, which like it warmer, and this results in that fruity character, and a touch more malty sweetness.

But there is no law that says you can’t cold age (“lager”) an ale for smoothness, or use lager yeast at warmer temperatures to make some sort of hybrid ale/lager that is somewhere in between. Who cares, really, as long as the beer is good? 

Cold IPA was brewed first in 2018 by Kevin Davey, brewer at Wayfinder in Portland, Oregon. They are well known as lager specialists. His Cold IPA used a portion of fermentable adjuncts like corn and rice to lighten the body compared to a typical West Coast or New England (“hazy”) IPA. Although very bitter, like the West Coast style, it used no caramel malts (which give sweetness and body) and had a cleaner yeast profile.

Plenty of other breweries have played around with Cold IPA. Foghorn, in Rothesay, New Brunswick, made their first last year for their annual anniversary beer, which changes in style from year to year.

Brewer Andrew “Esty” Estabrooks was intrigued when he heard about the Wayfinder Cold IPA, but he had questions. “How is this any different than IPL’s (India Pale Lager) which I had no real interest in. Why brew a hoppy beer and then lager out all the flavours you tried to put in it? So I took a deeper dive into it, and found there was more to it. The only local example I had tried beforehand was from Boxing Rock, from Nova Scotia.”

Esty consulted with the folks at Boxing Rock and learned that theirs, called Fusion, was different from an IPL.

“It’s brewed with lager yeast,” he explains, “most commonly something like SafAle 34/70 (which I used) at warmish temperatures somewhere between 16-19 C.”  IPLs, on the other hand, should be fermented and aged cold.  “I fermented at 18 C,” he adds, “and let it go for 8 days. The warmer temp made diacetyl clean up much faster.”

The other difference is the aforementioned adjustment to the recipe to lighten body. Estabrooks used Pilsner malt and flaked maize. “The grain bill makes for a clean, crisp beer with a nice bitterness and hop character,” says Esty, “which sounds like a patio crushing beer. At 6.5% maybe don’t crush too many…”

How much more expensive is Cold IPA to make? “It was no more expensive than any other IPA,” he notes. “The usual concern for lagers is the amount of tank time they take up but this went from kettle to brite in 17 days, which is fairly normal for most of my IPA’s.” 

To recap, Cold IPA isn’t a lager; it just uses lager yeast. Totally makes sense, right? Either way, it can be a nice, refreshingly clean, dry and hoppy brew. Try to find one in your area.


Craig Pinhey discovered good drink circa 1985 at Ginger’s Tavern/Granite Brewery in Halifax and has been writing about beer, wine and spirits for 25 years. A Certified Sommelier and BJCP judge, Craig lives in New Brunswick where he runs his own writing and consulting business and is the beverage columnist for Brunswick News. He is the only person to have judged all of the national wine, spirits and beer awards of Canada.

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