Dick Cantwell is among the most well-respected and experienced craft brewers, co-founding Elysian Brewing Company in 1996, where he served as head brewer until its sale to Anheuser-Busch in 2015. A three-time winner of Brewpub of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival, Cantwell shares his insights on the surging popularity of craft beers in a new book, Brewing Eclectic IPA: Pushing The Boundaries of India Pale Ale (Brewers Publications; June 2018). Cantwell provides scores of tips and methods for the beer-curious to concoct a delectable brew and shares the story of how and why the proliferation of American IPA came to be.
Cantwell, who has served as an international and national beer judge, recently became the director of brewing operations at Magnolia Brewing in San Francisco. Born in Germany and raised in the upper Midwest, he developed his passion for beer as a homebrewer living and writing in the Boston area 30 years ago. He has been featured or quoted in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CraftBeer.com, BeerScribe.com, Bloomberg News, Men’s Journal, Seattle PI.com, and other media.
“There’s no mistaking that we are living in the heyday of IPA,” declares Cantwell. “We’re enjoying a style of beer that would have been deemed undrinkable by its earlier 18th and 19th century consumers. Brewers are using a wide range of ingredients, from cocoa nibs, coffee, fruits, and vegetables, to spices, herbs, and even wood, to push the boundaries of the style.”
Q: What inspired you to write Brewing Eclectic IPA?
A: Brewers Publications (BP) contacted me a while back with the idea that BP would publish a series of books on IPA, each devoted to a different style-type. Of all the types available—English, American, Double/Imperial, Session, Black, White and Belgian, I chose Eclectic since it sounded like the most fun, as well as the one best suited to me. I’ve always tried to be an innovative brewer, exploring new ingredients and techniques to make delicious beers, and IPA is most often what I drink. It gave me a chance to do some research on what’s been going on out there, and to develop some new ideas of my own.
Q: What’s the biggest takeaway from the book?
A: As popular as IPA is, and as much interest as there is in innovation and the kinds of flavor combinations one finds, not just in beer but in cooking and other food products, the opportunity to conceive flavors that go together for both subjective and scientifically quantifiable reasons, this is a book that should appeal not just to brewers but to more general readers as well.
Q: Why do you believe India Pale Ale (IPA) has become the most popular style of craft beer? How is it experiencing a revolution of flavor?
A: On an awful lot of beer menus, IPAs are the best beer on offer. They provide brewers the opportunity to show their chops—to show that they know what they’re doing in the brewhouse, and that they’re tapped into the latest and most interesting hop varieties available. With all the fruity new hop varieties being grown around the world, whole new styles and sub-styles have emerged, showing off juiciness and interesting combinations with fruit, herbs, wood, and sour aging.
Q: Where do you see additional growth for the beer industry?
A: It’s really all across the board, from attracting people who haven’t been craft beer drinkers with entry level ales and lagers that offer more flavor and enjoyment than the industrial beers they’re accustomed to, onward to aficionados perennially interested in whatever’s new. That puts pressure on brewers both to remember they’ve got a varied audience for their beers and to keep putting out new beers with new ideas.
Q: In order to differentiate themselves, brewers are introducing and experimenting with additional ingredients and brewing techniques. How do they go about doing that?
A: A lot of the time it just occurs to them that a particular specialty ingredient lends itself to a certain style: it plays off malt and hops in a way that either harmonizes with the base beer, or surprises the drinker with interpretive contrast. Sometimes a particular hop variety is so reminiscent of a particular fruit or herb that it just cries out to be combined with. Some combinations are just a natural, and others are unnatural—yet delicious.
Q: Could IPA, as the leading craft style, eventually become bigger than American lagers and light lagers?
A: I’d love to say yes, but I don’t think IPAs are for absolutely everyone. If they were, in fact, I’m not sure there would be enough interesting hops to go around. There’s no question that they’re continuing to grow in popularity, and that the brewers who make those light lagers are getting in on the action with the formerly craft brands they’ve acquired.
Q: Your book shares dozens of recipes from some of the nation’s top brewers. Which are some of your favorites?
A: At Magnolia we’re gradually brewing some of the recipes to try out on our customers. Hot Guava Monster (a guava habañero double IPA) was very popular recently. I love both rosemary and juniper in IPA. The jasmine IPA I brewed at Elysian has always been a favorite of mine, and while as a federal licensee we’re not allowed to make beer with any THC in it from cannabis, we did recently did do an IPA using non-psychoactive cannabis terpenes.
Q: Over the past several decades, most breweries began to produce an IPA because it’s a growing style. What do you attribute this growth to?
A: The endless parade of interesting new hops available to brewers. It all started with Cascade back in the seventies, moved on to Chinook and Centennial, found full flower in Amarillo, Citra, Simcoe and Mosaic, and got downright crazy with all the tropical-flavored hops from Australia and New Zealand.
Q: Dick, you now own a brewery (Magnolia Brewing Co.). In a prior venture you were recognized as Brewpub of the Year three times at the Great American Beer Festival. What’s the secret sauce?
A: There’s no such thing. Sometimes it happens that what you’ve been working on strikes a chord with judges and customers and with your peers. It’s been great to see the wide variety of brewers similarly honored over the years.
Q: How can one push the boundaries of India Pale Ale?
A: Learn everything you can about the science, try the most interesting beers your friends are brewing, and keep your eyes open when you’re in the specialty produce aisle.
Q: How should one celebrate National IPA Day on August 2nd?
A: Drinking, brewing, and ideating IPA of all types and styles—and of course by buying and reading my book.
You heard him! Pick up a copy of Dick Cantwell’s exciting new book Brewing Eclectic IPA, available now!