Fundamentals #88 — St Mars of the Desert Old School Quality West Coast IPA

If you’re really into beer and Online All The Time like I am, you’ll be aware that we’re now at the stage of the current West Coast IPA discourse where people are now complaining about the West Coast IPA discourse.

If you’re not, let me explain it to you: People really missed West Coast IPAs (by which I mean dry, bitter, malty, citrusy, crystal-clear delights in the 7%-ish region) and said so. Brewers then started making them again with aplomb, and now when someone says that they miss West Coast IPA, you can’t bet your
bottom dollar someone will come along to complain about it.

Time is a flat circle. The internet discourse is an infinite loop forever eating its own tail. Sic mundus creatus est.

What is it about West Coast IPAs that drinkers find so captivating? And why is there a supposed divide between drinkers of bitter, translucent IPAs and juicy, opaque ones? Well, it’s important to remember that everyone tastes differently. And it's also worth remembering that folks who got into craft beer a decade ago didn’t have juice as an option, and thus subjected their palates to an ever more intense assault of bitterness in the process.

This created something that Russian River Brewing Co founder Vinnie Cirluzo coined “lupulin threshold shift”. Instinctively, the subconscious, neolithic coding in our brains will tell us excessive bitterness is bad as it might kill us. However, drink enough West Coast IPA and not only will you reset your brain to inform you that this is delicious, but that you also can’t get enough bitter hops. I am one of those people.

Old School Quality from Sheffield’s The Brewery of St Mars of the Desert (without question, one of the most exciting breweries in the UK right now) is one of those palate-resetting beers. It’s a blast wave of hops in the form of grapefruit pith, navel orange and lemon zest. It smells like freshly cut grass on a dewy late summer evening. It is resinous enough with hop oils so as to make your teeth tingle. And for me these are all very good things.

If you think about it, words like “assault” and “blast wave” should never be associated with the act of eating or drinking something delicious – but that’s what the West Coast IPA drinker wants. And that’s what makes them so captivating to me, and why they’re my favourite style of beer. We, the WCIPA lovers, are mutants, exposed to the toxic swamp of lupulin, forever changed and in search of their next hop hit. And after this beer, I, for one, am extremely sated. For a little while at least.

Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer and editor of Pellicle Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis and @pelliclemag. Sign up to our All Killer No Filler subscription box and you'll find incredible beers like this one every month, plus more great writing from Matthew and our food writer Claire Bullen.