Sour IPA is a relatively new hybrid style that’s taken the craft beer world by storm. We’ll find out what makes this style so special and tell you all you need to know to homebrew a deliciously tropical Sour IPA.
What is a Sour IPA?Sour IPA is a mixed-fermentation beer that’s a hybrid between an IPA and a sour beer. It’s a relatively new style, popularized by modern American craft breweries like Hudson Valley and The Veil.
The majority of Sour IPA is based around the New England IPA (NEIPA) hop profile, mouthfeel, and body. To that, sourness provides a delicious layer of lip-smacking acidity, giving the tropical flavors added punch.
Sour IPA should not be bitter. Bitter and sour flavors can clash in beer. The profile of Sour IPA leans toward low bitterness, maximum fruity hops, soft mouthfeel, and sourness.
There is no official style designation for Sour IPA. In our opinion, it should be low bitterness (0 to 20 IBU), light in color, very hazy, and around 6% ABV. Malt flavor is subdued, overwhelmed by intense tropical hoppiness made more pronounced by a vibrant acidity.
What makes a good Sour IPA?Bright, juicy, tangy, and full bodied is what you’d expect from the best examples. Almost like mango or guava juice, but with a dry and refreshing finish. Of course, Sour IPA should always taste like beer. Hop character must take the center stage.
Acidity is pronounced, but not as sour as Lambic or Berliner Weisse. Too tart and Sour IPA becomes overly citric. You should know you’re drinking sour beer, but not like some head-exploding barrel aged sours.
Clean, balanced acidity combined with the hallmarks of a tasty NEIPA… that’s a great Sour IPA.
How to brew Sour IPALet’s start off by saying that Sour IPA is definitely an intermediate to advanced style to homebrew. Clean souring, advanced dry hopping techniques, and care when packaging are all essential to ensure a successful brew.
There are three major ways to brew a sour IPA:
Each method has its positives and negatives:
Kettle Sour IPA Co-Pitched Sour IPA Blended Sour IPA Pros No need for dedicated sour equipment Complex sour expression Complex sour expression Very fast fermentation – 1 to 2 weeks Quick and easy brew day Maximum control for flavor balance through blending Can add hops on the hot side Can add hops on the hot side Better for higher gravity IPA Cons Lack of complexity from lacto Need dedicated sour equipment Need dedicated sour equipment Lengthy brew day. Takes 24 to 48 in the kettle. Sour level can be unpredictable, takes trial and error Requires brewing two or more beers Slower fermentation Slower fermentation No hot side hops Blending could introduce oxygen if not careful Our preferred method is kettle souring. It’s fast, efficient, and controllable. Not only that, you don’t have to worry about cross-contaminating clean and sour brewing equipment.
This guide will focus on the kettle souring method.
Fermentables and HopsBuilding the malt and hop profiles of a Sour IPA is nearly identical to an NEIPA.
A high protein grist will give a nice fluffy backbone to Sour IPA. Incorporate oats, rye, and wheat in flaked, malted, or even unmalted forms.
Keep the gravity around 1.060. Sour IPA should be between 5.5% to 6.5% ABV. We’ve seen that the kettle souring process works better at lower gravities, around 1.040. For Sour IPA, boosting up the OG a bit works as long as we make sure to pitch a very healthy dose of lacto – more on that in the next section.
In terms of hops, stick to juicy varieties like Galaxy, Enigma, Mosaic, Citra – you get the drift. Add hops to the whirlpool, between 160°F-170°F. You can drop all boil additions. For Sour IPA, the bitterness extracted from the whirlpool hops is plenty.
For an overview of the malt and hop selection, see our complete guide to brewing NEIPA.
Yeast and LactobacillusFirst, let’s cover the souring bacteria. For kettle sours, lactobacillus plantarum from commercial sources is the most effective and consistent way to go. Some lacto-fermentations struggle in higher gravity wort. Because of that, you need to ensure a very large and healthy dose of lactobacillus.
We recommend using one of the following lactobacillus sources:
- 32oz Carton of Fresh GoodBelly Probiotic Juice
- 1L Starter of Omega Yeast OYL-605, White Labs WLP67, or Wyeast 5335
Follow our guide on kettle souring for a detailed overview of the souring process. For Sour IPA, here are the steps you need to know:
For the brewer’s yeast, my preference is the tropical fruit bomb White Labs WLP644 Saccharomyces “bruxellensis” Trois. It’s low flocculating, ester-forward, and can easily handle the low pH of the kettle soured wort.
Other great options are an English strain like Wyeast 1318 London Ale III, or a Chico strain like SafAle US-05. See our guide on NEIPA yeast for lots of great alternatives.
Always use a big, healthy yeast starter when fermenting kettle sours. The low pH can be hard on some yeast strains, but providing a lot of healthy yeast will ensure a strong fermentation.
Water AdjustmentsWater should be treated like an NEIPA. A bit of chlorides will help with the soft mouthfeel, where some sulfates boost hop clarity. Aim for a chloride to sulfate ratio of about 2:1. A good starting point is 200 ppm chloride and 100 ppm sulfate. Calcium, about 100 ppm, will help with yeast health.
Use very clean, low mineral water as a starting point. Reverse osmosis (RO), distilled, or carbon filtered water are ideal. Chlorine and chloramine found in many municipal water supplies will destroy hop expression. Make sure your water is free from those or treated with a Campden tablet, if necessary.
Before pitching the lacto for the souring process, it’s highly recommended to drop the pH of the wort to 4.0-4.3 using lactic acid. This gives the lacto the best chance to sour quickly, limits risk of contamination, and helps boost head retention.
Lactose (Optional)Adding lactose to Sour IPAs helps soften the body and provide a bit more residual sweetness which adds to mouthfeel. It’s completely optional and certainly not suitable for vegans or those with dietary concerns or allergies.
Use half a pound of lactose per 5 gallon batch, added at the end of the second boil. Since lactose is an unfermentable sugar, it will also add about 3 or 4 gravity points to your OG and FG.
PackagingJust like NEIPA, kegging is highly recommended for Sour IPA. It’s an extremely sensitive style to oxidation. We not only suggest kegging, but also to use a closed-transfer from the fermenter to the keg to eliminate oxygen exposure.
Force carbonate to 2.3 – 2.5 Volumes of CO2.
Very Juicy DDH Sour IPA RecipeThis is a delicious recipe for a juicy, Sour IPA. It mixes the kettle souring technique with NEIPA brewing philosophy to produce a tropical explosion in the glass. Copious double dry hopping of Galaxy and Strata are rounded off with good old Citra for maximum fruitiness and hop complexity.
A touch of lactose is used to round out the back-end of the beer, making it a bit softer and luxurious. This can certainly be omitted if you don’t want dairy products in your beer.
For extract brewers, use 7.5 pounds of Wheat dry malt extract (DME) and steep one pound of CaraPils and one pound of flaked oats for some extra body.
Whirlpool at 165°F
Whirlpool at 165°F
Whirlpool at 165°F
Dry hop 1
Dry hop 1
Dry hop 1
Dry hop 2
Dry hop 2
Dry hop 2
- ½ lb lactose
Lactobacillus and Yeast
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- White Labs WLP644 Saccharomyces “bruxellensis” Trois – 500-1000mL starter
Water AdjustmentsUse RO, carbon filtered, or distilled water. Aim for the following water profile, adjusting with calcium chloride and calcium sulfate:
- Sulfates – 100 ppm
- Chloride – 200 ppm
- Calcium – 20 ppm
- Magnesium – 20 ppm
- Mash pH – 5.2
- Food Grade Lactic Acid: adjust pH of wort to 4.0-4.3 before pitching lacto for kettle souring.
Final ThoughtsCombining two of the most popular craft beer styles – NEIPA and sour beer – into one delicious hybrid can be a thing of beauty. It’s a pretty intense style to brew. From the kettle souring, to the dry hopping, and to the care in packaging, it’s definitely an advanced process.
You can handle it though. Pitch lots of lacto followed by a big healthy yeast starter to make sure the beer ferments with limited stress. Add your finest hops, sticking to fruity varieties. Carefully keg it up and give it a couple weeks to condition.
Sit back and enjoy the tart, fruity, and crazy mash-up of flavors that is Sour IPA, crafted right in your home.
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