Why Karben4 Says Malt Matters in IPAs

When you read the description for Karben4 Brewing Company’s Fantasy Factory IPA, it isn’t the hops that are highlighted.

It’s the malt — Golden Promise — that brewmaster and co-owner Ryan Koga says distinguishes the 6.3% ABV beer that the Madison, Wisconsin brewery chose to highlight this week for National IPA Day and International Beer Day.

“Though base malt comprises the majority of the grain used in a beer, many brewers seek to use the most neutral base malt they can find. I feel that is a mistake, and not just because I am a malt-centric brewer,” Koga said. “It feels like not caring about the quality of the concrete used to pour the foundation for a skyscraper. 

“In the case of Fantasy Factory, the robust flavor of Golden Promise adds sweetness to the fruity hops — making it juicy in the same way sugar turns tart lemon juice into thirst-quenching lemonade. We figured that out years before the words ‘juicy IPA’ ever crossed anyone’s lips.”

The IPA category has diversified in relatively recent history, becoming a category that brewers are finding more way to put their own touch on.  Karben4 is among those that believes it’s important to think critically about the adjustments it makes rather than throwing spaghetti at the wall.

Koga said it’s fun to be creative and think of new ways to do old things, but that physics, biology and reality — paired with a hungry production team — are the ingredients needed to exact meaningful changes in a beer category.

“Whatever tweaks we want to make need to be supported with data, not anecdote or ego. An example would be understanding the anatomy and physiology of the tongue and olfactory: understanding how we physically perceive bitter, sweet, sour, etc. informs us how to get different flavors and aromas to be accentuated or muted. It also informs us of the limits of perception to know when more hops in the tanks will not translate to more hops in the mouth.”

Koga said National IPA Day and International Beer Day were not insignificant because IPA — as the style exists in its popular form — is the USA’s contribution to worldwide brewing.

“I think it’s great to pay homage to a style that has created so much buzz worldwide that it has propelled the term ‘craft brewing’ into the common vernacular,” he said.

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