Chris Foste on Chasing the White Tiger: The Elusive White IPA

By Chris Foste, September 23, 2020

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201804/foste.pngThat's columnist Chris Foste is a bearded beer fanatic whose frothy pint glass of knowledge flows over with wisdom on the wetting of one's whistle. 

Many secrets are hidden throughout the various barroom oases, scattered around the concrete jungle of Shanghai. Be sure to tread lightly as we observe the brew beasts in their natural draft habit. The wilde-pilsners travel in packs, galloping past quickly, while the stout-apotomus lurks in dark water and the IPA-laphants stand tall to reach the richest fruit flavors. 

However, there is one craft creature that doesn’t visit most watering holes; elusive and rarely seen, the tastefully beautiful White Tiger is unique in all it’s blended glory. With stripes of Belgian Wit and American IPA, the white tiger, or more properly categorized as a white IPA, is both a refreshing wit beer mixed with a hop-forward IPA.  

WechatIMG4.jpegImage by Chris Foste, featuring his pup, Ralph, in Shanghai's concrete jungle

The birth of the white IPA is something of brewing legend. The story begins with two American breweries, Deschutes Brewery and Boulevard Brewing Company. Deschutes specializes in hoppy beers and strong ales, while Boulevard does a lot of work with wheat-based brews, so respective brewmasters Larry Sidor and Steven Pauwels attempted to create a new species of craft brew. With a blend of spices and Belgian wheatcross-bred with fruity and aromatic American hops, the white IPA was conceived into the Beer Kingdom.  

Image by Chris Foste

The white IPA is a monument to the age-old brewing traditions of Belgian beers combined with the modern innovation of American ales. Truly a special combination of flavors, the aroma of a white IPA is recognizable by hints of orange, citrus and juicy fruits hailing from the tropical hops. The malt and wheat add a light and bready taste, while the added coriander and orange peel tie all these flavors together for a satisfying summertime refreshment.  

Image provided by Chris Foste

From the conception of the first white IPA in 2010, the style exploded onto the American beer scene. Every brewery was trying to clone this exotic beast, and many were quite successful. Deschutes Brewery ended up creating the Chainbreaker White IPA, while Boulevard Brewing created the Taste Room Series White IPA. Other popular White IPAs include the Accumulation White IPA from New Belgium Brewing Company and the Saranac Brewery White IPA. 

The style grew so fast in popularity that in 2015, the Beer Judge Certification Program officially recognized it for professional brewing competitions. The trend was a hit and carried on during the mid 2010s, but just as soon as the white IPA was king of the savanna, along strode some newcomers to the style that would knock the tiger out of the spotlight.

Hazy and Milkshake IPAs exploded on to the craft beer scene around 2015 and soon after in the Chinese craft culture market as the local audience was attracted to the not-so-bitter fruit flavor. Puzzlingly, white IPAs never really caught on in the Middle Kingdom. Hoegaarden and Vedett White are two styles of Belgian wit that are extremely popular all around China, and IPAs are at the heart of the craft beer revolution, so why wouldn’t a white IPA be in more demand?

Image by Chris Foste

There are a couple theories about why this style was neglected, the first being timing. Craft beer is a recent trend in China, and only in the past couple years has it caught mainstream attention. When the white IPA was gaining steam in the West, craft beer was only just being discovered in the East. 

By the time craft beer was widely accepted in China, brewing trends had internationally shifted to hazy and milkshake IPAs, thus the white IPA was lost in the craft craze and became relegated to the endangered species list.

The second theory is that a white IPA is difficult to brew. The malt bill calls for 50% unmalted wheat and 50% Belgian pilsner malt. Since the unmalted wheat requires extra steps in the brewing process, many skip it. 

Too often white IPAs can feel like two different beers in a cup, or just an overly hopped wit beer. Getting the recipe just right is key, and then following through with the brewing is even more difficult. Why make a difficult beer when a simple overly-hopped pale ale will sell just fine?

Image by Chris Foste

White IPAs are difficult to track down, especially in the bustling landscape of Shanghai. Yet there is one watering hole that brews up a fantastic version of the White Tiger, the Shanghai Brew House. Located across from Jing’an Temple, Shanghai Brew House has all locally brewed beers on tap, featuring their tantalizing Bleached Tiger White IPA. 

Orange, tropical fruit, coriander and wheat come together to form this succulent beer. Pair the white IPA with guacamole, spicy chicken, sharp cheese or the Shanghai Brew House Inferno Burger. The Beer Kingdom is full of exotic flavors to explore, so be sure to not let a delicious pint of white IPA allude those taste buds!

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