Monday 30 May 2022

Cold IPA vs India Pale Lager (IPL) - What's the Difference?

The craft beer industry is constantly evolving, with seemingly endless varieties of new styles and crazes popping up all the time. One of the more recent trends is the emergence of the Cold IPA (India Pale Ale). Another term that often gets thrown into the same conversation is an IPL (India Pale Lager) - which begs the question - are these two styles of beer the same? What makes them unique, or different?

What is a Cold IPA?

A Cold IPA is a fresh take on the classic American IPA - providing a cleaner, clearer and crisper version that often includes mostly pilsner malt and some added adjuncts such as a rice or corn to provide a lighter and more refreshing body and finish. Cold IPA's are typically fermented using lager yeasts, the most common being Fermentis 34/70 yeast, but at a warmer temperature than you typically would for a lager. As per the IPA style, it's very hop forward with loads of hops added after or at the tail end of primary fermentation - ie. dry hopping.

The style is believed to have been pioneered by Wayfinder Beer in Portland, Oregon, USA, with the release of the Relapse IPA in late 2018, but the style has caught on and spread rapidly throughout other breweries in the USA and across the world including Australia.

The name itself appears to be an oxymoron. The "A" in "IPA" refers to "Ale", yet a Cold IPA is fermented with lager yeast. Wouldn't this make it a lager style of beer then? Well, yes - since the way most styles of beer are determined is by the type of yeast that is used, using a lager yeast to make an ale beer just doesn't make a lot of sense. Looks like a simple case of marketing gimmics since these days, "IPA" seems to refer to any beer with loads of hops as opposed to an ale with loads of hops. 

On top of that, it's called a Cold IPA, yet we're using lager yeasts and fermenting them warmer than you typically would for a traditional lager beer. This is another part of the argument, that since we're fermenting a Cold IPA using lager yeast but at warmer temperatures, it isn't a "true lager".

Wayfinder do suggest that other yeasts such as Kolsch, Chico or California Common can be used instead - the only requirement is that whatever yeast is used must not have high sulfur or ester notes. Think of the Cold IPA as a "canvas for IPA hops" - you don't want anything getting in the way or hindering the hop flavours - like yeast or complex malt flavours.

We've tried and reviewed one ourselves - Sunday Road Brewing Co's Yule Fuel Cold IPA as part of the 2021 Beer Cartel Advent Calendar. Admittedly we didn't fully understand what a Cold IPA was when we had this beer, but we loved it nonetheless.  Looking back at our review for this beer, we noted it's smooth and clean flavour profile making it super refreshing and easy to drink with plenty of fruity hop flavours.

What's the difference between a Cold IPA and IPL?

We've done lots of research on this, and often the two names are used interchangeably - but we've found a few notable differences between them. Part of the problem is that these styles aren't officially recognised by the Beer Judging Certification Program (BJCP) so there aren't any hard and fast guidelines on what these beer styles actually are - only countless opinions of craft breweries, brewers and other sources on the Internet. 

There are a few differentiating factors we could find between Cold IPA's and IPL's. Firstly, IPL's essentially take an IPA recipe as is, and swap the ale yeast for a lager yeast. Cold IPA's on the other hand are built from the ground up, using a base of pilsner malt then adding adjuncts such as rice and/or corn at around 20-40%, rather than specialty malts that you would typically find in a traditional IPA recipe - like munich and biscuit. This provides a really neutral, or bready base to build upon with a dry finish that all helps to promote the hops and let them shine through.

Ironically, Cold IPA's are also fermented warmer than IPL's which are fermented at the recommended lager yeast temperature.

Cold IPA's are more hop forward than IPL's, have a higher bitterness and feature new world hop varieties - likely because classic fermented lager yeasts don't emit flavours that combine well with loads of these new world hops. They are often thought of as taking a West Coast IPA and making it even more West Coast by really accentuating and showcasing the hops and having a crisp grain bill.

IPL's usually have a lower alcohol (ABV) content than Cold IPA's and will feature classic European or noble hop varieties and a lower overall bitterness. They're often referred to as "clunky" - since a simple mixture of an IPA grain bill and hops with lager yeast doesn't always gel together well.


Although these two styles of beer are similar, and are often referred to as brother or sister styles to one another, it seems there are a handful of features that distinguish them from each other. Since there aren't any official style guidelines for either of these, there's room for plenty of interpretation when it comes to Cold IPA's and IPL's.

A big part of this certainly appears to be marketing hype and broad definitions and interpretations of what an "IPA" beer actually is. There are no doubt plenty of purists out there who will get hung up on an IPA using lager yeast, but at the end of the day evolution of beer and beer styles is a good thing. If brewers didn't get adventurous with their products and recipes then the craft beer industry would certainly not be what it is today.

If you come across a Cold IPA or IPL, give it a try and see for yourself what they're all about. Although we've only ever had one Cold IPA, we'll be keeping our eye out for more - we might even try brewing one ourselves in the future like this one from David Heath on YouTube.

Don't be surprised to see either or both of these styles officially recognised by the BJCP in the coming years. People were probably having similar discussions years ago when New England IPA's (NEIPA's) first came on the scene, and they are now officially recognised with their own Hazy IPA style under the BJCP style guidelines.

Check out our Cold IPA Recipe Creation Guide which has some detailed information on exactly what makes up a Cold IPA and what key ingredients should be included to dial in your own recipe.

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