Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA is a benchmark of the style, the tentpole beer from one of the most respected breweries in the country. Not content to rest on their laurels, they have brewed countless modified versions of Sculpin, with the grapefruit, pineapple, and habanero versions of their flagship receiving the widest distribution.
Their most recent variation on the theme is an Unfiltered Sculpin. Seeing the word “unfiltered,” my mind immediately turned to hazy IPAs, New England IPAs, ones so cloudy that they’re virtually opaque in a pint glass. The visual I couldn’t escape was an impossibly cloudy IPA from local favorite Tired Hands. As a longtime Sculpin fan, I was excited when I saw Unfiltered Sculpin in the fridge at my local bottle shop, imagining their take on this relatively new and wildly popular style.
I poured one into a glass as soon as I got home and did not see what I expected. It looked a lot more like a standard Sculpin than a barely translucent New England IPA. I poured one of the standard Sculpins I had in my fridge into another glass as a sanity check and sure enough, there wasn’t much of a visual difference between the two.
That makes perfect sense, of course. The problem wasn’t with the Unfiltered Sculpin, it was with my brain and my expectation for what it would be like. New England IPAs aren’t just regular IPAs that skip a single filtering step, they’re a completely different style with an entirely different brewing process. Something that matched my expectation wouldn’t be a Sculpin any more – it would be something else entirely.
In the end, though, it’s a Sculpin first and foremost.”
Having figured out what Unfiltered Sculpin was not, something which should have been obvious to me, I was curious about what it actually was, and how it differed from the standard Sculpin. I reached out James Murray, the VP of Brewing for Ballast Point to figure out how they made their unfiltered take on their most popular beer.
The primary difference in the brewing process is that the polishing filter, used after fermentation and conditioning for the standard Sculpin, is not used for the Unfiltered Sculpin.
It’s not just a Sculpin with a single filtering step skipped, though, The unfiltered version is made with “roughly 20% more Dry Hops added.” Beyond that, more Amarillo and Simcoe hops are used than in the standard Sculpin. According to Murray, Unfiltered Sculpin “was an idea I had when the hazy/juicy NE IPAs started to become popular. Reminded me of old school North Star,” referring to the first brew of Ballast Point’s North Star IPA, which was supposed to be a single batch but eventually turned into Sculpin due to its popularity.
The result is a beer that’s very close to the intended target. It’s a bit less bitter than the standard Sculpin, despite the extra hops, due to the types of hops used and the timing of their introduction. It still clocks in with the same 70 IBUs as the standard Sculpin, but it tastes less bitter. The Unfiltered Sculpin also has a little more of that juicy flavor profile that typifies hazy New England IPAs than Ballast Point’s premier IPA.
Don’t make the same mistake I did with Unfiltered Sculpin and let that first word set an expectation of a hazy IPA. It makes a few nods towards New England IPAs with a little cloudiness, slightly less bitterness and a bit of that characteristic juiciness.
In the end, though, it’s a Sculpin first and foremost. That’s a good thing, since the classic Sculpin has been one of the best beers in its class for a long time.