Yards Rival IPA is the new kid on the block in a crowded field

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IPAs have taken over the craft beer world. There are tons of them out there, in every strength and color. The last Yards Brewing Co. founder Tom Kehoe heard, there were some 1,400 IPAs on the market right now.

They dominate the perception of non-macro-brews to the point that drinkers who aren’t beer enthusiasts — or don’t happen to live in a saturated city like Philly — even equate IPAs with craft beer.

To wit: A few months ago, I’m sitting on a stool next to a tourist in Fergie’s Pub. We chat about where he’s from (Minnesota) and why he’s here (for a conference). “Oh, you’re a beer writer?” he says. “I might order one of those IPAs — but out of all those choices I don’t know what to get.” I look up to check the draft list, and what do I see? Plenty of Belgians, saisons, goses, ambers, sours and pale ales…and one single IPA. “Try the Lagunitas,” I tell him, with a half smile, half sigh.

Minnesota dude has a point, though. In many bars, Philadelphia or otherwise, beer lists are dominated by the style. IPA-overload even has some pundits lamenting the state of the industry.

But not Kehoe and crew. Come Oct. 1, they’re adding another option to the crowded field with the release of a brand new fall seasonal: Rival IPA. (Yards doesn’t do pumpkin, thankyouverymuch, and probably never will.)

Rival IPA’s branding pays homage not to Rocky, but a lesser-known Stallone flick called Over the Top, in which he arm wrestles a rival to win back his son’s love.

YouTube video

“Think of all the great bar events we can have with that theme,” Kehoe says, clearly thrilled with the idea. “Arm wrestling contests!” He’s equally gung-ho about the beer’s style.

“IPA has built a name for itself,” he says. “When people judge a brewery, the first beer they grab is an IPA.”

He notes that using an IPA as a standard is somewhat inappropriate — “hops are great at hiding brewing flaws” — but accepts that it happens. And so, this new one has been added to the lineup, joining year-round classic Yards IPA, limited edition Cape of Good Hope Double IPA and winter seasonal Golden Hop IPA. It’s worth adding Philadelphia Pale Ale to this list, because “if we released it today, we’d probably call it a ‘Session IPA,’” Kehoe admits.

Packaging is based on an '80s Stallone flick
Packaging is based on an ’80s Stallone flick

What makes Rival stand out from the others, flavor-wise? It was born from the recipe for a previous seasonal, Rye IPA, which never sold as well as Kehoe wanted. “People hear ‘rye’ and they think it’s going to be whiskey-like, which it wasn’t.”

Rival has a strong malty backbone with a bit of a bite, thanks to the rye that’s still in the recipe, which is rounded out by much more commonly used pale and crystal malts. It’s also balanced by hops — but not in a bitter way.

Yards recently added a “hopback” to its equipment roster (part of the upgrade that’s happening as the brewery prepares to move to a much larger location up the road). A hopback is a separate container that holds whole-flower hops, through which hot wort is swirled on its way to the fermenter. Because the hops aren’t actually boiled with the beer, they impart aromatics, not bitterness. With Chinook hops playing that role and then Centennial, Citra, Simcoe and Columbus hops added later, Rival gets a flavor that’s both piney and citrusy.

Also new: Rival will be the first Yards beer to debut with 12-packs as part of the packaging lineup (thanks, LCB). It’ll also be available in six-packs, cases and on draft — which meant lots of all-new graphics and labels and taphandles had to be designed.

In general, Yards is actually bucking a trend — it’s one of few breweries that have actually pulled back on the number of brands it produces.

“We used to have 16 and now we’re down to 14,” Kehoe says, adding that 75 percent of sales come from just three core labels (PPA, Brawler and Yards IPA).

“With selection and price point, we’re making a real, concentrated effort to make it easy for people to buy Yards.”

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...