Assuming you don’t live under a rock, you’re familiar with the term “IPA” by now. This is likely true even for folks who don’t drink beer very often, or at all. Such is the extent of craft beer’s penetration into Western culture. It’s become part of our common knowledge—they even have beer-flavored vape juice! But what, precisely, is an IPA? Here’s a brief 101.
Put simply, India pale ale is an especially hoppy and bitter form of craft beer. As the name suggests, it falls under the rubric of pale ale, a popular brew with origins dating back to seventeenth-century England. Notably, pale ales are oftentimes called “bitters”—a reference to their higher hop content.
Rewind to late 18th-century India. Beer was in high-demand, needed to quench the thirst of British Empire troops. Being far too hot to brew in India, beer needed to survive a 6-month sea journey. Fortunately, around the same time brewers came up with the October Ale – a pale-colored beer with high hop content. They discovered that not only could this new brew withstand the journey, but it also happened to improve with travel. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, IPA is the flagship craft beer style. Bars and restaurants that carry beer from microbreweries will almost always have a list of different IPAs – often with experimental ingredients like terpenes or exotic fruits – to choose from. So let’s take a look at some of the most popular varieties.
Given that session beer is a lighter beer with lower alcohol content, this may seem like a contradiction in terms. But bear with me. The idea here is to capture the best of both worlds. That means a dynamic beer with rich, varied flavors and aromas, that’s not too heavy and won’t get you plastered—at least not as quickly as most other IPAs.
So you feel like getting plastered after all. Look no further than the imperial or double IPA. Remember we said IPA was a stronger, hoppier version of standard pale ale? Well, imperial IPA is a stronger, hoppier version of standard IPA. It’s a heavyweight brew with vigorous flavors and an ABV of at least 7 percent. Let the drinker beware.
East Coast IPA
Boasting tasteful hints of the fruity, piney and citrusy elements that set IPA apart from the competition, east coast is the fundamental American IPA variety. You really can’t go wrong with this classic crowd-pleaser.
West-Coast Style IPA
If you’re looking to get hopped-up, this is the brew for you. We love our hops here in California, so much so that we sometimes like to sacrifice the traditional hop-malt balance that characterizes most other IPAs. And sacrifice we do—to toothsome effect.
Broadcast your iconoclasm next time you’re at the bar by ordering a black IPA. This heretical brew takes what we think we know about IPA and turns it on its ear. The increased malt lends the beer a swarthy appearance that is matched by daring roasty flavors, serving up a whole new IPA experience.
As you can see, IPA comes in all shapes and sizes. And while it’s easy to become attached to one or two, you really owe it to yourself to experiment with as many as possible. So get to it.