What is an IPA?

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First Posted: 3/18/2013

Style: IPA (India Pale Ale)

Brief History: The IPA style is credited to one Mr. George Hodgson, whose Bow Brewery created the hoppy style of beer for both domestic consumption and for those troops stationed in colonized India. The style grew in popularity, and many brewers in England’s Burton-upon-Trent region began creating a similar style of beer and soon usurped Bow Brewery in popularity, but the style soon fell out of favor. For some time, the style seemed to disappear from the market until Jack McAuliffe opened his New Albion brewery in 1976 and brought the hoppy pale ale style to the United States. While the brewery did not stay in business long, it inspired many to pick up the style and soon we had Liberty Ale from Anchor Brewing, followed by Sierra Nevada’s wonderful Pale Ale. Now, IPA’s are very popular and everywhere, with nearly all breweries offering their take on this classic style, and the hop varieties available now make this style apparently endless with wonderful combinations.

Variations: American IPA, English IPA, Double/Imperial IPA, Black IPA, White IPA, and Triple IPA

Nose: The primary aroma that one will pick up within an IPA is hops; however, the range of scents from hops is vast. New hops are being created/discovered all the time, and just as new hops come on to the market, less favorable hops seemingly disappear. Hop aroma can range from piney to citrus to spicy to dank to cat pee (yes, cat pee). The strength of the aroma from the IPA will be greatly affected by the region of the United States the IPA is from; for example, typical West Coast IPA’s are very aggressively hopped, are quite bitter, and have a strong hop aroma, and the hops used tend to lean more towards the piney and dank side of the aroma. Also within West Coast brewers is where you find the cat urine smell from the hops. While East Coast brewers tend to not hop as aggressively, there are exceptions of course, and the hop choices tend to lean towards the spicy and citrus aroma hops. Also, many East Coast brewers look very unfavorably upon the cat urine smell of some hops.

Body: The body for a typical IPA can range from thin to full depending on the style of beer. One classic characteristic for IPA’s is that they finish crisp and dry and deliver a hop punch.

Taste: While the flavors can range widely depending on the hops chosen for the beer, typically IPA’s are bitter, and this can range from mildly bitter to extremely bitter. What is going to determine how bitter the beer is its IBU (International Bittering Units); this is used to measure how bitter a beer is. For example, Budweiser has an IBU listing of 12, while many IPA’s typically range from 35 to 60. There is much discrepancy about how high in IBU’s a beer can reach after bottling and how the taste buds can taste the difference in the an extremely bitter beer. However, this does not stop many breweries from claiming to have beers of 100+ IBUs. There really is only one way to find out if we can taste this bitterness, though, so grab a glass and start testing!

Food Pairing: The choice of accompanying food will depend upon what style of IPA you are having. English IPA styles are much more subdued in that hoppy bite, and for this reason, they are great with most food choices one would have for lunch: think sandwiches, salads, or any other light faire. However, American IPA’s and similar styles with a strong hop bite go perfectly with spicier dishes, so think Mexican, Thai, or Indian. This is a great style to experiment with, but just try to keep in mind what style of IPA you are pairing with your food.

Recommendations: IPA is a style that needs recommendations based upon exposure to the style, as the bitterness from the hop can be overwhelming to some at first, so we will break this apart from novice to expert when it comes to the IPA.

  • Novice: Bear Republic, Racer 5 IPA; Sierra Nevada, Pale Ale; Goose Island, India Pale Ale; Anchor Brewing Company, Liberty Ale
  • Experienced: 21st Amendment, Brew Free or Die; Victory Brewing, HopDevil Ale; Founders, Centennial IPA; Bell‘s, Two-Hearted Ale
  • Expert: Ballast Point, Sculpin IPA; Russian River, Pliny the Elder; Dogfish Head, 120 Minute IPA; and Stone Brewing, Ruination IPA