There is no doubt that the American IPA is the king of craft beer right now. The style is favorite among craft drinkers and many IPA brewery releases garner long lines. However, many breweries are starting to expand on the style beyond the realm of just hops.
The main feature for any IPA is, of course, hops. Much of the flavor derived in the beer is from a variety of hops. For a long time, hop growers were stuck growing a similar hop variety for macro brewers, namely one that imparted very little flavor to the beer.
However, hop farmers now have an abundant variety of hops to grow. The hop crops expand every year as well with crossbreeding and expansion of farms. Brewers are starting to expand on the hop flavors in a variety of ways.
One of the ways has been with the addition of fruit to the beer, the most commonly seen being grapefruit. The use of grapefruit is due to the flavors of the hops themselves. As the IPA style took off in popularity, the most used hops possessed strong citrus fruit flavors with grapefruit being the most pronounced.
Brewers decided to highlight this flavor by adding grapefruit to the beer. The results were juicier and more fruit-forward beers that were loved by drinkers. Ballast Point hit a clear homerun with their Grapefruit Sculpin and, many other brewers followed suite. Brewers have begun going beyond the reaches of simply adding fruit to IPAs, though, and it is this turn that is pushing the boundaries for the style.
Stone Brewing Co. has long been a leader in the craft beer industry and even more-so within the IPA category. They were one of the first to brew the popular West Coast IPA style with a very aggressive hopping schedule. Their Stone IPA is still viewed as a classic and continues to be popular with many craft beer drinkers despite all the choices now available.
Stone Brewing Co. also pushed boundaries with their RuinTen Triple IPA. This 100+ IBU IPA began crushing palates immediately and sent hop lovers clambering to get their hands on some. The brewery has again tested limits on this beer with their latest release. RuinTen with orange peel and vanilla bean takes their aggressively hopped triple IPA and adds a depth of citrus flavors and hints of sweet vanilla.
While most breweries would be happy with one release that pushes the boundaries on the style, Stone Brewing Co. is not one of those breweries. They’ve also brewed an incredible Mocha IPA. The beer has strong notes of citrus hops, fresh roasted coffee and semi-sweet chocolate. It is an absolute dream beer!
Easton brewery Søle Artisan Ales also loves to push the boundaries on the IPA style. Earlier this year in collaboration with gypsy brewery Evil Twin Brewing, Søle brewed Evil Smoosh. This was a DIPA dry-hopped with Denali and Lemondrop hops and conditioned on strawberry, rhubarb, vanilla bean and milk sugar. The resulting IPA has a strong tartness with fruit flavors galore.
One of the other ways that IPAs have changed over the year is within the definition of the style itself. For a long time in the industry, the discussion was between East Coast and West Coast-style IPAs with a few outliers such as black or white IPAs and the definition of a DIPA. Now though, the latest style trend is the New England style IPA, or more commonly the NEIPA.
This style is hazier and often resembles a fresh glass of orange juice. The IPA itself is also far juicier than any that came before it. Some brewers add fruits to the beer when brewing this style; others rely solely on the hops themselves to impart these juicy qualities. The beer is unfiltered, which is one of the reasons it has such a cloudy appearance.
The NEIPA has taken off like a rocket, and with each successive release, it continues to gain momentum. Breweries such as Trillium, Tree House, Hill Farmstead and The Alchemist have perfected this style, although brewers outside the New England region have been brewing this style, and even breweries in Texas have caught on.
No matter what you look for in an IPA, brewers are working hard to create a beer that will match it. There is a plethora of IPAs available, but it seems to be a style that always leaves room for more. It is a great style to expand your palate and flavor horizons, so do yourself a favor: Grab some now and let the adventure begin!
Derek Warren is a beer fanatic, avid homebrewer and beer historian. Derek can be heard weekly on the Beer Geeks Radio Hour at noon on Sundays on WILK 103.1 FM with past episodes available on iTunes.