WTF is an IPA?

After last weeks rant on sours, I figured it was time to show a little love to the pale ale genre, specifically IPA’s.  Some of these pale ales aren’t for the faint of heart and often people are quite adamant about not wanting a ‘hoppy beer’ specifically because of a bad experience with an IPA.  That’s not to say that these beers are for everyone but surely we can go over some of the variants of IPA’s that might help you discover one better suited for your palette.  Finding flavor in bitterness can be subjective and every hop variety is different which adds a multitude of characteristics to this crowd favorite.  I’ll try poorly to decipher what an IPA is, including the variants it has spawned, all while I enjoy a Citra Ninja Imperial IPA from Pipeworks out of Chicago.

Many of you have probably heard the theory behind the creation of the IPA.  The generous addition of hops was purely a vehicle to avoid spoiling in transit, specifically when it made its way out on the high seas courtesy of the East India Company.  After the realization that additional hops intensify taste and aroma to the common pale ale, we can’t get enough of this little flower now (literally though, many hops are in short supply).  The combination of hops and the different points that those hops are added in the brewing process has created a beer that can be so complex yet so delicate it sends people driving all over the U.S. to find the nations best India pale ale.

Here are some of the variants that I and many others enjoy so much, including some personal favorites…

  • American IPA’s –  The crowd favorite that started many of the variants below.  Brewed primarily with American hops instead of the earthy european hops found in early British IPA’s.  These IPA’s are typically well balanced with lots of citrusy bitterness and a nice medium malt character.  (Personal favorites:  Ballast Point Sculpin, Stone IPA and Cigar City Jai Alai)
  • Double/Imperial IPA’s –  This is my goto variant of an IPA as it amplifies all the things that I love about American hops.  Heavy citrus and resin flavors throughout, some with a heavier perceived malt profile and typically a high alcohol content to boot.  Some of the best IPA’s produced right now in my opinion are Imperial.  (Personal favorites:  Alchemist Heady Topper, Green Flash West Coast IPA and Dogfish Head 90 minute)
  • Black IPA’s –  The dark malt really adds an interesting component to an American IPA.  The roasted/sweet characteristic is a great compliment to the resiny/citrusy hops inside.  A dark tone that is very unique for an IPA and should be experienced first hand. (Personal favorites:  Uinta Dubhe and Upland Komodo Dragon Fly)
  • Wheat IPA’s –  Commonly referred to as an American pale wheat ale, these beers have many of the traditional hoppy characteristics of an IPA while mellowing the bitterness with tones of dry herb and a malty backbone. (Personal favorites:  3 Floyds Gumballhead and Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’)

Thats all the time we have for today, until next time…