The IPA (India Pale Ale) is one of the most popular styles around today, and has been for a while. In our homebrew operation, it’s becoming one of the tastiest and most fun to make. We’re entering it into competitions (Cliché, yes, but it’s so tasty!). Our current recipe might even get converted for the brewery. Why all the hype? I believe it’s in the hops and the history. Let’s look at the history of the IPA, what makes it so different, and some great versions you can buy today.
East Indies Trading Company - Is that a keg in the water?
A lot has been written on this topic, so I’ll just give a brief summary and a few good links.
Think about what you do when you buy a few bottles of beer, or even a keg. You drive to your favorite liquor store or brewery, open the refrigerated case in which the ale or lager you wish to consume rests, purchase the beer, drive it home in your temperature controlled automobile, and put it in another refrigerated container. (I realize this experience may differ for some readers, but this is generally the modus operandi for the beer consumer and connoisseur.)
Now think how the British transported the beer for their colonizing soldiers, from London to New Delhi or Mumbai. Even if the beer were refrigerated before hand – which I’m pretty sure they couldn’t do in the 18th and 19th century – the four month trip overseas, through and into tropical climates, tends to warm the temperature of the delicious liquid inside those wooden casks.
Anyone had a warm beer lately? How about a microwaved one? What about a beer left outside to fend for itself for a few months. Not as tasty as that one you just drove home from Main Street Liquors, is it.
The story goes that the October beer of George Hodgson’s Bow Brewery, and later, Burton Brewers’s India Pale Ale, were some of the first to brew differently to overcome the adverse affects of a long overseas journey. They did this by using more hops, and using them at different times, as well as increasing the alcohol content.
Hops are very, very resistant to the kinds of bacteria you don’t want in your beer. They also pack a punch in the form of flavor and aroma, masking a lot of unpleasantness that might be resting in the beer. By adding more hops throughout the boil, and adding hops after the boil, these innovative brewers increased the flavor and resilience of their beer.
Also, increased alcohol by volume makes a very unpleasant living environment for some brew-ruining bacteria; the brewers achieved this by increasing the amount of sugar the yeast could nibble on.
So the ale made it to India. Mind you, a lot of other styles made it as well. But this one was extra resilient. A porter survives quite well. The IPA was just designed for it. Anyway, the IPA arrives in India, and the British soldiers tap the keg and taste the results. Lo and behold, it not only survived the trip, but it’s also delicious!
BeerAdvocate states that
Historians believe that an IPA was then watered down for the troops, while officers and the elite would savor the beer at full strength.
A more detailed history can be found in a nice article written by Thom Tomlison, as well as on Wikipedia. But that’s the basic story.
The BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) has a full category for IPAs (Category 14), with three subcategories: 14A English IPA, 14B American IPA, and 14C Imperial IPA.
The English IPA is a little lighter in color, body, and alcohol content than the other varieties. The BJCP sums it up:
A hoppy, moderately strong pale ale that features characteristics consistent with the use of English malt, hops and yeast.
The American version steps up the color and alcohol by a little bit. Not a lot. Just a few points here and there. I think the casual beer drinking would be hard pressed to taste the difference between the American and English varieties.
The Imperial IPA. The name deserves its own sentence. This version of the India Pale Ale is a little darker and whole lot stronger than the other two categories. The ABV ranges for the English, American, and Imperial IPAs are, respectively, 5 – 7.5%, 5.5 – 7.5%, and 7.5 – 10%. That’s right. The lower end of the Imperial IPA is the upper end of the other versions. It’s a beast of a beer. Defined:
An intensely hoppy, very strong pale ale without the big maltiness and/or deeper malt flavors of an American barleywine. Strongly hopped, but clean, lacking harshness, and a tribute to historical IPAs. Drinkability is an important characteristic; this should not be a heavy, sipping beer. It should also not have much residual sweetness or a heavy character grain profile.
If you couldn’t tell by my tone, I enjoy this style. 14c. It’s good stuff.
I wanted to write about the volume sold of IPA compared to other styles, and the increase in sales over recent years. However, I was unable to find specific information and numbers on the sales of craft beer styles.
Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA - One of my favorites
Just a few beers you might have heard of that I personally believe do the style very, very well. I have a few favorite breweries, which will show themselves by my listings, so feel free to add your favorites in the comments. I’ll try them as soon as I can.
- English IPA
- Long Trail Traditional IPA – Long Trail Brewing Company – Bridgewater Corners, Vermont
- Apparently I need to try more English IPAs
- American IPA
- Harpoon IPA – Harpoon Brewery – Boston, Massachusetts
- Inversion IPA – Deschutes Brewery – Bend, Oregon
- Snake Dog IPA – Flying Dog Brewery – Fredrick, Maryland (formerly Denver)
- Snake River IPA – Snake River Brewing Company – Jackson, Wyoming
- Stone IPA – Stone Brewing Company – Escondido, California
- Titan IPA – Great Divide Brewing Company – Denver, Colorado
- Imperial IPA / Double IPA
- 90 Minute IPA – Dogfish Head Craft Brewery – Milton, Delaware
- 120 Minute IPA – Dogfish Head Craft Brewery – Milton, Delaware
- Pliny The Younger – Russian River Brewing Company – Santa Rosa, California
And soon to be added to the list, our IPA. You’ll love it. I swear.
Any questions? Tell me your favorite styles and I’ll write about them too.
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