Today I want to talk about some of my favorite beer, IPA’s. With the surge in popularity of craft beer over the last few years, IPA’s kind of became the popular kid. Everyone wants to be at their party, know what they think is cool, see what they’re wearing. But with all that comes a bit of hate too. Listening to my customers lately, it seems like IPA’s have been getting a bad wrap, like there’s this idea that they’re all bitter & no soul. It’s just not true! There’s so much interesting variety under the IPA umbrella which is why I love them.
Before I get too gushy, let’s start with what an IPA actually is. I.P.A. stands for India Pale Ale. In the late 1700’s English brewers started brewing ales specifically for export to the colonies. India had a high demand for beer, but was too hot for brewing, so brewers in London began making stronger versions of the popular, traditional pale ale. With extra hops & a higher alcohol content these “strong pale ales” could withstand the long journey overseas. Eventually these strong pale ales became popular & the name “India Pale Ale” stuck. These days there are endless varieties of IPA.
Now, the hops are what make an IPA, right? Well, yeah, but hops are in every beer. It’s the way a brewer uses hops & how much they use that makes an IPA. From talking with my customers, who obviously aren’t all going to be beer geeks, there seems to be a misconception that hops are only bitter. Sure, more hops equals a more bitter quality, but there’s a lot more going on in there too! Hop flavors can be citrus fruit or tropical fruit, herbal, floral, spiced or spicy, grassy, piney, or even woody & earthy. In addition to different flavors, different hops have varying levels of bitterness. But wait! You can’t forget the malts! Hops may be the star here, but you can’t have beer without malts, & in IPA’s the combination of hops & malt can be really interesting. Some IPA’s have a whole lot of malts added in, like black & red styles, while others are more evenly balanced & still others use the bare minimum. Once you start combining all these different flavors & factors you can get an endless number of options & fun things to try.
Above are some of my favorite IPA offerings from all over the country. You’ll notice they don’t all fall into one style guideline & that’s the fun part! I tend to prefer a more hop forward, bitter brew (like a west coast style), but that doesn’t mean I don’t love a really well done “juicy” east coast style. This less bitter variety has become quite popular lately. Being a beer lover, I’ll try ’em all as long as they’re well made. If you’re interested in diving head first into the hop pool, this is a great article from Craft Beer (.com) to give a bit of guidance & if you’re even more curious here’s a list of the 50 best IPA’s in America right now according to Draft Magazine. I hope you feel encouraged to go give hops another chance, cheers!