WHAT IS AN IPA?
The India Pale Ale (IPA for short) is style of pale ale that emphasizes hop flavors and aromas. IPAs are one of the most popular styles in the craft beer world, and most, if not all, craft beer lovers have gone through their hophead phase where a hop-forward IPA was their go-to. If you’re new to craft beer, or just want to delve deeper into IPA and its history, read on for a crash course.
WHERE DOES IPA COME FROM, AND WHY THE NAME?
According to beer lore, the ‘India Pale Ale’ was first created by accident when brewers in Britain sent casks of beer to officers stationed in India, during the empire’s heyday. Hops were known to be a preservative, and brewers knew that stronger beers were more suitable for long-term storage, so pale ales destined for India were brewed with extra hops, and to a higher abv to survive the long voyage.
Upon returning to Britain, these officers went to their local pubs demanding the hoppier brews, of which they became accustomed to, and the rest is history. The India Pale Ale was born.
Is it true? Maybe, maybe not, but either way, today’s IPA bares little resemblance to the original English architype. Modern American IPAs are twice as strong as the original English style, and new world hops have a completely different character than classic English breeds.
But there’s more to IPA than the classic American-style. IPAs have become a full-fledged craft beer category, with new styles and variations popping up regularly. Here’s a quick look at some of the most popular IPA styles along with key characteristics.
ENGLISH STYLE IPA
The original English IPA would have been around 3.5%-4% ABV. Today, English IPAs can range from 4%-7.5%. Expect earthy, floral English hop character and a malt profile defined by notes of biscuit, toast, and toffee.
AMERICAN STYLE IPA
There are West-Coast/East-Coast differences in IPA preference, but generally, American IPAs tend to be medium bodied with a clean, bready, and balancing malt backbone, noticeably less malty than their English counterparts. Hops are the star, with an emphasis on American varieties providing herbal, piney, and/or fruity (especially citrusy) profiles. Colour can range from pale golden to reddish amber, while ABV ranges from 6%-7.5%. Stowaway IPA is our flagship IPA and contains elements of both English and American style IPAs.
NEW ENGLAND/HAZY IPA
The NEIPA, also called hazy or Juicy IPA, is a style focused on emphasizing hop aroma and flavour without sharp bitterness. The New England IPA depends heavily on late and dry hopping techniques to deliver a bursting juicy hop experience and can be brewed in virtually any ABV range. Tropical hop varieties are most often used for the NEIPA. Lactose may also be added for sweet, juicy IPAs referred to as Milkshake IPAs.
DOUBLE OR IMPERIAL IPA
A Double or Imperial IPA is simply an IPA with the ABV and IBU turned up to 11. These tend to be 8% ABV or higher. Expect something robust, malty, and alcoholic with a characteristically intense hop profile in both taste and aroma. “Triple IPA” may be used when a beer is closer to 10% or higher.
An easy-drinking IPA that usually falls within 4-5% ABV. Session IPAs may be hop-forward, or more balanced, but the goal is always high drinkability. The word “session” also comes from British pub culture, but now refers to beers that are easily drinkable in a session with friends.
A new style which appeared in 2017, the Brut IPA is notable for its crispness and extreme dryness, like Champagne. Pale straw to pale gold, this style is intended to be lighter in color and body than a typical American IPA. Adjuncts may be used, along with late/dry hopping techniques to produce an extremely dry beer with vibrant fruit-forward hop flavours and aromas. ABV 6.0-7.5%
WHAT ARE HOPS ANYWAY?
Hops are the pinecone-like buds of humulus lupulus, a fast-growing vine which grows only in a few lucky regions worldwide. Most US hops are grown in the Pacific North-West, but England, Germany, Czechia, Australia and New Zealand are also major producers.
Much like grapes, each hop variety has a unique makeup which greatly affects flavours and aromas in the final beer. Noble hops such as Saaz, Hallertau are spicy and herbal, English hops like Goldings and Fuggles are floral or earthy, and American hops Cascade or Mosaic are fruity and juicy. New hop varieties are also developed every year through breeding and are pushing the limits as to what flavours hops may produce.
WHAT FOOD PAIRS BEST WITH IPAS?
IPAs offer loads of variety. They can be bold and bitter, refreshing and fruity, light and crisp, or heavy and intense. As a result, they pair great with a wide variety of foods, and if you’ve got a hot mouth, they can even amplify spicy foods!
IPAs being strongly flavoured, need to be paired with food with similarly strong tastes so as not to overwhelm the dish. When pairing IPA with food you have three basic flavor angles at your disposal; bitterness, hop flavor (spicy, grassy, herbal, earthy, and citrus), and caramel.
Hop flavors have a great affinity for spices and light fruits. Bitterness has a cooling affect and also amplifies salty and umami flavors. The caramel flavors in the beer will latch onto the sweeter side of a dish, tying into things like caramelized onion, BBQ sauce or the crispy skins of roast poultry.
For these reasons, IPAs are great with salty and fried foods, burgers, BBQ, Indian curries, grilled meats and Mexican dishes.