There doesn’t seem to be anything more popular these days than a well crafted IPA from either the local microbrewery or an absolute hop bomb imported from the USA. Having read that Five Points are releasing their own take on the style, it got me thinking – why is IPA so popular? IPA or India Pale Ale is a British invention, a colonial era import from blighty to India for the troops fighting abroad. With the long travel time, an excessive amount of hops were added to a standard pale ale, this supercharged brew acting as a natural preservative for the long journey across the world. I presume the bitter hop presence will have dulled somewhat after the trip, resulting in a familiar tasting brew. These days, we enjoy our IPA’s fresh, as to savour the delicious hoppy flavours and (sometimes) unrelenting bitterness. So the outcome appears to be, despite the original method being one based upon preservation, an increasing tolerance to the bitterness of fresh IPA, drinkers being able to taste the underlying flavours produced by mountains of hops added. Breweries, attempting to expand upon this knowledge, have produced an array of beers based upon a standard IPA, so much so that the IPA has become the umbrella term for a a multitude of beers. Ill explain a few below.
The origin, the foundation and cornerstone of all IPA is an English IPA. Hopped with Goldings and Fuggles to produce the flavour typical of the style. Usually not as strong as their American counterparts, they range between 5% to 6%. Fullers IPA for me is an excellent example, with Shepherd Neame IPA being almost as good. I tend to stick with the traditional breweries when drinking this style.
Our American cousins across the pond have taken the style to new heights, adding Simcoe, Chinook, Centennial, Columbus and Citra to name a few. These produce a massive ‘hop bomb’, with IBU through the roof but with delicious flavour to match. These average out between 5% and 7.5%, with great examples coming from Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, and Stone. They may be difficult to find in the UK, but the slow trick may turn into a tidal wave as the floodgates open with new beer lovers funding these breweries.
Despite the demand for IPA being huge, the high ABV can be very off putting to some. It can be difficult to drink more than one, even though you’d like to, so the session IPA was born. The same hop profile is maintained, but the ABV is lowed to below 5%, allowing the drinker to chug many more. Look out for Founders All Day IPA and The Kernel Table Beer as some great examples of the genre.
Pioneered by Vinnie Cilurzo of the Russian River Brewing Company, the double IPA is an absolute kick in the teeth with a hop filled boot. Double the hops, double the ABV and in most cases, double the flavour. These can range all the way up to 10%, so discretion is advised when tasting – we don’t want you face down in the gutter after several bottles of the stuff. The infamous RRBW Pliny the Elder being the holy grail of Double IPA, topped only by Vermont based Heady Topper – brewed by The Alchemist. According to some, its the best beer ever made, but tastes are subjective. Having tried neither, Brewdog’s Hardcore IPA and Thornbridge Halcyon are two of my favourites.
I think when the madness truly sets in, and there’s nothing else left to experiment with, the triple IPA was going to be an obvious creation. Blowing the rule book into space with these atomic hop bombs, the triple IPA attempts to triple everything: ABV, IBU and of course, hops added. Dogfish Head produced the 18% 120 minute IPA, a shitstorm of flavour and bitterness. Taste it at your own risk. For me, the closest I’ve had was Magic Rock Brewing’s Unhuman Cannonball, a 12% knockout beer. Will we have a quad on the horizon? I’m sure it’s on the way…
These are the most common in the UK, sub categories of these exist also: Rye IPA, IPL (India Pale Lager) and brews made with wild yeasts also exist, are less common but equally delicious. Check them out of you get the chance, Beavertown’s 8 Ball Rye IPA is incredible.
The market is obviously there for all of these products! According to beeradvocate.com the best beer in the world is an IPA – contradictory to the sales figures for beer in the UK which are still dominated by mass produced lagers and light beers, reknowned for their lack of bitterness. Despite this, breweries continue to gain market share with heavy hop IPA’s. The increase that we’re seeing is no illusion, tastes are changing, customers expect more flavour, and the IPA is on the rise. Who knows, maybe in 10 years time, the IPA will be dominating the T Bars across pubs up and down the UK – the colonial era coming back to haunt us.
Not that that’s a bad thing, of course.