What Is An IPA?
Bitter, floral, earthy, citrusy, piney & fruity are words most commonly used to describe an IPA. But most of all hoppy. IPA stands for India Pale Ale. IPA’s are known for their extremely distinct, bitter hoppy flavor. In fact, IPAs are the most popular style in the craft beer world today. Throughout history, IPAs have evolved into the strongest hopped beer style of all. But what makes an IPA an IPA? To know that you have to know a little about the history of the name: India Pale Ale.
How the IPA got the Name India Pale Ale
India plays an important role in the history of IPA, but it is not the country where IPA’s originate. Let’s take a trip back in time..
British Empire: 1700’s
The IPA was first brewed out of necessity. Just like the British living in the motherland, those in the English Empire in the east wanted something refreshing to cool them off at the end of a long day. However, the Indian climate proved too warm to brew beer, and most beers weren’t able to survive the long six-month journey to India.
So in London, a brewer named Hodgson sent a strong beer packed with hops, which he called October ale, to the British living in the Eastern Empire. Not only did the beer taste great when it arrived in the east, but the time it spent fermenting on the journey, made the beer taste even better once it arrived. He created a brew that was meant to be aged like wine, which made it the perfect choice. As time passed, the IPA became paler with more refreshing flavors to suit the steamy Indian climate. And that’s why the IPA is called India Pale Ale.
The Decline and Renaissance of the IPA
IPAs caught on, and the demand for them grew. And naturally, other breweries began imitating Hodgson’s innovation. But unfortunately, IPAs lost their distinct flavors and characteristics due to the public’s change in taste, wars, the decline of the empire, and a variety of other reasons. The IPA essentially turned into a normal pale ale. That is, until the Americans stepped in.
Flash forward to America in the 1970s. IPAs began to be brewed with their original hop-heavy style, and this eventually led to it becoming one of the most popular in the nation.
The 4 Types of IPAs
English IPAs are what started it all. The are generally less hoppy in flavor than American IPAs, with medium to strong hop bitterness and flavor. Also noted are strong fruit flavors and a gold to copper color when poured. English IPAs can have anywhere from 4.5% to 7.1% ABV. They are usually crisp and dry. A very refreshing brew.
Americans revived the English IPA style with the injection of bold hoppy flavors. The hop flavors are strong, with high bitterness, big citrus and/or herbal character and a stable malt backbone. Also common are pine, sulfur and/or floral flavors. American IPAs tend to have medium to strong fruit flavors. Color is gold to copper along with a distinct hop haze. ABVs range from 6.3% to 7.6% in American-Style IPAs.
Imperial (Double) IPA
Imperial Double IPAs are a step up in intensity to American style. Hop bitterness and flavor are way high, but shouldn’t be unpleasant. Also noted are strong fruit flavors. The point of this type of beer is to showcase the flavorful characteristics of the hops. Alcoholic bite is strong, with ABVs ranging from 7.6% all the way to 10.6%.
Session brews are named so, as they are meant to be enjoyed as a refreshing brew, drunk under the sun over a long period of time time—enjoying multiple beers in a single session. Hence—a lower ABV for session brews.
Session IPAs can be much less intense than American-style, with a medium to high hop bitterness, but strong hop flavor. Fruit flavors are low to moderate along with a low to medium maltiness. Session IPAs color range from a gold or copper color and may feature a hop haze. ABVs are lower, ranging from 3.7% to 5%.
Feeling thirsty? Get the brew experts at your nearest Spec’s to help you pick out a style of IPA suited to your taste!