Behind the Beer

What Is an IPA?

Beer drinkers and non-beer drinkers alike are familiar with the term IPA. These three letters are paired with the names of beers found in menus and in advertising all over the U.S. Some beer drinkers are noted as saying they prefer IPAs over other beer styles, and some brewers focus only on crafting this type of beer.

But what are IPAs, and how did they become so popular here in the U.S.? Below, we’ll take a look at the history of this type of beer and what sets it apart from other beer styles.

What Is an IPA, and How Does It Taste?

IPA is an acronym that stands for India pale ale. IPAs are known to be one of the more complex beer styles and often come packed with flavor. If a defining flavor characteristic were assigned to IPAs, it would probably be “hoppy.” Other flavor elements of IPAs can range from citrusy to floral, piney, earthy, fruity, and more. But one thing all IPAs have in common is the bitter overtones the brew carries. While the bitterness is what draws many IPA drinkers to this particular beer category, it can be considered polarizing in that it keeps other beer drinkers away.

How the IPA Came to Be

Would you believe me if I told you India pale ale wasn’t actually developed in India? The story of this beer begins with the East London Bow Brewery in the 1780s, a man named George Hodgson, and a problem that needed to be solved. When the British Empire was still established in India, they ran into the issue of providing beer to colonists and to those traveling to and from England and India.

The climate in India proved too hot to brew beer, and traditional beer was having a problem lasting on the long journey between both countries. Hodgson resolved the problem by loading up his beer with extra hops before sending it on its journey eastward. The first IPA developed by the famed London brewer was called October Ale. Drinkers of the new beer style came to appreciate the new, stronger flavor it accrued as it aged on the ships with the additional hops.

As time passed, IPAs were developed by other beer brewers, before eventually settling on a version that resembled more of a standard and weaker pale ale. Eventually, what was the IPA all but disappeared, that is, until it was rediscovered in the U.S.

In the 1970s, Americans began brewing beer with ferocity. Among the various British-style beers being brewed were IPAs, soon to become a favorite with craft brewers across the country. Beer brewers set about crafting their own unique spin on the bitter beer, while also bringing the beer back to its flavorful, bitter, and hoppy roots.

How IPAs Are Brewed

As previously mentioned, hops and more hops play a key role in crafting a great IPA. IPAs begin with a boiling brew of malts and hops. What makes this portion of the process unique is that hops are both added in at the beginning and end of the boil. Following the boil, coloring is added through crystal malts or caramel, and the IPA is mashed at around 150 degrees. The brewing process is completed with yeast being added for fermentation and the beer being aged to perfection in barrels.

Different Types of IPAs

All in all, there are seven main styles of IPAs crafted by brewers. Here’s a look at IPA styles and the main differences between them:

  • English IPA – The English version of IPAs is noted as being one of the more balanced among them. English IPAs are brewed to imitate the original IPA brewed in the 1700s. The flavor of English IPAs is slightly less hop-infused than some of its counterparts.
  • Imperial IPA – If you love hops, you’ll love Imperial IPAs. Imperial IPAs are brewed with a ton of hops and malt and often carry a much higher alcohol content from the process. Notes of pine, citrus, and floral are often present in Imperial IPAs.
  • American IPA – When you get to the American IPA category, it consists of both East Coast IPAs and West Coast IPAs. West Coast IPAs have a definite hop flavor, but they are often contrasted with floral, pine, and citrus notes. East Coast IPAs tend to focus more on defining the hop and malt flavors themselves within the brew.
  • Belgian IPA – If you love hefeweizen and IPAs, Belgian IPAs are the beer for you. This beer style is brewed with various hop flavorings and Belgian yeasts, giving it a hoppy taste with hints of spice and cloves.
  • Session IPA – Session IPAs are essentially an alternate version to Imperial IPAs. Session IPAs have all the extra-bold hop flavor of Imperial IPAs, but this brew style lacks the higher alcohol content.
  • Milkshake IPA – Also known as Lactose IPA, Milkshake IPAs are full of various sweet vanilla, fruit, and oat flavors. A signature creamy consistency also accompanies this beer style, along with a higher seven percent alcohol volume.
  • New England IPA – New England IPAs, also referred to as Hazy IPAs, are among the better-known IPA styles out there. This unfiltered beer style is lower on the bitterness scale and features extreme citrus, oat, and wheat flavor notes.

Popular IPA Brands

If you’re looking to snag a great IPA, you won’t have much trouble. The beer market is inundated with various craft brewer’s takes on IPA styles. Here are a few of our favorites and some of the most well known.

Dogfish Head

Dogfish Head definitely likes their IPAs; they feature four different kinds, in fact. The 120 Minute IPA has an extremely high alcohol volume of 15 to 20 percent. But if you’re looking for something a little less extreme and packed full of flavor, the 90 Minute IPA with its pine and fruit aromas should do the trick. The Dogfish Head 60 Minute and 75 Minute IPAs are also balanced brews with nuanced flavor mixed in.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

One of the most well-known craft brewers, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., has 11 different IPAs, each with its own distinct flavor and brewing process. Beer drinkers can choose something unfiltered and uniquely fruity like the Hazy Little Thing IPA or something a little more intense and hoppy like the Fantastic Haze Imperial IPA. Everyone is bound to find an IPA they love with Sierra Nevada.

Founders Brewing Company

Michigan-based Founders Brewing Company has four premium IPAs guaranteed to win you over. Still, the fan-favorite is definitely the All Day IPA. Founders definitely nailed what it means to be an IPA with this brew and its offering of balanced bitter hop taste with hints of citrus, malt, and a smooth finish.

Lagunitas Brewing Company

Lagunitas might be owned by one of the larger brewers, Heineken, but they sure know how to make an IPA. Lagunitas has a ton of beers and can be quite literally found anywhere. Still, you definitely don’t want to miss out on their plainly named IPA. The Lagunitas IPA has comprised of 65 different malts, 43 different hops, and is loaded with flavor.

Goose Island Brewery

The So-Lo IPA may be Goose Island Brewery’s low calorie and low alcohol volume IPA, but it is certainly abundantly full of flavor. This IPA offering features carefully balanced herbal and citrus notes that are bound to satisfy almost any beer drinker.

Stone Brewing Co.

California is home to some great IPAs; Stone Brewing Co.’s six different IPAs definitely don’t disappoint. The Stone IPA is a great summer selection with a crisp and refreshing body and citrus and pine notes. But if you want to go with something a little bolder, the FML Double IPA is the way to go. The FML (fear, movie, lions) IPA is incredibly rich and bold. It has a balanced bitterness and delicious citrus and tropical punch.

Elysian Brewing

Talk about a superb IPA; the Space Dust IPA by Elysian Brewing is crafted with three different malts and three different hops that combine to make a well-balanced and citrus-inspired IPA unsurpassed by none. We definitely recommend giving this one a try.

Oskar Blues Brewery

Oskar Blues is well-known for perfecting almost any beer style they touch, but they really know how to pull off an IPA. In fact, this brewing company likes to show off its skill with the four unique IPAs it offers. We definitely recommend the Can-O-Bliss Double IPA. This unfiltered IPA is rather new for Oskar Blues and was just released this year. If you’re looking for an IPA loaded with malty flavors and citrus and fruity aromas, you’ve definitely found it with this brew.

Revolution Brewing

Revolution Brewing out of Chicago offers its DDH Mango-Hero IPA that shouldn’t be missed. This IPA is double dry-hopped, exudes amazing creamy mango and fruit flavors, and is exceedingly balanced. The great thing about Revolution Brewing is you can actually get a case of four different IPAs called the League of Heroes. This case of twelve beers is released by “issue” and has different IPA selections in each one. The current issue 11 features the Anti-Hero, the Tropic-Hero, the El Dorado-Hero, and Northeast-Hero.

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