Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The Beautiful and Ever-Expanding World of IPA

Written by  Ben Darcie
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1 all day IPA2

India Pale Ales have taken the craft beer scene by storm over the recent years, with brewers pushing the boundaries of the style and creating unique takes and twists on this classic style. It's become a staple in every brewery and pub in the nation, which only encourages creativity amongst brewers who are trying to help theirs stand out. IPA is a very large topic, so we'll take it a piece at a time, starting with its beginnings.

While much of the history of IPA is shrouded in mystery, there is one consistency amongst the various stories – in the 1700's, the ale being transported to India was suffering from spoilage due to the hot environment and vigorous sea voyage. Though the actual brewer origin of IPA is hotly debated and has been attributed to many specific brewers (most commonly George Hodson of Bow Brewery, London), but no one knows for sure who the true originator of the style was.

Hops work as a natural preservative and helped reinforce the integrity of the brew over the sea voyage, sometimes increasing the hopload by 300% per barrel. These over-hopped English Pale Ales were eventually dubbed “India Pale Ale” and has remained as such ever since.

By the 1760's, it was deemed “essential” to add more hops to beer destined for warmer climates, and the breweries followed suit, creating a new regional style that was destined to endure. These 'original' IPAs usually featured a moderate alcohol presence around 6%abv and presented an aggressive hop presentation over an early and simplistic malt presentation. I'm sure our palates today would find these beers unbalanced, muddled and unsophisticated – but for the time, these beers were truly unique and soon found a foothold in the pale ale and porter dominated European markets.

English IPA thrives to this very day, and upon craft beer's resurgence in the United States in the late 70's, we were introduced to a new, bold style: American IPA.

The Three Defined Categories

IPA has many variations, especially in our modern craft climate, but as far as technically defined styles, there are only three: English IPA, American IPA, and Imperial IPA – I'll get to the variations later.

While discussing these styles, I'll be referring to their modern representations, not historical - what these styles have come to be in regards to our present craft beer industry.

English IPA

This is the classic European IPA, and I particularly love this style for it's subtlety. English IPAs are more focused on the malt and yeast end of the presentation, with a classic English hop flavor alongside a moderate bitterness. This style is smooth, balanced, and accessible.

Overall Impression: A hoppy, moderately strong pale ale that features characteristics consistent with the use of English malt, hops and yeast. Has less hop character and a more pronounced malt flavor than American versions.


  • Original Gravity (starting sugar): 1.050-1.075
  • Final Gravity (remaining sugar): 1.010-1.018
  • International Bitterness Units: 40-60
  • SRM (color): 8-14 (gold to light copper)
  • ABV: 5-7.5%
  • Try: Samuel Smith's India Ale, Fuller's IPA, Summit IPA, Brooklyn East IPA

American IPA

This is our modern, American take on the classic English IPA. As with most American interpretations of classic styles, American IPA stays true to our theme of “bigger, stronger, and more intense”.

The interesting thing about American IPA for me is that this style is designed to be off-balanced. It's one of the only styles in the world that is meant to be off-balance, in terms of the malt and hop presentation. Where the English IPA presents a balanced presentation of malt and hop, say 5 units hops to 5 units malt, American IPA is fundamentally skewed, generally presenting more along the lines of 3-7. The hops are the highlight and the focus, so the hop presence gets shoved right out front by pulling back on the body. Some American IPAs are more malt forward, but most follow this general imbalance.

American IPAs are usually fermented very clean, presenting no yeast character or esters, allowing the hops to remain the primary presentation.

Overall Impression: A decidedly hoppy and bitter, moderately strong American pale ale.


  • Original Gravity (starting sugar): 1.056-1.075
  • Final Gravity (remaining sugar): 1.010-1.018
  • International Bitterness Units: 40-70
  • SRM (color): 6-15 (gold to light copper)
  • ABV: 5.5-7.5%
  • Try: Bell's Two Hearted Ale, Founder's Centennial IPA, Three Floyd's Alpha King, Stone IPA

Imperial IPA

This is the behemoth of the IPA category, and can be brewed in the American style or the English style with minor adjustments to the beer's structure and, more importantly, the yeast strain selected for fermentation. This is a massive style with room for interpretation, yet most examples still maintain the aforementioned imbalance, though not quite as drastic as the American IPA's.

Some brewers take this style and present a massive hop display while keeping the body reserved (Stone Ruination DIPA), and others choose to pair the hop presentation with an equally bold and intense body (Avery Maharaja DIPA). There are plenty of excellent DIPA examples around the nation, and I encourage you to explore them all! Every brewer is different and can take this style in many different directions.

Overall Impression: An intensely hoppy, very strong pale ale without the big maltiness and/or deeper malt flavors of an American barleywine. Strongly hopped, but clean, lacking harshness, and a tribute to historical IPAs. Drinkability is an important characteristic; this should not be a heavy, sipping beer. It should also not have much residual sweetness or a heavy character grain profile.


  • Original Gravity (starting sugar): 1.070-1.090
  • Final Gravity (remaining sugar): 1.010-1.020
  • International Bitterness Units: 60-120
  • SRM (color): 8-15 (gold to light copper)
  • ABV: 7.5-10%
  • Try: Bell's Hopslam, Avery Maharaja, Dogfish 90 Minute IPA

The Ever-Expanding World

With such an established staple of a style like IPA, brewers are always trying to come up with new and exciting takes on the style. Be it construction variation, flavor addition, maturation, or even souring, brewers are pushing the envelope of the style day by day.

West Coast IPA – A generic style used to describe the lighter, drier IPAs home to the West Coast. Try: West Coast IPA – Green Flash BC, IPA – Stone BC, Union Jack IPA – Firestone Walker, IPA – Lagunitas BC

Black IPA – An American IPA with a dark malt addition. This style can be taken one of two ways: adjusted for color, and adjusted for flavor. Personally, the latter is the only kind I enjoy – what's the point of just changing the color? Try: B-Craft Black DIPA – Arcadia Ales, Back in Black – 21st Amendment BC, Sublimely Self- Righteous – Stone BC 

Triple IPA (TRIPA) – The American craft scene took it one step further and created an even more intense style of IPA, the triple IPA. This style is more than massive, with a more than intense hop presentation over a very bold malt backbone. Some equate this style to an over-hopped American Barleywine. Try: Devil Dancer - Founders BC, Pliny the Younger – Russian River BC

Session IPA – A lighter, more drinkable IPA with a significantly lower ABV, generally below 5%. Try: All Day IPA – Founders BC, Wanderer Session IPA – North Peak BC, Alpha Session – Drakes BC

Belgian IPA – An American style IPA fermented on a Belgian yeast strain. Should exhibit Belgian yeast characteristics and a slightly more reserved hop presentation. Try: Triomphe Belgian Style IPA – Brewery Vivant, Belgo IPA – New Belgium BC, Raging Bitch Belgian Style IPA – Flying Dog BC

White IPA – This is a Belgian Witbier hopped like an American IPA. Expect Belgian funk with a dynamic mouthfeel and an engaging hop presentation. Try: Chainbreaker White IPA - Deschutes BC, No. 2 White IPA – Boulevard BC, Pig War White IPA – Hopworks Urban Brewery

Brettanomyces / Wild IPA – This is an IPA that has been fermented (at least partially) with wild yeast. Look for a milder hop presentation alongside an invigorating sourness from the wild yeast. Try: Brett-Fermented Eight Point IPA – Devil's Backbone BC, Hop Savant – Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, Wild Devil -Victory BC

Rye IPA – An IPA brewed with a healthy dose of Rye, lending an earthy, spicy kick to the malt presentation. Try: Red's RyePA – Founders BC, Ruthless RyePA – Sierra Nevada BC, Hop Rod Rye IPA – Bear Republic BC

Spiced/Herbed IPA – An IPA featuring a flavor addition of spices or herbs, lending prominent or subtle flavor tones to the brew. Try: Basil IPA – Anderson Valley BC, Roots Revival Carrot IPA – Twisted Pine BC, Avatar Jasmine IPA - Elysian BC

As you can see, the world of IPA is full of engaging variety, I encourage you to explore the style! There are so many flavors that can be relayed just by hops themselves, and an IPA in the hands of a talented brewer transcends 'having a beer' - it's an experience.

Cheers and happy exploring!

Ben Darcie

Ben Darcie

Ben Darcie has been homebrewing since 2006 and is currently the Brewery Representative for Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, MI. He also provides public and private Beer Education and is a Beer Writer for BeerAdvocate, I'm a Beer Hound and three other Michigan publications. He is also the founder of Experience Beer WM and the 9wk Grand Rapids Beer Tasting Class (est. 2010).