The Twelve Faces of IPA

Someone with serious hops on the brain decided today, August 4th, is National IPA Day 2016, which got us thinking: what does that mean? There are over 4,000 breweries in the U.S. now, and thus thousands of IPAs on the market that are as diverse as the zip codes they hail from. What started as an obscure historical throwback in the 80s (based on a beloved, but hardly household, British style) has become, by all accounts, the hottest category in all of craft beer, and that’s by a longshot. They’re everywhere, sold in all 50 states, even on certain airlines. But what an IPA is exactly has become an open-ended question. Why?
Call it the Evolution of IPA.
IPA is English in origin, said to be a throwback to 17th and 18th century beers brewed for long sea voyages with ample hops and booze levels, aiding in stability. There’s some debate about how true that cute story really is, but no one doubts that at a certain point, UK brewers began throwing a lot of caramel-y English malts into hard and boiling water, adding a grip of English hops, and fermenting with a brick of dry British ale yeast. The result? Boom: your basic, malty, slightly bitter IPA, as English as tea time, the Queen Mother, and Agent 007. But then, starting in the 1980s and 1990s, American craft brewers began experimenting with aromatic new varieties of hops, American-born yeast strains and malts, even adding fruit eventually, of all things. What’s emerged, in late 2016, is a vast national tap row of IPAs that incorporates flavors and textures the forefathers of Craft Beer Nation scarcely imagined. Here’s a list of all the variations on traditional IPA we can think of. What did we miss? What’s your favorite example of India Pale Ale, whatever the style? Here’s a list of IPA’s many guises (and a pair of quintessential examples for each one).
English Style IPA Malty, orange-hued, caramel-y, bitter, and fruity, this is the base from which all IPA has launched (Samuel Smith’s India Ale; Brooklyn East India Pale Ale)
American Style IPA Assertively dry, with aromatic, citrusy, herbaceous, or “dank” hops (Dogfish 60 Minute IPA, Stone IPA)
Session IPA Fruity, dry, typically around 4%abv and more aggressively hopped than its close relative the American Pale Ale (Firestone Walker Easy Jack; Founder’s All-Day IPA)
IIPA/Imperial IPA Also known as Double IPA, these take the alcohol and hopping rates into the higher echelons of flavor, where ripe, malty, rich, mouth-coating, melon-like flavors commingle with the pine and citrus rind-like flavors derived from huge hop additions (Bell’s Hopslam; Victory Dirtwolf)
Black IPA/Cascadian Dark/India Black Ale Whatever you call it, this tends to be India Pale Ale with dark, roasty, umami-like flavors akin to coffee, chocolate, and even soy (21st Amendment Back in Black; Deschutes Hop in the Dark)
White IPA Imagine a coriander-kissed witbier crossed with American IPA, mingling aromatic citrus, pine, and banana-clove yeastiness (Anchorage Galaxy White IPA, Odell Perle White IPA)
Brett IPA Brett is short for Brettanomyces, the wild yeast that winemakers rue but brewers love for its array of exotic aromas and flavors from saddle blanket to ripe pineapple, and even barnyard (Crooked Stave Hop Savant; Devil’s Backbone Eight Point IPA)
Sour IPA Just as it sounds, this style combines the juicy bite of sour beer with lavish hopping rates. What was once an imaginary punchline for overwrought beer geekery is now a bonafide thing (Epic Tart ‘n Juicy IPA; New Belgium Hop Tart IPA)
Rye IPA Rye is a tricky, sticky grain which lacks a husk and contributes spicy, toasty character to beers to which it’s added (Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye; Terrapin Red Rye IPA)
Belgo IPA Belgo, shorthand for Belgian-style, suggests the use of spicy, phenolic yeast strains that impart added complexity to the already flavorful IPA style (De Ranke XX Bitter; Allagash Hugh Malone)
Fruit IPA The most recent addition to IPA’s family tree is the fruited IPA, with dozens of examples hitting shelves in 2016, enahnced with everything from grapefruit to pineapple, mango, apricot, and peach (Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA; New Belgium Citradelic)
Northeast/New England/Vermont-style IPA Depending on where you live, you may or may not believe this is even a real category (hazy, if perhaps a touch more bitter IPAs have flowed from West Coast taps for decades). They're as juicy and cloudy as fresh-squeezed OJ (thanks to absurd levels of dry-hopping, which adds to opacity, as does a lack of filtration) and as divisive as the playoffs—real thing? Made up and hyped? Do they really add flour? (The Alchemist's Heady Topper; Alter Ego from Tree House Brewing)
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