Beer Styles: The Infamous IPA


The IPA craze has been going strong for several years now, and for good reason. There are so many sub-styles in the IPA category that you’re bound to find one you’ll love. There are three main IPA styles, and within them they have their own sub categories. The three main categories are the English IPA, American IPA, and Imperial IPA. IPAs are brewed with an extra dose of hops, allowing the beer to survive the voyage from England to India back in the day. The temperature extremes and rolling of the seas resulted in a highly attenuated beer upon arrival. Many people believe IPAs were derived from Pale Ales by just adding more hops to it for the voyage. However, IPAs were originally created to ship down to India for profit. English pale ales were derived from India Pale Ales to give the consumers back in England a beer that was a bit more balanced with malt and hop bitterness.

The English-style IPA is characterized by a hefty addition of English hops (characters of piney, earthy, floral) and increased alcohol content (5.1% – 7.1% ABV) with 35 – 63 IBUs. English yeast lends a slight fruity character to the flavor and aroma, offering a contrast to the earthy hop additions. Even though English IPAs are the most ‘hoppy’ when compared to other English ales, this style strikes a balance between malt and hops for a more rounded flavor profile. There should be some bready biscuit flavor and aroma behind all of that floral and pine. Some examples to check out are, Burton Bridge Empire IPA, Samuel Smith’s India Ale, Fuller’s IPA, Brooklyn East India Pale Ale, Shipyard Fuggles IPA, and Goose Island IPA to name a few.

Craft beer in the U.S. has grown drastically because of the curiosity shown by American craft brewers in their fine-tuning of classic old-world beer recipes. They’ve taken the classic English IPA and essentially added even more hops to it! Hop aroma and flavor will be earthy, herbal, and piney with a solid malt backbone. This is known more as an East Coast style IPA, which is closely related to the English style, only with a more pronounced bitterness to it. An example of this would be Victory’s Hop Devil. The West-Coast style IPA will showcase less of those bread-y malt flavors, and a higher fruity, and citrusy hop profile (tons of orange, and grapefruit pith!), while being aggressively bitter. A great example of this is Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA. The typical ABV for an American IPA is between 5.5 – 7.5% and should have 40-60+ IBUs.

The love for IPAs that craft beer consumers have shown has led American craft brewers to the Imperial IPA. A heftier version of the IPA, with double the amount of hops added, the Imperial IPA bears a higher alcohol content, but the increase in hops from the original IPA recipe gives it a more bitter taste and doesn’t bring the same malt flavors that barley wine does. A prominent hop aroma that can be derived from American, English and/or noble varieties, with some clean malty sweetness in the background. Most versions will be dry hopped and can have an additional resinous or grassy aroma, although this is not required. The adjective “Imperial” is arbitrary and simply implies a stronger version of an IPA; “double,” “strong,” “extra,” “IIPA,” “extreme,” or any other variety of adjectives all mean the same. Imperial IPAs will have an ABV of 7.5 – 10% and 60-100+ IBUs. Some awesome examples of an Imperial IPA are, Dogfish Head 90-minute IPA, Stone Ruination IPA, Sixpoint Resin, Founders Double Trouble, Sierra Nevada Torpedo, and Russian River’s Pliny the Elder. An addition to the Imperial IPA is the Triple IPA (think super hopped up barely-wine). This style will exceed an ABV of 10% and will most likely have IBUs exceeding 90. Hop presence will be in your face with pine, resin, citrus, and tropical flavors, and will have a higher malt backbone, with a sweeter finish. A few good example of this style would be Stone RuinTen, Alpine Brewing Exponential Hoppiness, Knee Deep Simtra Triple IPA, Founders Devil Dancer, Avery Maharaja or Dogfish Heads 120-minute.

The last style we’ll touch base on is the New-England IPA, or NEIPA for short, and is just tuned differently from your west coast IPA. Emphasizing on hop aroma and flavor without brute bitterness, the New England IPA relies heavily on late hop additions to the kettle, and dry hopping techniques to deliver a bursting juicy, fruity hop experience. Since brewers rely on hop flavor coming from late additions to the kettle, you are left with a beer with virtually no bitterness to it, allowing the brewer to showcase the hop profile in its fullest form. The skillful balance of technique and ingredient selection, being left unfiltered, and often including the addition of wheat or oats for a softer mouthfeel, lends an alluring haze to this popular take on the American IPA. When you pour this beer style it will literally look (and sometimes even smell) like fresh squeezed orange juice. This style has almost no malt character, to lightly wheat-y, and grainy. Medium-high to a very high hop aroma and flavor are present. Carbonation is toned down when compared to other styles of IPA. Descriptors such as “juicy” are often used to describe the hop characteristics present in these beers. Hop aromas and flavors tend to be more tropical than citrusy, with notes of mango, papaya, bubblegum, peach, and pineapple. Some great examples of this style is Sam Adams New England IPA, Industrial Arts Wrench NEIPA, and Rusty Rail Fog Monster NEIPA.

These are your main sub categories of the IPA, but of course there are even more than those. You can have a Belgian IPA, which may just be a typical American IPA fermented with Belgian yeast given it a spicy character. A black IPA which uses darker malted grains for a more robust malt backbone. Or maybe you have a Sour IPA, which again may just be an American IPA that was fermented with brettanomyces, and lactobacillus to give it a soured profile. Or the newest style to the bunch, the Brut IPA, which possibly may just be the west coasts response to NEIPA. Using an addition of a certain enzyme, which breweries use often to lighten up the body of heavy stouts and porters without watering down the alcohol percentage, made with extremely light malts and on occasion, flaked rice or corn. A Brut IPA has little to no bitterness to it, it is light-bodied, and will have no sweetness but rather finishes dry. Similar to the NEIPA, most of the hopping is done post-boil just for added aroma, and lower bitterness.

All of your IPA styles will be based loosely off of you 3 main IPA styles that we spoke about in the beginning of this article; English IPA, American IPA (east-coast and west-coast), and Imperial IPA. Pick up a few different IPA styles and see if one matches your personality. Notice the different characteristics in each one, and take note of which characteristics you like, and which you dislike. With so many sub-styles in the IPA category, and each one with slight character variations, I guarantee you’ll find one that you love even if you had the prenotion of distaste.

Bottoms up!

Categories: Beer Myths, beer styles, Craft Beers, Imperial Pale Ale, IPA, UncategorizedTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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