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What is an IPA beer?

25 Apr 2022
What is an IPA beer?
IPA stands for India Pale Ale. The beer earned its name during the British colonial era. Before chilled storage was invented, it was too hot and humid to brew beer in India, but the British sailors wanted their beers. So they created a heavily hopped beer (hops are a preservative) that could survive the months-long sailing journey from Britain to India.

What are hops?

Hops are the green cone-shaped flowers of the Humulus lupulus plant. Hidden inside each cone are tiny yellow pods called lupulin—the source of the bitterness, aroma, and flavour in beer. Like wine grapes, there are many varieties of hops, and each of them imparts unique character in brewing. Some hops are excellent for bittering while others produce signature aromas and flavours in beer. Brewers often blend hops to create the aroma and flavour they desire in their brew. 

What does IPA taste like?

For craft beer novices, IPAs are bold and bitter. But there is a reason why IPA is the quintessential and by far the most popular craft beer style. Once your palate develops, many people will fall in love with IPAs as they are aromatic and unmistakably flavourful. Typically IPAs are fruity, floral, grassy or piney with strong hints of citrus, melon, grapefruit or other tropical fruit notes.  

What are the different styles of IPA?

There are many different styles of IPA. From light session, to hazy styles and double or even imperial IPA that can go above 10% in alcohol strengths. 

Session IPA

Session IPA are light, crisp and refreshing but still deliver plenty of aromatic hops and slight hints of bitterness that many IPA lovers crave. They are developed to satisfy hopheads who loves the aromatic bitterness of a full strength IPA without the high alcohol content that comes with it, making session IPAs highly sessionable, hence the name. 

West Coast IPA

West Coast IPA refers to the IPA style driven by American brewers from the west coast of United States of America where the craft beer movement were resurrected. West coast IPAs are known for their bold hoppy aroma, high bitterness and citrus and piney notes. The west coast IPA style is the quintessential IPA style that defined the craft beer renaissance and almost all craft brewers have at least one west coast, hoppy IPA style in their roster. 

East Coast IPA (aka Hazy IPA or NEIPA - North England IPA)

The east coast IPA is a relatively more recent trend that came out from the east coast American brewers who sought to create a style differentiated from the hoppy, bitter west coast style. East Coast IPAs, also commonly known as hazy IPAs or NEIPA (North England IPA) are typically unfiltered and hazy (or cloudy) in appearance, as the name suggest, and exhibit almost no bitterness yet still complex in aroma and flavours, delivering distinctly fruity or floral notes. 

Double IPA

Double IPA are usually extra hopped and higher in alcohol content, hovering around 7-9%. Make no mistake, they are strong, potent and full of flavour. They use more a lot more hops than normal IPA and more intense in flavour. But double IPA are not necessarily more bitter. Well made double IPA has a very strong malt backbone that gives balance to the hop bitterness, which make them perceived as less bitter, but nonetheless strong beers.

Imperial IPA

Imperial IPA is the king of IPA. They are typically high in alcohol approaching 10% or above. But this is where the brewer skills really shines as a well-made imperial IPA are typically well-balanced between malty sweetness and hop bitterness. Imperial IPA are sipping beers that are better enjoyed at warmer temperatures of 10-15 degree Celcius in a goblet or tulip shaped glass. 

Why are IPA so popular?

Why do people like bittergourd? How about herbal tea? We used to wonder about those when we were kids, but turns out, when something brings bitterness, they're also accompanied by other amazing flavours (or at least that's the case for IPAs).

Bitterness in beer is not bad, and actually often provides a refreshing balance. Wouldn’t beer be boring if it was just sugary sweet? So perhaps enjoying an IPA does signify a state of advanced beer appreciation. If you are able to sense not just the bitterness of an IPA, but the more nuanced contributions, such as aroma and flavor, then we'll say you've learnt to appreciate a can of fine IPA (as in the case of fine wine)!

In a nut shell, craft beer drinkers are not pre-wired to like IPAs, we learn to like them, so in a weird way it can be a craft beer badge of honor to order one.

What IPA should I begin with?

We'll recommend to start with session IPAs–they combine the hoppiness of an IPA with the lower alcohol content of a session beer (refreshing and lower in alcohol).

Founders All Day Session IPA
Kona Hanalei Hawaiian Session IPA
Cigar City Jai Low Low-Calorie Session IPA

If you're feeling a bit more adventurous:

Lagunitas A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Wheat IPA
Coronado Pineapple Farm Hazy IPA
Gage Roads Rock Dance West Coast IPA