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What is an IPA?

25 Apr 2022
What is an IPA?
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 needed a drink. So they created a heavily hopped beer (hops are a preservative) that could survive the months-long 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 flavor in beer. Like wine grapes, there are many varieties of hops, and each of them have unique uses in brewing. Some hops are excellent for bittering while others produce signature aromas and flavors in beer.

What do IPAs taste like?

Everyone tastes differently, if you ask some of us, we'll tell you it's like getting punched in the face with bitterness. Our interns will give you a thumbs-up and want more. An IPA may taste like citrus or tropical fruits, be grassy, flowery or earthy, but also be reminiscent of pines or even honey.

 

What’s the difference between an West Coast IPA, a East Coast IPA, and a New England IPA?

West Coast IPAs are traditionally known for their bold hop aroma, high bitterness, and citrus and piney notes and flavors. Over the past 5 years or so, west coast brewers have been competing to make the hoppiest, bitterest, alcoholiest brews the world has ever seen, but tastes change, and many brewers are starting to feel bored with trying to make the bitterest IPAs in the world.

The East Coast IPA is a bit more complex than the West Coast variant. While West Coast styles are abundant with hops, NE IPAs look for the complex flavors that come from each ingredient, particularly the malt. East Coast IPAs can have tasty tropical notes, along with Stone Fruit, Melon and Citrus notes. This isn’t to say that they aren’t hoppy – they very well can be. But the flavor sought in an East Coast IPA isn’t going to make your head explode with bitterness.

New England IPAs are hazy IPAs originating from New England. They have a cloudy appearance, which explains why they're called hazy–one you can't see through like you might with other beer styles. These beers are full of hops, but they’re added at the end of the brew, giving a huge burst of hop aroma and flavor without any extra bitterness.

Why are IPAs 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