Tap This: IPAs are climbing the beer ladder and attempting world domination
Look around the craft beer scene; there is one style of beer that jumps out because it’s everywhere. It’s the IPA. So where did this style come from and how did it take the craft beer scene by storm?
The IPA’s origins are English, as are many beer styles. The long-told story was that beer sent to India from England was heavily hopped to better preserve it for the long trip on the seas. The specific beer this story is about is a pale ale and since it was sent to India the boxes were tagged as India Pale Ale. However, recent discoveries proved this story to be a bit untrue, yes the beers were heavily hopped, but not necessarily to preserve the beer just for the trip. Plus, they weren’t anywhere near as hoppy as today’s American IPA.
Whatever the origin story the beer was loved by many who tasted it and for a few years, in the late 1800s, this style was quite popular in regions throughout England and within the U.S. Over time the style fell out of favor. It lingered in the backs of brewers’ logs for years and it would have lingered longer if it were not for an American brewer who decided to celebrate Paul Revere’s historic ride with style.
Anchor Brewing decided to brew its Liberty Ale in 1975 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Paul Revere’s historic ride. They made a decision to make a very hop-forward beer, the likes of which many American consumers had not yet seen. This is the beer many consider the first modern American IPA to be brewed after prohibition.
Liberty Ale was brewed to be hop forward and was dry hopped to bring about strong hop aromas and flavors. They brewed the beer using fresh whole-cone Cascade hops, a hop that is still popular today. The public loved the beer and it inspired many others to brew IPAs of their own.
The biggest difference between the historic IPAs brewed in England and those produced in America were the hops. Many English IPAs featured English hops which are far less aggressive and more floral in flavor compared to American IPAs which favored a more aggressive hop that brought more citrus flavors to the beer.
In the ’90s, while there was an East Coast vs. West Coast rap battle occurring, IPA style was also battling.
West Coast IPAs developed stronger more resiny hop flavors and aromas were more assertive than the East Coast counterparts which tended to be more malt forward and well balanced. Then in the mid ’90s the Double IPA was born and the landscape was forever changed.
Vinnie Cilurzo, owner of Russian River Brewing Company, brews Pliny the Elder the much sought after DIPA. The beer, which is still brewed by Russian River under the name Blind Pig, was far more aggressive and hop forward than any other offerings at the time, and the West Coast public loved it.
Since then IPAs of all kinds have come to market with rousing success. While the style became the darling of the craft beer scene it is not without its critics. Many craft beer aficionados complain about the one note that many of these beers have, which is hops, and prefer to have other beers that are more well rounded.
Whether you love IPAs or hate them they are most definitely here to stay. In fact with the recent popularity of the new styled New England hazy IPA the style looks to be having a renaissance of sorts with many craft beer lovers. The New England style traded in the in-your-face aggressive bittering of many IPAs for a juicer and more fruit filled IPA that is reminiscent of biting in freshly picked fruit with a wonderful hop bite.
The IPA has certainly come a long way from its days aboard India bound ships and it looks to be growing in popularity every year. The American IPA has now become so popular that it has begun to inspire other brewer’s throughout the world, including those in England from whom we took the initial inspiration.
Beer truly does make the world go round.
Derek Warren is a beer fanatic, avid homebrewer and beer historian. Derek can be heard weekly on the Beer Geeks Radio Hour at noon on Sundays on WILK 103.1 FM with past episodes available on iTunes.