Two of the most common things you have probably heard about IPAs – the most popular craft-style beer in the United States – are that they are bitter, and they have a lot of alcohol. But, for this extremely broad style of beer, these over-simplifications are simply not true. Not all IPAs are bitter, and they aren’t all loaded with alcohol, which means we still have a lot left to learn about this hoppy beverage.
What Is An IPA Beer?
Have you ever heard someone say, “This beer is hoppy”? If you have ever heard that phrase, chances are that person was drinking an IPA. IPA stands for India Pale Ale, and it is an aggressively-hopped style of beer that comes in a variety of flavors. Hops are the flower of the Humulus Lupulus plant, and brewers use hops to add a unique, crisp taste to the beer. But they also act as a preservative that prolongs a beer’s shelf life.
However, it is important to note that the hops market is constantly changing, and what is popular today might be frowned upon tomorrow.
The Brewing Process
IPAs are traditionally brewed with English malt, hops, and yeast. But, since hops dominate an IPA’s flavor, selection of the hop additions is critical in the brewing process. Generally, brewers use multiple hop additions, including bittering hops at the beginning of the boil, several finishing hops during the last five to fifteen minutes of the boil, and dry hops after the boil to give the beer it’s hoppy aroma.
There are different IPA Styles that use a specific ingredient in the brewing process to give it a certain flavor, mouthfeel, or appearance. British IPAs tend to be malty, bitter, and one-noted, while West Coast IPAs tend to shed the bitterness to make way for a fruity hop flavor. East Coast IPAs are in between West Coast and British styles, with a focus on piney hop flavor and a solid malt backbone.
New England Style IPAs are incredibly popular right now. They are unfiltered – which make them hazy – and have an intense fruity flavor with extremely low bitterness. Brewers also dry hop this style (giving it a strong aroma) and they are fermented for lower carbonation. If you have ever thought that IPAs weren’t for you, this is the style you should try. It could change your mind.
There are also Oat IPAs which are brewed with flaked oats or oat milk to give it a cozy mouthfeel that many describe as “soft.” Milkshake or cream IPAs are a sweet style thanks to the milk sugar, and they are brewed with lactose and often have fruit or vanilla added for more flavor.
The flavor of Belgian IPAs comes from the Belgian yeast, giving it sweet, bready, and warm notes. And brewers add fruit to fruited IPAs to give them an even fruitier flavor.
Modern IPAs usually have between 5.5 and 11 percent alcohol by volume, making them perfect for pairing with strongly flavored foods.
Popular New England Styles (NEIPA)
NEIPAs are all the rage right now, thanks to their tropical, hoppy flavor. These juicy and hazy IPAs have transitioned from a niche beer to a national obsession, but since we don’t all live next to breweries that popularized this style, here are some favorites that are available nationally.
Two Roads Two Juicy IPA
This was supposed to be a fun one-time release at the Two Roads Gathering at the Bines Hopcentric Beer Festival. But it was such a hit that Two Roads added it to their regular lineup, and it is now the number four top seller at the brewery.
It is a pale-yellow brew with big, fruity aromas of pineapple and peach, but it does have some bitterness. Unlike other New England styles, this is a bit more balanced and not too juicy, plus it has 8.2 percent alcohol by volume.
Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing IPA
This landmark brand based in Chico, California, got into the NEIPA game with their Hazy Little Thing IPA. It is opaque with an orange-gold color, has a tropical, pineapple aroma, and is deliciously juicy. If you haven’t tried an IPA before, this is the perfect choice for a beginner.
West Coast Styles
Also, fruity and less bitter, West Coast styles are more balanced, and are a favorite among IPA lovers everywhere.
Ballast Point Brewing Company Unfiltered Sculpin
This IPA features a pine and lemon taste with orange citrus notes and a touch of toasted malt. There is a little bitterness, but the malt balances it out, and that makes this beer really drinkable.
Station 26 Brewing Co. Hop Sequence #5
This IPA has strong notes of spruce and pine along with a fruity orange and grapefruit flavor, making it a little bit sweet and a little bit bitter. There is also some mild lemon flavor and herbal notes of basil and oregano. The malt contribution makes it a bit toasty and gives it a touch of caramel. The hops dominate the taste of this IPA, but the bitterness doesn’t smack you in the face.
Belgian yeast and American hops usually make up Belgian style IPAs. They have a dry edge and a cleaner bitterness compared to American IPAs. Plus, this style tends to have a higher alcohol content, about six to eleven percent by volume.
De Ranke XX Bitter
One of the first Belgian IPAs inspired by American hops, this beer hit the market in 2006, and it has refreshing flavors with grassy and herbal notes. It is a malty IPA that has a sharp, bitter finish, but you will get some fruity notes in between.
Though this isn’t a category recognized by the Beer Judge Certification Program, milkshake IPAs are exploding in popularity thanks to the full body and amazing flavor.
All The Boys Milkshake IPA Series
The All The Boys Milkshake IPA series from the Bhramari Brewing Co is creamy and delicious. It tastes like a pineapple upside down cake and has the perfect amount of hoppy bitterness. It is a sweet dessert in a beer bottle.
Tired Hands Brewing and Omnipollo Milkshake Extra Vanilla
This might be difficult to get your hands on, but milkshake IPA fans swear this beer is the best. The Extra Vanilla is brewed with a ton of oats and lactose sugar and then hopped with Mosaic and Citra. Finally, the brewers condition it with Madagascar vanilla beans.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to IPAs. This style of beer has its own lexicon and devoted fans across the globe. The best thing to do if you want to find out more about IPAs is to do your own taste testing. Who doesn’t love research that involves drinking alcohol?