The Almighty IPA
The India Pale Ale. It’s a beautiful beer. Advanced beer drinkers love them for their citrusy, hoppy, and complex taste profiles. Novices like them because they’re plentiful, easy to remember, and more sophisticated than a Miller Lite. The IPA has long been my favorite style of beer, and you’d be hard pressed to find another that has such variety. I’ve noticed, much to my delight, that people our age are starting to enjoy beer more and more, and it’s quickly replacing wine in popularity. Beer bars are getting bigger, and even places that would normally eschew the good stuff for more Bud are throwing at least one or two decent beers on tap. And what kind of beers are they? Without fail, India Pale Ales.
Here in Boston, the meathead jackass bars outnumber the good ones 50:1, but even at these gigantic Quizzo houses, I’m starting to see things like Bear Republic Racer 5, Stone IPA, and even Green Flash West Coast IPA. Sometimes, this can work out in your favor: since they don’t sell all that much of it, they don’t price the beer properly. There’s a bar I go to that does Racer 5 pitchers for $15, which is absurd.
It makes me happy to see a young lady, who might normally order a Blue Moon or some shitty cocktail, order up a nice IPA. Just a year ago, this sort of thing would be incredibly rare. Now, and Matt has observed this as well, good beers are becoming trendy. I attribute this entirely to India Pale Ale. As I mentioned before, it’s an easy place for aspiring beer geeks to start. IPAs are consistently good, and they’re not too complex or crazy (at least not until you get into double or imperial territory). Someone who doesn’t necessarily enjoy “beer,” but wants to order one that isn’t a macro lager will usually just get whatever IPA is available. And damnit, I think that’s a beautiful thing.
So, I think we should all take a look at the different types of India pale ale, as well as some examples of each style. One important note: I’m going to focus exclusively on American beer. The British India pale ales are great in their own right, but they’re uncommon in bars here. For more information about the IPA or any other style, check out the CG Beer Cheat Sheet.
East Coast IPA vs. West Coast IPA
India Pale Ales differ wildly, and usually region has a lot to do with it. IPAs on the east coast are very different from their brothers on the west coast. When people think of a traditional IPA, they’re usually talking about an east coast IPA: bitter and darker than usual. While still far removed from the original, British IPA, India Pale Ales made on the east coast are usually less complex than west coast IPAs. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s important to remember how different they can be. West coast IPAs are very hoppy and very citrusy. On average, they’re a bit stronger as well. The average west coaster might be 7-8% alcohol, while an east coast IPA will hover around 6%. By the way, there are plenty of great IPAs coming from the midwest as well. Check out anything by Founders, Avery, Great Divide, or Bells.
Great E.C. IPAs: Victory Hop Devil, Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Maine Brewing Company Lunch, Cigar City Jai Alai, Sixpoint Bengali Tiger (an EC IPA that emulates a WC IPA)
Great W.C. IPAs: Firestone Walker Union Jack, Ballast Point Big Eye, Stone IPA, Bear Republic Racer 5, North Coast ACME, Rogue Brutal Bitter (unusual for an IPA)
The only thing I like more than an IPA is a double IPA. These beauties are very similar to their regular counterparts, but stronger, tastier, and more expensive. The double IPA (or Imperial, as it’s sometimes called) gives breweries a lot of room to experiment and mess around. Since they rarely dip below 9 or 10% alcohol, they aren’t exactly made for extended drinking sessions. Just one or two is usually enough. For what it’s worth, the double IPA is easily my favorite beer style, and many of the best beers in the world are doubles.
Great Double IPAs: Founder’s Devil Dancer, Weyerbacher Double Simcoe, Alchemist Heady Topper, Avery Maharaja, Russian River Pliny The Younger, Firestone Walker Double Jack, Bell’s Hopslam