Arts & Culture / Mosaic / March 2, 2011

India Pale Ale trends

The most popular style of craft beer is believed to be the India Pale Ale, or IPA. IPAs are typically pale to copper in color with a strong, bitter herbal, piney or fruity hop flavor. The style became popular because hops helped to preserve beer on its long journey from Britain to India, thus the IPA was born. The ironic thing is that although hops preserve beer, their flavor fades quickly, so most IPAs today should be consumed as soon as possible.

Today’s American IPAs are similar to traditional ones but just a ton hoppier. But they weren’t always that way. In 1993, Harpoon, from Boston, introduced their first IPA and it became one of the most popular IPAs on the market. Harpoon IPA clocks in at 5.9 percent alcohol by volume (abv), and pours a dark orange or copper colored beer that is perfectly clear with a big fluffy head. A very tasty looking beer. I cannot pick up much on the nose, only a little bit of malt and citrus. My initial reaction to the taste is wondering where the hops went. It starts with a very smooth malt taste and then some light citrus hop flavor, particularly orange and tangerine, then ends with some light bitterness. It is clearly a well-crafted beer but not what I’m looking for when I want an IPA. I would compare it to a slightly maltier version of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Slowly, IPAs became more and more hoppy. Eventually, brewers started adding enough hops and some additional malt to warrant a new style—the Imperial or Double IPA. While the standard IPA is usually around 5.5-7.5 percent abv, the Imperial versions can range from 7-14 percent abv and are dominated by hop flavors and bitterness. If you want a formal review of one of these beers, check out my Bell’s Hopslam review from a couple of weeks ago (Feb. 4). Other great imperial IPAs are Stone Ruination IPA, Lagunitas Hop Stoopid, Avery Maharaja and Moylan’s Hopsickle.

In the last couple of years, a new trend appeared—the black IPA. Basically, these beers are like a standard IPA but the brewer adds more malt, especially darker, more roasted malt, which typically aren’t used in IPAs. Within the last year, this has become an official style, referred to by most websites and judging organizations under different names such as black IPA, American dark ale or Cascadian dark ale.

One of the first widely distributed year-round black IPAs was Victory’s Yakima Glory (formally called Yakima Twilight). This 8.7 percent abv beer is dark brown, almost the color of cola. If I didn’t know, I would think it was a brown ale or porter. The smell is piney with citrusy hops and just a hint of the roasty malt. On the taste, this is clearly significantly hoppier than the Harpoon IPA. It is a fairly bitter beer with a good blend of pine and orange flavors from the hops. Disappointingly, I only get a little bit of the darker malts. I was expecting some roasty, chocolate and coffee flavors from the dark malts, like a porter, but there just isn’t much in there. The body is also a little on the light side. Overall, I am disappointed by this beer. Compared to Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, another black IPA, it just didn’t have the darker malt flavors that make this style unique. It was almost as if they added food coloring to a normal IPA.

The IPA has progressed throughout the years, but it is still the most popular American style. Given the innovation of the current beer industry, I expect the IPA to continue to progress and change throughout the upcoming years. Brewers already have barrel-aged IPAs, infused fruit-flavored IPAs and very recently, Mikkeller from Denmark has a coffee IPA. I know I would like to try a spontaneously fermented IPA.

John Christiansen

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