[What] makes the India Pale Ale (IPA) style of beer so popular… why all the hype? What is it about an IPA that makes craft beer enthusiasts (CBE) go wild?
Let’s get this straight: we believe fruity, flowery, perfumed IPAs with showboating hop aromas and flavours have an intrinsic popular appeal. Sure, some people find them ‘vulgar’, and there’s a whole chunk of the mainstream audience which finds hoppy beers ‘weird’, but, nonetheless, we’ve been with people who ‘don’t like beer’ when they taste, say, Goose Island IPA, for the first time, and observed their eyes lighting up.
The first time you experience beers like this it’s like tasting in colour and realising that you’ve only had black and white until now.
In our view, then, IPAs are bold, bright and accessible, and even the rarest, most ‘exclusive’ ones are inclusive in terms of their easy-to-appreciate (though often very complex) flavours and aromas.
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From a British perspective, it’s worth noting that IPA has an additional appeal because it symbolises a sort of rebirth of the glory days of British brewing. As CAMRA stalwart and beer writer Barrie Pepper told us: ‘In the seventies, it was mild and bitter, maybe an old at Christmas if you were lucky.’ IPA, with its romantic back story, seemed to offer an antidote to that, and a knotty puzzle to boot.
In his half of Homebrew Classics: India Pale Ale, Roger Protz gives an excellent first-hand account of the IPA ‘revivalist’ movement of the nineties — research, historic brewing and seminars focusing on the IPAs of the early nineteenth century — which led to a rule: IPAs, they decided, ought to be at least 5.5% ABV and have 40 international bittering units. This opened the door for beers such as St Austell Proper Job, which was presented as a return to ‘authentic IPA‘, while actually employing distinctive varieties of US hops which hadn’t existed in the nineteenth century, and techniques which emphasised their fresh, unusual aromas.
In Britain, IPA was progress disguised as nostalgia, just how we like it.