Session #77: What’s the Big Deal With IPAs?

Detail from a vintage India Pale Ale beer label.

This month, Justin at Brew Review asks us to consider this question:

[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.

In his introduction to Thornbridge Brewery’s book (disclosure), writer Pete Brown says this, referring to their beers in general but, we think, with Jaipur IPA in mind:

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.

* * *

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.

8 thoughts on “Session #77: What’s the Big Deal With IPAs?”

  1. I don’t think the big deal IS with IPAs. I think that’s a red herring.
    I think the big deal is the new world hops. IPAs were just the most obvious way to showcase them, and now the name has stuck with stuff like ISA, Black IPA. What people really mean is golden ale + NW hops, or a porter + NW hops. The upcoming Black ISA will just be a mild + NW hops.

    I’m surprised that a bitter with NW hops isn’t being rebranded as an Indian Red Ale. (Actually maybe I’m not once you look at the acronym).

    1. Gosh, maybe a mild + NW hops is *exactly* what I’ve been looking for – a low-ish alcohol beer that still has enough body and mouthfeel to carry distinct hoppy flavours without just being ‘hop water’ – now I’m going to be driven mad trying to find someone making a “Black ISA” (or indeed, try to make one myself once my AG homebrewing has progressed!)

        1. Mmm I do like Oakham’s Midnight Mild but I don’t remember it being particularly ‘hoppy’ as such. Not had Art of Darkness I don’t think, so will keep an eye out for that too.

    2. Agree that it’s new world hops that are really big. You see loads of golden and amber beers with new world hops in pubs, but mostly not actual American-style IPAs. I guess they’re a bit on the strong side. The main IPA I see on draught is Greene King.

      Even Proper Job, mentioned in the post, is “only” 4.5% in casks, as opposed to the 5.5% bottled version.

Comments are closed.