Beer styles

What Does IPA Mean?

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In his latest post, Ron Pattinson rails against those who deride Greene King IPA as “not a proper India Pale Ale” while they blindly accept Guinness’s right to call itself a stout. IPA, Ron points out, was not always strong, even in the nineteenth century; and, anyway, British beer styles evolve over time: an 1850 IPA would bear little resemblance to one brewed in, say, 1946.

The fact is, though, that GK do seem out of step with the current usage of the term IPA.

On the one hand, more traditional ale brewers in the UK tend to give the name to the beer in their range which, compared to their standard bitter, is lighter in colour (often orange-hued) and more evidently hoppy.

On the other, “new wave” British brewers tend to make IPAs in the US manner — strong, deep amber, and with heavy, piney, citrusy hopping.

Not many breweries (in fact, only GK?) produce an “IPA” which is deep brown and lightly-hopped.

So, although of course GK aren’t doing anything wrong, it’s easy to see why some people might be puzzled or disappointed if they’re used to other breweries’ IPAs. (Although feeling almost physically angry is a little over-zealous.)

Of course, for all that, there are lots of people who like GK IPA and couldn’t give a flying one whether it’s a “proper IPA” by either historical or beer geek standards. In fact, the only IPA they know is GK’s so perhaps, in twenty years time, IPA will come to mean brown, lightly hopped beer, just as Guinness now defines stout for most drinkers.


13 replies on “What Does IPA Mean?”

As with many a beeer description I think the meaning is so clouded as to become virtually useless. Henry’s IPA by Wadworth also fits into the weak brown watery ales category.
Whereas I would argue that some of Brewdog’s “IPA”s are soo powerfully hopped that they creep into a whole new un-named territory (unless you count the prefix “american” to instantly transform the meaning of words afterwards)

I think as with many things beer related, it comes to personal preference – in my opinion “real IPA” is exactlyas you put it – light (in colour) distinctly hoppy beer and usually higher in strength – where the hops form the majority of the flavour leaving any malty flavours second.
But that is my opinion.

Good points. I often think that the whole style/categorization tendency in today’s beer world borders on obsession – just as you say, the IPAs of yesteryear are not the same as the IPAs today, and back in the day “stout” did not even necessarily mean a dark beer, if I’ve understood correctly.

What increasingly irrates/amuses me is (certain American beer sites in particular) is the obsession with freshness. A style whose name and (popular) origin are so linked to 18/19th century shipping should be more interested in ageing.

It’s a new (fantastic) style but the use of C-hops and the fresh drinking mean it should really have a different name. (Cascadian ale?)

The bottled Bass Pale Ale sold in Britain during the 19th century was usually at least twelve months old. Pale Ales were stock beers, intended to be matured for extended periods. The draught versions would also have been months old when drunk.

I would say that one of the best things about many new British IPAs is that they don’t mimic the Americans by being “deep amber” (with all that yucky crystal malt) – the best are usually comfortingly pale.

Another interesting thing about IPA is, while it originated in Britain, it’s lost popularity there. While across the Atlantic, IPA is booming—arguably the most popular craft “style.” Ironically, I’ve heard that “American-style” (American-made, or otherwise) IPAs are becoming more and more popular in the UK.

I recall from my very earliest years drinking Greene King IPA, which was (god, how did I get this old) more than 40 years ago, that in the 1960s/1970s nobody in the pubs of North Hertfordshire/South Bedfordshire called it “IPA” anyway – you just ordered “bitter”, even though the pumpclips (and the nasty little mini-handles that signified top-pressure beer) said “IPA” on them.

Isn’t the story similar for Wells’ Eagle IPA? I remember being in a pub in Suffolk some years back, and the locals drinking ‘bitter’ were on this.

Here’s a good one. What was the brewhouse name for Boddington’s Bitter? IP, surely standing for India Pale.

Would anyone count Boddington’s Bitter as an IPA?

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