They Brew it, I sell it, You Drink it... and so do I..

Monday, 7 May 2012

Is IPA Still IPA?

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about IPA. He hadn't really tried many, just a couple for a starting out beer geek, but we still managed to have a good chat on the subject. He asked me what I thought of beers like Green King IPA and others in that sort of range, and while I said that they were kind of IPAs and not IPAs, we didn't really come to much of a conclusion to the conversation - such is the way with beer - It's always open ended. (which, to me, is a good thing)

It did make me think though about the modern day beer world and where IPA fits into it.

When you look at a modern day IPA what do you think of? What would be the most obvious that comes to mind, or which would you consider most traditional, or the best? It's a very tough call to make, look at the (very small) list below:

Goose Island IPA        Burton Bridge Empire IPA
Green King IPA           Ilkley Lotus IPA
White Shield IPA         Copper Dragon Challenger IPA
Williams Joker IPA     Thornbridge Jaipur IPA
Brooklyn East IPA       Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA

Ten different IPAs. (some may or may not be in your opinion) But not one of them is the same. They all have big differences to them - their own personalities, their own qualities. Some are bottle conditioned, some are not, some are hoppier than others, some are stronger than others but they're still all IPAs. Does IPA still only stand for a beer that's highly hopped, and stronger than usual? I think not.

Things get more confusing around the subject of IPA when you look at all the varying sub-styles and extras that can sometimes go into the style. For instance; Double IPA, Extra IPA, Imperial IPA, Black IPA, Red IPA, Rye IPA, Wet Hopped IPA, Belgian IPA - these are just a few of the ways IPA has been treated over the years, and it's hard to say if it's helped or hindered IPAs style in some people's minds.

Is it any wonder that someone who's just beginning to get into good beer and IPA as a style (like the friend I had the conversation with) might be a little confused about the way us beer geeks see IPA. They might also see IPA as a confusing beer style, and as it's so vast, maybe a little daunting as well.

I'm not trying to call for IPA to be unified here. I'm not going to try and lay down some Reinheitsgebot rules on what IPA must be, and if it differs from the rules then it can't be called as such - that's a very restrictive and damaging view. And we could argue about that set of rules for an age as well. At the end of the day, we already argue about the style enough, and is that really getting us anywhere? Instead of arguing, why aren't we educating?

What I'd love to call for is a bit more of an open mind when it comes to IPA. I'd love to see more of an understanding that in this modern age, it's a very broad style which contains many branches of IPA, but they all stem from the same style tree. You can look at all these new great breweries popping up everywhere, is IPA going to get more restrainable? No, it will become more diverse as more brewers create their own versions of IPA. This shouldn't be seen as a bad thing - it's just the new thing.

There are so many interpretations of IPA and variations on the style these days, how can one description, or individual specimen, be the definitive and end all to the style? It can't, it would be impossible.

After all, it's the brewers who are producing the IPAs. They produce them to their own recipes and interpretations. If they choose to put the label 'IPA' on their beer, they must have a good reason for it. It's their choice, and I don't think it should be for us to tell them otherwise, it's their product.

Is IPA still IPA? I don't really think so. I think it's evolved into a vast and accommodating style of beer. A style of beer which should allow all who want to be included, to be included - and nuts to the odd beer historic fanatic who says otherwise. This isn't the late 1800's anymore, the style has moved on - like a lot of things.

Nothing is static.

Long Live IPA. Next time you want to argue that it's not to style, remember the four words of the bottom of this IPA can:


22 comments:

  1. I think this is the most sensible thing anyone has said about "IPA" in a long time.

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    1. Thanks John, I'm glad you approve, I wasn't 100% sure if it would go down well or not.

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  2. I see there being two distinct styles: US and English.

    US clearly being towards the big citrusy, fruity, hop-dominated end of the scale, English having a more subtle, balanced profile.

    English-style is pretty much on the decline – in fact it's probably dying – with really only White Shield and Bengal Lancer flying the flag.

    Whereas US-style is becoming interchangeable with the term 'IPA' itself. Etymologically-speaking, I believe the American version will become 'IPA'.

    The significance of the India bit is becoming a bit lost, but for me that means an IPA always has to be higher in strength and with a more prominent hop aroma/flavour.

    The black/pale thing makes no sense, but I like its barmy-ness.

    There is actually a danger that 'IPA' becomes a redundant term as brewers push the envelope.

    Does that matter? I'm not sure.

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    1. You're very right about the UK/US stylings, and I agree about UK style being on the decline, but I put that down to brewers making US interpretations. It's the old story of the UK making beers based on US styles which were origionally based on UK styles! :)

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    2. There are way more than two distinct kinds. In the UK alone there are at least three types. There are 19th century types, whether surviving or revivalist (White Shield, Marston's Old Empire, Bengal Lancer, Tryst Raj IPA); and the 20th century descendants of the originals, reduced in strength, and their imitators (Charrington IPA, Greene King IPA, Deuchars IPA, Chiswick Bitter, Pedigree, Landlord). Even McEwan's Export was once their IPA, as a quick glance at old labels on taverntrove.com will show.

      Then we have the modern American interpretation, already splitting into West Coast and other varieties (too many to mention). There are British imitations of these (Lovibond 69) and many more which take inspiration from the Americans but are drier, more bitter and less perfumey (Jaipur, Kernel, Punk-as-was). Then there are the scores of pale 'n' hoppy beers (Windermere Pale, Jarl, JHB, etc, etc) that have clear IPA lineage but at session strength (history repeating itself).

      That's without even starting on the Red IPA, White IPA and Coffee IPA stuff. Eventually IPA will cease to mean anything at all and we'll have to find a new term. I suspect that day is not too far off now.

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  3. Sensible! This echoes something Ron Pattinson said recently with regard to IPA -- "There's only one objective criterion: what the brewer called it.".

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    1. I gave that post a look this morning, and Ron's very right. You could pick holes in so many beers and beer styles these days, it gets a bit silly really.

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  4. I think IPA has become a kind of label, much like "Premium" or "Pilsen" in some countries. Proof of that is Black IPA, it would be an oxymoron if the acronym still stood for India Pale Ale, but it doesn't anymore, it's just "Ai Pee Ei".

    Come to think of it, the whole Pale Ale thing has always been a label, as, historically speaking, Pale Ales weren't Ales, but beers...

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    1. PS: I've reread the post and realised that the very same thing could be said of Stout... (or could have been said if someone had given much of a toss about styles a few decades ago).

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    2. I forgot to mention Triple IPA, Single Hopped IPA and even Coffee IPA.. ;)

      I had a read of your post and I agree with what you say. I think IPA is just a sticker that gets slapped on a lot of beers these days. If that's a bad thing or not I'm not sure. t will be interesting to see what Mark Dredge comes up with on the differences between IPA and Indian Pale Ale.

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    3. Or "Eye Pee Aye" 'round these parts...

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  5. Ironically, one of the three Yanko IPAs listed is among the best examples of what I imagine a real British one should be like (Brooklyn) and the other is among the least impressive of the big-name Yank microbrewed IPAs (Goose Island). Neither is "traditionally American", boasting cowboy-hatfuls of Citra & Columbus.

    I must profess ignorance of the third, but this Oregonian is skeptical of anything from Flying Dog.

    But in general, spot on!

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    1. Skeptical of Flying Dog?? Me thinks you be missing out on some good beers.. Their Gonzo Imperial Porter is a really good brew and I really like Raging Bitch - a Belgian IPA would you know..

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    2. Strong beers such as imperial porter aren't really my cuppa these days. I've had one or two of their beers in the last year or two and wasn't all that impressed. Nothing bad, I suppose, but too east-coast for me. Very mainstream. Those looking for American IPAs with more swagger should look elsewhere. IMO.

      And IPA should be clean, not Belgo-funky, so I'm also not so keen on that particular trend.

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  6. I've just written something along these lines. I wrote that IPA and India Pale Ale are not the same thing. An India Pale Ale is a particular style of beer whereas IPA is an idea which needs prefixing with something to make it make sense - American IPA, Black IPA, Double IPA, etc.

    The idea of IPA means a beer with lots of hops. It's based on the story of India Pale Ale and then evolved. IPA is no longer the initials of India Pale Ale, in my opinion. IPA is its own thing. An idea or an inspiration to get to something new.

    Something like that, anyway. It's complicated!

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    1. It makes a lot of sense putting it that way, I look forward to what you post, it doesn't sound too complicated to me.

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  7. It is definitely confusing and certainly daunting. I'm new to the world of craft beer, and after trying a few IPAs, decided I ought to do a bit of research and find out what they actually were. I spent several hours online, reading different assessments of what does and does not denote an IPA, and ended up being none the wiser, feeling quite annoyed and frustrated. Everyone seems to disagree. My conclusion was, does it really matter, a good beer is a good beer.

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    1. I think you could search for hours upon hours for what IPA is, should be and isn't on the tinterweb, I don't think it's too helpful in that regard if you're starting out. I would just get out there and try as many IPAs as I can.

      Just remember it's a very broad style, ranging from the pale, stronger and hoppier Ales, to the sweeter, maltier, full bodied IPAs.

      There's hundereds of different ones to try, but you're completely right when you say a good beer is a good beer. Stick with that and you can't go wrong.

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  8. Maybe I'd ask "Was IPA ever IPA?". It didn't start (I'd guess) as a homogenised product and it isn't one now.

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    1. I think I'll leave that one to Ron :)

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  9. It´s not much easier if the brewmaster tell me wich barley´s, hops (included the IBUS) and yeast used to created his own IPA instead tell me if it´s a Imperial IPA, Black IPA, Belgian IPA? The style in my opinion it´s not much important that how this beer is created.
    Maybe for the BJCP is interesting, but for the consumer is it?

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  10. Thank you! I say do it, definitely! Flowers are such a common sticker that you should have no problem finding a set that will work for you. Just make sure you don't get gems like I did. ;) I would love to see the finished mani if you decide to do it! It seems like such a cool idea.
    bullet stickers

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