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

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Six Styles Of IPA

I thought it was about time I gave this a go...

I wrote a little while back about whether or not IPA was still IPA because of the vast multitude of styles that were available these days. It's a bit of a problem, not just because of mindless quibbling between the blogarrati, but because it's also a big problem to outsiders wanting to get into the beer world who are left puzzled, confused and sometimes annoyed about what an IPA really is.

I've come up with a list of six different categories that IPAs can fit under to try come up with some sense of a "more organised" field of vision... at least for me, and for people I need to explain IPA to. (it's a constant question in Beer Ritz.. "what's the difference between these??") I'm sure others will have their own lists...


First Style: American IPA
You know them, you love them, at one time you knew this was all you needed from a beer... That great clear golden caramel colour. That juicy, fruity, resinous citrusy aroma.. all those classic American IPAs.

The IPA to the left is a classic example which comes from Ska Brewery. Modus Hoperandi comes in at 6.8% and has all those flavours you're looking for in an American IPA. Lots of caramel malt and big candy floss sweetness mixed with that huge hit of grapefruit which leaves that clean and moorish finish. Ska Modus also has a bit of a difference in flavour which lies in the banoffee pie region, very tasty indeed! American IPA is my first style, and it's an all-encompassing style too. From North to South, from East coast to West coast, they all come from the same land of the US and need to be unified as such. You can't really go wrong with, I'd say, 80% of American breweries that produce a standard IPA... my classic examples would consist of beers like Goose Island IPA, Odells IPA and Stone IPA.

Second Style: Continental IPA
This style has a lot and a lot of variety to offer, but still needs to be under the same flag. Belgian IPA, German IPA, French IPA it all goes in the same category; all IPAs from the continent (some clarification will come at the end) It's a style that's a bit difficult to explain, but you know when you're drinking an IPA from the continent.

Vuur & Vlam is a 6.2% IPA from De Molen. This is the original Fire and Flame IPA, and you can't say they're not trying with the hops. Galena, Cascade, Chinook, Simcoe and Amarillo are all in the mix. The aroma is pure grapefruit and peach juice. It's got a big carbonation on it, but it's still obviously an IPA... an IPA from the continent. Purely delicious, and that's all that really need be said.

Svea IPA is a 7% gem from De Struise. It has an aroma about which leads you to believe it could fit into the English IPA style which is to come next, but it's not. Loads of malty sweetness , with extra sweet drawn from lots of Belgian candy sugars. It has a soft and subtle carbonation for a beer from Belgium , and it's very refreshing to see. A nice balance of some herbs and spices interplay with malt sweetness really well making it better than the sum of it's parts. It reminds me quite a bit of wood aged IPAs from breweries like Green King, and I guess the uber beer geeks will get that reference.

Third Style: English IPA
English IPA is a style like White Shield is an IPA. White Shield would be the poster boy for this style. All the malt backbone and non of the fuss! Hops take the back seat of the carriage here...

Crate IPA is 5.8% and has an aroma like an English giant of a beer. Loads of orange rind and sweet hay. A touch of jam and brown sugar is there to back things up and make you want to dive straight into the glass. While the beer might be all about the malt, there's still the small dose of bitterness to be found in the finish. It's perfectly balanced - sweet then bitter, with a fantastic body. Some woody hints, lots of dry straw and a big mixture of sweet fruits; grapes, peaches and apricots. It's a very good beer, but I can't help thinking the label needs a big "Crate Brewery" stamp on it right in the middle.

English IPA - More about the malt than the hops. A beer that can be aged!

Fourth Style: Experimental/Flavoured IPA
Who's not tried an experimental of flavoured IPA? You all must have seen them at least... The Black IPAs, the Coffee IPAs, a lot more people are making them these days.

Arbor Ginger IPA drinks easier than it's 7% label. It has a subtle ginger aroma about it, the ginger gets a little dominated by the hops - a sort of juicy ginger orange. The ginger is certainly there in the flavour, but it's just not very prominent. It fights a bit of a losing battle with the big bitter hops, but you needn't take that as a bad thing. IPA? Yes! And it's a very good one at that.

Experimental and flavoured IPAs are most welcomed these days. Things like Black IPA and Coffee IPAs are proof that brewers are trying new things and getting good results. If we didn't have that, beer would probably be a lot more boring.

Fifth Style: Uber IPA
Time to bring out the big guns. This is another wide style fitted into one. All those Double IPAs/Imperial IPAs... The IPAs which probably have too much hops in them to be financially viable, or more ibus than the human palate can handle.. The monsters of high flavours and high abvs - you know the sort - palate destroyers.

Moor Hoppiness is a new one to the scene, and although it's 6.7% might not seem too 'out-there', it more than makes up for it in flavour. Overwhelming aromas of citrus and sherbet.  It's flavour enhanced, pushed to the limits. Peaches, apricots. Tonnes of fruit and loads of bitter pith. It drinks no where near it's strength and becomes dangerous because of the fact. An instant classic and an evident bruiser.

Uber IPAs have their place for sure. Like before, if they didn't, beer would be a much duller place for it.

Sixth Style: The "What were you thinking IPA" Category
We've all had one or another at some point. A so called IPA where you really can't see what the brewer was trying to produce, or you can and it just turned out in a big mess. I'm sure you can think of one or two..

The Flying Dog and Brew Dog International Arms Race beers come to mind here. Calling these two IPAs is going one step too far for me. They're beers made without hops. It's like cutting the fat off a fine cut of beef and eating that.

The Flying Dog version has a huge woody and herbal aroma, but far too much spearmint has been added in. It's all over the place. Far too many flavours trying to compete and it makes it too unbalanced. It's messy. There's lots of fruit. Orange and elder-flower are up front, but it's not redeeming. The Brewdog version is slightly better, but that's only because it's a little more balanced and subtle; flavour-wise. It's just a cinnamon and ginger beer though. It's the furthest thing away from an IPA I've ever had. Two unfortunate drain pours..

I like to blow the malt trumpet when it comes to IPAs, but it needs to have hops in it too, not even a lot, just some.

It's easy to say, "Oh, IPA is just IPA at the end of it all" but that's just not the case anymore. So I shall be promoting new IPAs that come into the shop under my six styles from now on:

1. American IPA
2. Continental IPA
3. English IPA
4. Experimental/Flavoured IPA
5. Uber IPA
6. What were you thinking IPA

That's not to say these styles can't interlink though. Of course you can have an Uber American IPA, or an Experimental Continental IPA. English IPA will always be a bit of a firm stand point for me though. English IPA tastes like White Shield does.

I'm open to any other styles, as long as they can't already be incorporated into my current six.


  1. Where does Greene King fit in?

  2. It wasn't wood aged IPAs from Green KIng that it reminded me of (not that GKIPA anyway) On further reflection the Svea reminded me of Green KIng's Strong Suffolk, which is a Old Ale technically, but I find some similarities between SS and English IPA..

  3. Sorry, it was Greene King IPA I meant. You've missed out weak and malty from your list.

    1. It could go in the What Were You Thinking IPA style... ;)
      Not that I have much against the beer mind..

  4. yeah and black ipa, red ipa, imperial ipa...there's a few more variations need including

    you're one of the few advocates of brewdog IAR vs Flying Dog

    1. Black and Red IPA can go under the Experimental IPA banner, while Imperial IPA can come under Uber IPAs.

  5. How about the US sub-sets? Locals will tell you there's a difference between West Coast and East Coast IPAs...

    1. I've not really had enough experience pairing off west coast vs east coast against each other to see enough of a difference.. I'm sure I'll get loads of US beer geeks telling me that they're from two different worlds, but I've not seen it really..

    2. West coast IPA is usually very pale, like- Stone, Port Brewing Mongo, Ballast Point Sculpin.

    3. west coast IPA is definitely a thing. I TOLD YOU GHOST!

  6. Where do the likes of Jaipur fit into this? Hoppier than "English IPA", lighter-bodied than "American IPA".

    1. I did think about this one, I originally thought they could fit into the American IPA style, but that doesn't really work. Maybe there's room for a 'modern IPA' or dare I say 'New World IPA'.... Something with elements from English, American and a little bit extra..

  7. Replies
    1. Is that that Green King stuff....?

      I think I'd get shot if I suggested that any IPA I've had over the past year was a session beer..

    2. the one we did with Marble? or the one we've brewed for Craft Beer Co

  8. I had that Magic Craft earlier. Lovely, lovely, but keg it. Needs a bit of a lift. 3.2% leaves it a bit short in terms of condition.

    Viz: US styles - try a Stone or maybe an Alesmith up against a Smuttynose. Good intro to stylistic differences, to me...

  9. A Colorado beer as the standard for American IPA--apostasy! That's a fine ale for *Colorado*, but for America, go West young man. I don't want to quibble between the various adherents of Stone, Green Flash, Ninkasi, and so on, but you must start there.

    Note: words inside asterisks meant to be pronounced with dripping contempt.

  10. Oh, and I do think Jaipur is pure--and intentionally--a US IPA. That's what I'm saying in my book, anyway. The lads at the brewery seemed to agree.

  11. Nice roundup mate- I've been musing on IPA recently, after a rough can of Modus....!