Gold to Amber / 6 – 14 SRM
Assertive / 40 – 70 IBU
Sweetness Low to medium
Balance is Hoppy
The American IPA and its descendents are without question the absolute king of craft beer. Although small brewers still only make up around 13-15% of the total beer marketplace, IPA is the third most popular style according to sales, behind only macro lager and light lager. Within the past several years, we’ve come to recognize that popular knowledge about the origins of this style are pretty far from the truth. Despite what you might have read or heard, it was not “invented” by any one single brewer in England, and it was not originally brewed to higher strength and highly hopped solely for the purpose of stability on the extended journey to India. We’ll delve a bit more into that history in our post on English IPA, so let’s focus our attention on its American counterparts.
In addition to being the most popular style, beers called IPA in the US today are some of the most varied things you’ll find with the same label on the can. On one end of the spectrum, you’ll find beers that are light amber in color with brilliant clarity and a bracing, bitterly hoppy finish. On the other, you’ll find beers with fruit, spices, lactose, and even flour added to the brewing and packaging process. In this post, we’ll focus on the traditional, clearer, older style of American IPA, but you’ll find a post on their hazier cousins coming soon.
The origins of IPA in America are a perfect reflection of the spirit of craft. As we discussed in our post on American Pale Ale, brewers were challenging the status quo in the 1970s and 80s. The first beer in what’s now Anchor Brewing’s Christmas Ale series–initially called “Our Special Ale” and brewed with a different recipe every year for the Christmas season–was an IPA brewed in 1975 that eventually became Anchor’s Liberty IPA, which you can still find on shelves today. Being a special release for the holidays, brewers created something bolder to celebrate the season. Sierra Nevada followed the 1980 release of their Pale Ale with Celebration Ale in 1983. Also originally brewed for the holidays, you’ll still find this amber-hued IPA on shelves every fall after it’s brewed with the freshest possible hops from that year’s harvest (and if you haven’t tried it, grab some next time you get a chance…it’s one of the best you’ll find).
American hops were a hit. Many of the early microbreweries in the states recognized this, including Bell’s (1985), whose iconic Two Hearted remains its flagship beer, Dogfish Head (1995), whose 120-minute IPA we’ll talk about in our Double IPA post, and Stone (1996) whose IPAs are still among the best you’ll find. The consumers supporting interesting beer were hooked on these piney, citrusy, bitter brews, and the style grew steadily through the turn of the millenium, then exploded in the early 2000s.
You won’t walk into many brewpubs or taprooms that don’t have an IPA (or 12) on tap. If you’re looking to try one of the more traditional versions, beers labeled “West Coast IPA” are often close to these roots. Bitter, drier IPAs are enjoying a bit of a comeback in the regions that they left as hazy IPAs become less of a novelty and more the norm (those dry, bitter beers never really left the west coast, where they’ve been standard on taplists through the juice boom). Look for these on our taplist at Black Flannel, too–we love all IPAs equally, and chances are you’ll see these crop up, even in our northeast hazy haven.
Aroma – Assertively hop forward. Citrus, pine, resin, sometimes fruity. Enough malty backbone to balance.
Appearance – Pale gold to light amber. Some of these are darker than you might expect.
Flavor – Medium through high bitterness. Enough malt sweetness to fill out the palate. Clean, hoppy finish.
Mouthfeel – Medium-light body. Clean dry finish.
Vitals – 5.5 – 7.5% ABV, 40 – 70 IBU
Serve fresh in Pint glass at 38º
A decidedly hoppy and bitter, moderately strong American pale ale, showcasing modern American or New World hop varieties. The balance is hopforward, with a clean fermentation profile, dryish finish, and clean, supporting malt allowing a creative range of hop character to shine through.
A prominent to intense hop aroma featuring one or more characteristics of American or New World hops, such as citrus, floral, pine, resinous, spicy, tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry, melon, etc. Many versions are dry hopped and can have an additional fresh hop aroma; this is desirable but not required. Grassiness should be minimal, if present. A low to medium-low clean, grainy-malty aroma may be found in the background. Fruitiness from yeast may also be detected in some versions, although a neutral fermentation character is also acceptable. A restrained alcohol note may be present, but this character should be minimal at best. Any American or New World hop character is acceptable; new hop varieties continue to be released and should not constrain this style.
Color ranges from medium gold to light reddish-amber. Should be clear, although unfiltered dry hopped versions may be a bit hazy. Medium-sized, white to off white head with good persistence.
Hop flavor is medium to very high, and should reflect an American or New World hop character, such as citrus, floral, pine, resinous, spicy, tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry, melon, etc. Medium-high to very high hop bitterness. Malt flavor should be low to medium-low, and is generally clean and grainy-malty although some light caramel or toasty flavors are acceptable. Low yeast-derived fruitiness is acceptable but not required. Dry to medium-dry finish; residual sweetness should be low to none. The bitterness and hop flavor may linger into the aftertaste but should not be harsh. A very light, clean alcohol flavor may be noted in stronger versions. May be slightly sulfury, but most examples do not exhibit this character.
Medium-light to medium body, with a smooth texture. Medium to medium-high carbonation. No harsh hop derived astringency. Very light, smooth alcohol warming not a fault if it does not intrude into overall balance.
A modern American craft beer interpretation of the historical English style, brewed using American ingredients and attitude. The basis for many modern variations, including the stronger Double IPA as well as IPAs with various other ingredients. Those other IPAs should generally be entered in the Specialty IPA style. Oak is inappropriate in this style; if noticeably oaked, enter in wood-aged category.
The first modern American craft beer example is generally believed to be Anchor Liberty Ale, first brewed in 1975 and using whole Cascade hops; the style has pushed beyond that original beer, which now tastes more like an American Pale Ale in comparison. American-made IPAs from earlier eras were not unknown (particularly the well-regarded Ballantine’s IPA, an oak-aged beer using an old English recipe). This style is based on the modern craft beer examples.
Pale ale or 2-row brewers malt as the base, American or New World hops, American or English yeast with a clean or slightly fruity profile. Generally all-malt, but mashed at lower temperatures for high attenuation. Sugar additions to aid attenuation are acceptable. Restrained use of crystal malts, if any, as high amounts can lead to a sweet finish and clash with the hop character.
Stronger and more highly hopped than an American Pale Ale. Compared to an English IPA, has less of the “English” character from malt, hops, and yeast (less caramel, bread, and toast; more American/New World hops than English; less yeast-derived esters), less body, and often has a more hoppy balance and is slightly stronger than most examples. Less alcohol than a Double IPA, but with a similar balance.
Original Gravity (°Plato) 1.060-1.070 (14.7-17.1 °Plato)
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (°Plato) 1.010-1.016 (2.5-4.1 °Plato)
Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 5.0%-6.0% (6.3%-7.5%)
Bitterness (IBU) 50-70
Color SRM (EBC) 6-12 (12-24 EBC)
A single infusion mash in the lower range for saccharification is traditional to ensure good attenuation. Hopping rates vary depending on desired bitterness and aroma profile, but these beers include large bittering and late-hop, whirlpool, and dry-hop additions for added aromatic punch. Fermented around 68º for a clean yeast profile.
AT THE BREWPUB: Scotch Egg
CASUAL DATE: Pizza
FROM BF DISTILLING CO: Black Flannel Vermont Common Whiskey
NEW: Radiohead, Amnesiac & John Coltrane
OLD: Charles Ives, Piano Sonata No. 2, “Concord”
Pour grapefruit juice into a highball glass without ice, then top with IPA and garnish with grapefruit peel.