North American craft brewers, experimenting in the 1980s with assertive hop varieties from Yakima Valley, fell in love with the story of India Pale Ale (also known as IPA), the high-hopped beer exported from Burton-on-Trent to Bombay at the height of the British Empire, and took its name for a new breed of assertively hop-forward pale ales, brewed with attitude for an emerging and gratefully impressed band of beer fanatics.
The beers created have little else in common with historic IPAs but became the standard bearer for North American craft brewing, so much so that a wave of spin-offs, some inspired and a few lamentable, has seen the IPA “brand” commandeered for use in hop forward styles of beer that variously feature darker malts, alternative grains, spicy yeast or just different volumes of water. In the alphabetical list that follows we have ignored those made with fruit syrups and other adjuncts, as they appear to have disappeared as soon as swiftly as they arrived.
At its best an American IPA, sometimes distinguished as West Coast IPA, is an engaging, attractive, outspoken, classic style of hop-forward, resinous, sometimes slightly fruity, usually floral, sampling strength pale ale (5.9-7.5%) – a beer good enough to take on the world’s best drinks. Some of the better-known brands have fallen to global brewers, whose over-employed cost controllers insist that brewers use cheaper hops, an attitude-defining tendency that distinguishes profit-sweating breweries from value-driven ones.
New England IPA (or NEIPA)
This wonder child of the last decade began life in Vermont, as a deliberately hazy, khaki-coloured ale loaded with fruit esters derived from both hops and yeast. As time has passed examples become so muddy that the term “Milkshake IPA” has been used for some, and the original complexities have been replaced by marketing efforts to create an alcoholic soft drink. The hop recipes major on adding fruitier hops towards the end of the boil to avoid bitterness. More characterful malts are avoided or kept low. Some brewers have taken to hazing up their NEIPAs with starches and other adjuncts. Some even add fruity substances.
Originally known as Cascadian Dark Ale, the first dark IPA of the modern era was brewed around 1990 and sparked a flurry of interest and experimentation, particularly on the US West Coast. Some can be tantalisingly close in palate to American Porter and American Stout, while others feel much more like a lightly caramelised IPA. Where the style will sit in the longer term is unclear.
The genesis and future of Brown IPA are even more tenuous than those of Black IPA. The difference between Brown IPA and American Brown Ale appearing to be the hop recipe – only.
This mid-Atlantic take on Irish Red Ale is hopped up with American varieties and of a higher strength (5.5-7.5% ABV), with prominent toffee, caramel or fruity edges. The name Double Hoppy Red Ale is starting to appear, poignantly lacking those three little letters, which could avoid a definition overlap problem.
This hybrid style encompasses both IPA and Double IPA strengths (5.5-9.0% ABV), emerging almost simultaneously in Belgium and the US, as small independent breweries experimented with using spicy yeast strains to ferment IPA wort. Early efforts were mostly horrible but some newer ones emerging from collaboration brews are better.
This dry variant of IPA rose rapidly, if only for novelty. The original concept to ferment an IPA using a Champagne yeast or its equivalent, to create a naturally dry and intensely hoppy ale was sound. However, the “equivalent” soon became an excuse to trial enzymatic fermentation rather than specific yeast types, leading to its popularity nose-diving not long after take-off.
Rye IPA (or RIPA)
Replacing 15-20% of the malted barley with malted rye changes the grain character more than you would think, somehow allowing more aromatic hops to shine more clearly and accommodating even quite striking bitterness in this slowly growing, enticing style (4.5-7.0% ABV).
Deploying more citrusy hops to a higher strength wheat beer (5.5-7.0%) made with spicy Belgian yeast and dried citrus peel was intended to merge the appeal of IPA and Belgian Wit. In reality the best are reminiscent of neither, a stand-alone style emerging slowly.