In the United States, India pale ale has taken hold as one of the most popular and captivating styles of beer. And why wouldn’t it? Americans love hops, and hop growers continue to feed that desire with more and more new varieties of hops showcasing all manners of intriguing and exotic fruity aromas.
India pale ale has become a celebration of hops from start to finish, especially in our familiar local examples, where malt is often treated like a blank canvas, adding little more than a surface on which to paint in the dynamic colors and shapes that modern hops allow.
The solution, it seems, is to turn those less popular styles into India pale ales. But first you have to shorten “India pale ale” to “IPA,” lest we are reminded that this is supposed to be a pale ale we are drinking. The term IPA is catchy, takes up little precious space on a tap handle or chalkboard, and is currently used to denote a hoppy beer that could be almost anything after that initial criteria has been met.
White IPA, brown IPA, red IPA, Belgian IPA, wheat IPA, and the infamous black IPA all combine the hop levels of an American India pale ale with another style of beer. I sometimes wonder when every beer style will be called some derivative of IPA.
Session IPA also has a very good claim to the term, as low-alcohol India pale ales have been brewed continuously in the UK since the early 20th century. It has only been the more modern, American usage of the name that has led to the belief that India pale ales should be higher in alcohol than a normal pale ale.
During the style’s original surge in popularity in the 19th century, it was only differentiated from other pale ales by longer aging times and higher hop levels. If session IPA sticks around as a popular style (and I’m betting that it will), we will likely see the “India” modifier shift back toward being an indicator of an emphasis on hops, and less as an indicator of alcohol content.
Stone Go To IPA case was released this week to the public. Image courtesy of West Coaster craft beer magazine via Stone Brewing Co., and John Schulz Photography.
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