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What In the Heck Is an IPA? (India Pale Ale Beer)

Thanks to the craft beer movement, IPA is in vogue now. But do you know IPA has a history as detailed and complicated as its variations available today?

India Pale Ale Beer, better known as IPA, is a heavily hopped beer style within the broader category of pale ale. IPAs are known for hoppy taste and fruity flavors, but contrary to popular belief, not all IPAs are high on bitterness or alcohol strength. 

In this article, we’ll bust two common myths often associated with IPAs, take a brief look at the history of IPA, and discuss the popular styles of IPA. So, keep reading. 

IPAs Aren’t Always High on Bitterness or ABV

Not all IPAs are high on bitterness. The bitterness quotient of IPAs, measured in IBU, or the International Bitterness Units scale, varies for every style. For example, New England IPAs are low on bitterness while the British style is more bitter. 

Another common misconception is that if a beer is an IPA, it’ll have a higher ABV, otherwise known as Alcohol by volume. While this can be true at times, it’s not always the case. These days, session IPAs are becoming quite popular among beer drinkers. They have an ABV of 5% or less, and people like them for their medium strength and smoother finish.

On the other spectrum, there are Double or Imperial IPAs, which are made using more malt and extra hops, and usually, their ABV is higher too. 

Different Types of IPAs

Thanks to craft breweries, IPAs have undergone many changes and iteration that it’s almost impossible to make an exhaustive list of all IPA styles. However, in this article, we’ll cover some popular variations of IPA that you may find on the market. 

British IPA: The Very First IPA

IPA beer was invented by the British, and there’s a fascinating story behind it. 

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When India was still a British colony, the brits were facing an acute shortage of good beer. It was difficult to brew beer in India because of the hot climate. Refrigeration was still not accessible to most people, and extreme heat meant fermentation went wild and changed the flavors unpredictably. 

Shipping regular English alcohol to India wasn’t an option either, as they wouldn’t survive the intense journey and would become stale. 

George Hodgson, a brewery owner of that time, found a way to solve this problem. Hodgson knew hops and alcohol, two critical ingredients of beer, work as natural preservatives. He decided to utilize the power of these ingredients to produce a beer that could survive the grueling six-month journey to India. 

Hudgson’s beer, called October ale, survived the journey and was received very well by the British troops and upper-class Europeans settled in India. Later, many other breweries copied Hudgson’s beer, and it underwent many changes. 

British IPAs are characterized by bitterness, higher alcohol strength, and a more pronounced level of malt.

The True History of the birth of India Pale Ale (IPA)

West Coast IPA: The Feel-Good IPA

The name West Coast brings to mind images of sand, surf, and good vibes, and West Coast IPAs, which are bright, clean, and inviting, are the visual representation of those feelings. The West Coast IPA deserves the credit for introducing the fruity flavor in hops and shedding a bit of bitterness. 

And while they’re still bitter, they balance it with resiny, piney, and dank hop flavors.

New England Style IPA: The IPA Everyone Is Drinking Right Now

New England Style IPA, also known as Hazy IPA or Unfiltered IPA, is the most popular IPA style these days.  

This India Pale Ale is unfiltered and has a hazy appearance. These beers have extremely low bitterness and a rich hop aroma, and citrus flavor, and are a good option for people who don’t like IPAs because of bitterness and taste, and probably that’s the reason they’re so much in demand right now. 

Session IPA: The Beer You Want for a Good Conversation

In British tradition, it’s common for friends to sit and talk over beers. The idea of session beer came from there. A session beer is a beer one can have several pints of during a conversation without getting wasted.   

These beers have less alcohol content, usually an ABV of 5% or even less. Also, they have a light mouthfeel.

Double IPA: IPA on Steroids

Double IPA, also called Imperial IPA, is a more robust version of any other style of IPA. This IPA has a higher concentration of hops. The brewers also put more malt to balance the extra hops, which results in a higher ABV, typically above 7%. 

These beers have more hoppy bitterness and a deeper malty undertone. Also, they take more time to brew than regular IPAs. 

Milkshake IPA: This Isn’t Milkshake-Meets-Beer Story

Contrary to what the name might have you believe, Milkshake IPAs don’t have milk in them. This ultra-hazy beer is brewed with unfermentable milk sugar, and that’s how it got the nickname “Milkshake.” 

These beers are low on carbonation. Usually, fruits are added to them, which give them a silky and creamy texture and a pleasant mouthfeel.

Also, this IPA isn’t exactly a new style, as it’s more like an offshoot of New England IPA style.

Belgian IPA: The Promising New Kid on the Block

Don’t let the name fool you. Belgian IPAs aren’t popular in Belgium. What makes these beers Belgian is that during the brewing process, the yeast used is Belgian. This IPA is high in bitterness, has a higher alcohol content, and has a much drier finish than other IPA styles. 

IPA’s aren’t always pale and light. There is such a thing as a dark or black ipa.

Key Takeaways

India Pale Ale Beer is a hoppy beer that is pale with fruity flavors. 

IPAs aren’t always bitter or high in alcohol. While some styles of IPA can have an ABV of 5% or less, others can have an ABV of 7% or even higher. The same goes for bitterness.

The arrival of craft breweries has changed the world of IPAs. There are many different variations of IPA in the market that it’s difficult to keep count. Some of the better-known styles are the British IPA, the West Coast IPA, the New England Style IPA and the Double IPA.

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