WHAT IS AN IPA?
All your questions about this hoppy delight answered
IPA stands for "India Pale Ale." The term originated during the British colonial era when pale ales brewed in England were hopped heavily to withstand the long sea journey to India. The increased hop content acted as a natural preservative, helping the beer survive the voyage and arrive in good condition. Over time, the style evolved, and modern IPAs are known for their distinct hop-forward flavours and aromas.
India Pale Ales (IPAs) are known for their strong hop flavours and aromas. They're characterised by a significant hop bitterness, often accompanied by citrus, pine, or floral notes. The style has become highly popular in the craft beer movement, leading to various substyles such as New England IPA (NEIPA), West Coast IPA, and Double IPA, each with its unique characteristics and brewing techniques (which we'll look further into below).
IPAs (India Pale Ales) have gained popularity in the UK (and across the world) over the last few years. Why? Well, for several reasons:
IPAs are known for their bold and assertive flavours, mostly driven by the prominent presence of hops. The combination of hoppy bitterness, their aromas, and various hop varieties contributes to a distinctive taste that appeals to those seeking robust and intense beery experiences.
As we'll see below, IPAs offer a wide range of styles and variations. From traditional West Coast IPAs known for their clear appearance and high bitterness to hazy New England IPAs (NEIPAs) with a softer mouthfeel and tropical hop flavours, there's a diverse selection to suit everyone.
The rise of the craft beer movement has played a significant role in popularising IPAs. Craft breweries often experiment with hop varieties, brewing techniques, and flavour profiles, contributing to constant innovation and creativity among the brewing community.
The bold and varied flavours of IPAs make them versatile for food pairing. Whether complementing spicy dishes, contrasting with rich and creamy foods, or enhancing the flavours of grilled meats, IPAs offer a broad spectrum of delicious possibilities.
Check out more food pairing tips and try if for yourself.
Brewers continue to innovate their IPA recipes, pushing boundaries with experimental hop combinations, brewing techniques, and unique, fun ingredients. This keeps the style fresh and exciting for us beer enthusiasts.
IPAs generally vary from 5.5% ABV to 7.5% ABV but most are around 6-7% ABV.
There are several substyles and variations of IPA. Some common types to try are:
A nice hoppy presence, often showcasing citrus, pine, and floral notes, the American IPA usually has a balanced malt profile.
A stronger and hoppier version of the American IPA, with a higher alcohol content and an intensified hop profile.
Known for its hazy appearance and juicy, fruity hop flavours. It's less bitter than traditional IPAs, with a smooth and often creamy mouthfeel.
A lower-alcohol version of the American IPA, allowing for more extended drinking sessions without the higher alcohol content (hence the name 'session' IPA). They were originally brewed for the factory and port workers in England to be able to work after a beer.
Check out our session IPA article for more information.
Characterised by a clear appearance, prominent hop bitterness, and a dry finish. It often features classic American hop varieties.
Black IPAs combine the hop-forward characteristics of an IPA with dark, roasted malts, resulting in a beer that is dark in colour but still hoppy.
Blends the hoppy characteristics of an IPA with the fruity and spicy yeast profile typical of Belgian ales.
Craft brewers often push the boundaries of creativity, resulting in some incredibly unique and innovative IPA brews. If you ever get the chance, don't miss out on tasting these:
Ghost Pepper IPA: infused with firey ghost peppers, this IPA brings intense heat to complement the bitterness.
Sour IPA: combining the tartness of a sour beer with the hoppy goodness of an IPA, this brew offers a delightful and unexpected flavour profile.
Milkshake IPA: brewed with lactose for a creamy texture, along with fruit additions, creating a beer reminiscent of a fruity milkshake.
Bacon IPA: some brewers experiment with unusual ingredients like bacon, adding smoky and savoury notes to the traditional IPA profile.
Dessert IPA: think IPA meets dessert with flavours like chocolate, vanilla, or even peanut butter, offering a sweet twist to the usual style.
The types of hops that are used determine the tastes and aromas of IPAs. Key flavours can be citrus, tropical fruits, grass, floral or earthy, and even pine or honey. Typical American hop varieties include Chinook, Citra or Amarillo. Hallertau or Mandarina hops are used a lot in Germany.
Most kinds of IPAs are super refreshing, so they're more commonly regarded as a summer beer.
We advise that you drink an IPA as fresh as you can. The flavour of India Pale Ale is based on the hops’ aromas, but they can evaporate over time. So, the younger the beer is, the more intense and delicious the flavour is.
The flavours of an IPA unfold best in a tulip-shaped glass at about 6 to 10 degrees. You can read more about a more detailed article about beer glasses here. If you're interested in drinking temperatures, check out our article all about beer serving temperature.
When pairing food and beer, the main rule to follow is to match the intensity of flavour to the strength of the beer. For example, strong cheese, roasted meat, a hearty burger with bacon pair deliciously with an IPA. As do deep-fried snacks or a cheese-rich pizza (with some hot spicy peppers).
Salty foods are also a good combination as they soften the bitterness and balance the flavours of the IPA.
Let’s also not forget that aromatic IPAs with hints of fruit can serve as the perfect partner to a fresh fruit salad.
Hops, in relative terms, are the most expensive ingredient in brewing. As explained, more hops are used in IPAs than in other beer styles. Usually, IPAs are also hop-stuffed (an extra step in the brewing process). It requires more equipment, which can up the price.
A lot of it, however, is dependent on the brewery, the distributor and of course the quality.
Tasting is about studying and discovering your own personal preferences. The more you try, the better your understanding of IPAs will become. Start by learning more about IPAs below or check out the selection of IPA beer available right here at Beerwulf.