No other beer style embodies the American craft beer movement more than IPA. You would be hard pressed to find a new American brewery that does not feature an IPA as a flagship in their repertoire. Characterized by their higher alcohol and generous hopping, these beers are the fastest growing spectrum of beer since the 1980s.
Before getting to the details, let’s have a small history lesson. The 1800s were an amazing time in the world of invention and industrialization; usable electricity was harnessed and the second industrial revolution was in full swing. Among the greatest of the innovations of the time was the creation of the India Pale Ale. Thirsty solders and colonials home sick for their favorite local pub ale found that traditional ales of the day could not withstand the harsh conditions of a long and treacherous sea voyage from Brittany to the south of Asia. These excursions took upwards of six months, and due to extreme temperature and climate fluctuations, standard English ales spoiled before arrival. To win out over the elements, intuitive brewers implemented two natural preservatives to help their craft withstand the long journey — hops and alcohol. Not only were they extremely refreshing in the heat of a summer’s day in Calcutta, the body and flavor of the beer complemented the local cuisine in spades.
IPA has undergone many evolutions since its inception, and no greater advancement within the style matters as much as the adoption of the genre by America’s craft brewers. American hops are known by their distinctive pungent, piney, citrus and resinous aroma and flavor. Perhaps the best known and widely used American hops are the three C’s; cascade, chinook and centennial. With an underwhelming malt backbone, IPAs are the perfect showcase for these eccentric hop varieties.
Typically, American IPA has 6 to 7 percent alcohol by volume and IBUs ranging from the 40s to 80s, (IBUs are International Bittering Units and come from the Alfa and Beta acids produced by the lupulin gland in the hop cone, which are extracted during the boil stage of the brewing process) but here in the U.S. — a home of cowboys and pioneers — we are not known to rest on our English laurels. Double IPAs soon followed. Alcohol percentages reaching 8 to 10 percent and IBUs up to 100 define this style. Along with a more balanced malt profile and a slightly higher bit of residual sugars, double IPAs are not for the faint of heart or liver. I have spent many a slow morning moving through the dense fog of one too many of these hoppy elixirs. Tipple, Quadruple, and even session IPAs (IPAs of less than 5 percent, but over 40 IBUs) can all now be found on the shelf of respectable bottle shops.
As if overpowering hops weren’t enough, a large swath of creative brewers is now adding fruit and spices to their recipes. Mammoth Brewing Company’s 395 IPA is infused with sage and juniper, Ballast Point has put habanero into their award-winning Sculpin IPA, and a bit lesser known is Stochasticity Project’s Grapefruit Slam (one guess what’s in that).
IPAs favor spicy foods. Tex-Mex cuisine, creole, jerk and curry will all sing with the spice amplifying power of the hops, and you may find that the cutting strength within the beer will leave you more engorged than expected due to the refreshing qualities inherent. Next time you are searching for the perfect beer to complement your day, consider an IPA.
Sean Cox is the owner of Jernigan’s Grill, 123 Argall Way in Nevada City. Learn more at www.JernigansGrill.com.