Beer Style Breakdown: IPA

Jul. 17, 2017


The Vitals

Beer-Style: India Pale Ale

Origin: England, around 1840

ABV: 5 – 9%

SRM: 6 – 14 – Dark gold to dark amber

Bitterness: 40-60 IBUs – Medium to high bitterness


The India Pale Ale, or IPA, is one of the most abundant craft beer styles available in America. These brews have a distinct, powerful flavor built on hops like Cascade, Centennial, Citra, Columbus, Chinook, Simcoe, Amarillo, Tomahawk, Warrior, Neomexicanus and Mosaic. Popular styles of IPA include the American, English and double, as well as a variety of specialty varieties, including Belgian, red, rye and white IPAs. The versatility of the IPA style, as well as the assortment of new hops in the market, offers brewers ample opportunity to experiment with unexpected and challenging flavors.


The History

During the 19th century, English brewers needed to come up with a beer that would appeal to the English men and women living abroad in India while also retaining its flavor during the six-month ocean voyage to the Indian market. Hot climates in India meant that British consumers were uninterested in the heavy stouts and porters popular in England, and the long shipping time meant that beer often arrived stale, spoiled or otherwise undrinkable. After much trial and error, London brewer George Hodgson found that a strong, pale beer, known at the time as “October Beer,” offered both durability for transit and a bright, refreshing taste that was a perfect match for India’s climate.


The export style quickly became associated with its biggest market, and the name “India Pale Ale” was born. And in the true tradition of exports, IPA soon became popular with American and Canadian consumers who took they style and expanded it, creating a wealth of sub-styles and unique brews. IPA proved popular with craft brewers, thanks to its bitter bite and floral, citrus-forward aroma. For U.S. consumers, the IPA embodied everything that American adjunct lagers lacked, making the style a beacon for the craft beer movement.


Ask a Cicerone: Justin Cantoni, Craft Beer Business Manager and Certified Cicerone 

Breakthru Beverage: IPA sales are up 13.1% over last year, and IPA is the only type of beer showing significant growth right now, according to Nielsen. Why are IPAs so popular with consumers?

Justin Cantoni: “IPA” has become synonymous with the craft segment and it’s usually the first thing that consumers, especially those new to craft, think of when the phrase “craft beer” comes up. Additionally, IPAs generally pair well with much of the fare that can be found at pubs, gastropubs and other similar venues, making their consumption that much more enjoyable.


Why do craft breweries seem to dominate the IPA market?

Craft breweries are able to jump on and stay ahead of trends much more quickly than non-craft breweries. Whether they are releasing a NEIPA, exploring new ways to use fruit, experimenting with or new yeast strains, craft breweries can function on a completely different playing field than macro breweries.


What makes for a successful IPA, in your experience?

Honestly it’s no different than any style: a symbiotic relationship between quality, balance, and branding. If you look at the top IPAs around the country, they all share those attributes. An imbalanced beer, one that is too bitter, too sweet, etc., will have a tough time getting a second or third purchase. At the same time, a beer with horrible branding will have a tough time standing out on a shelf or a draft list. I don’t think I need to mention why quality is important, but I’d be remiss without saying that I’ve encountered countless breweries who are perfectly capable of making good beer but decide to crank out volume before dialing in their quality control.


What are the advantages of keeping an IPA on tap versus cans or bottles?

Generally speaking, draft beer should be the freshest and closest to having a beer at the source as possible, because kegs are always kept cold, whereas bottles and cans can spend plenty of time out of a cooler—whether it’s on a floor display, in a store’s back stock or any other number of places.


What kind of changes do you see coming for the IPA market?

The most obvious change is the current trend towards haziness and juiciness. Consumers are looking for beers that showcase hop flavor and aroma over bitterness and I think that trend is going to continue to evolve. I believe hazy IPAs are direct descendants of the fruited IPA trend from past couple of years, but I’m not certain what’s going to follow hazy IPAs. I love the direction that the industry is headed, but at the same time, it’s gone from over-hopping in the boil to forgoing kettle addition hops altogether and I don’t think either is the right answer.

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