Where IPA beer used to be pretty niche and somewhat tricky to find, it has recently exploded in popularity. This is partially due to the unprecedented growth of the craft beer movement, which has led to a spike in popularity for more flavorful and unique types of beer.
If you want to know more about IPA beer, you have come to the right place. We will not only explain what IPA beer is but also go over many of the different types and styles of IPAs. This will help you become a more informed beer drinker!
What Is IPA Beer and What Does IPA Stand for in Beer Terms?
In the beer industry, the acronym IPA stands for India Pale Ale. It is just one of many beer styles; however, there are numerous subcategories of IPAs, and more are developed each year.
Why Is This Type of Beer Called India Pale Ale?
While you may not associate India with being a major beer-drinking nation, the history of the India Pale Ale actually goes back to the British Empire.
The East India Company dominated British trade and economic interests in India and other British colonies in Southeast Asia. Among other things, the East India Company owned a large-scale brewery, which would brew and bottle beer for export to India and consumption by the sailors employed by the company.
It was this brewery that developed a strongly-hopped pale ale. Since it was designed for export to India, the brewery named this uniquely strong beer an India Pale Ale or IPA.
What Kind of Beer Is IPA?
As mentioned above, a true IPA is a type of pale ale beer that emphasizes the flavor of hops used to make it. As will be discussed in greater detail below, IPAs tend to have a higher alcohol content than most types of beer. They also have robust flavors, which is why they can be a very divisive type of beer.
As we will also discuss below, there are many different styles and varieties of IPAs. While they share many of the same characteristics, they also differ in terms of flavor, color, and aroma.
What Is the Brewing Process for IPA Beer?
The brewing process for IPA beer is almost exactly like that for other types of beer, like lagers, pilsners, and stouts. However, the main difference is the quantity of hops used in the recipe and when they are added.
After the initial wort is brewed, it is transferred to a boiling kettle. At this point, the hops are added. The volume of hops added differs depending on the specific recipe, as more hops will increase the bitterness of the final product. When the brewer adds the hops can also influence the flavor of the IPA.
Certain types of IPAs will even call for adding hops after boiling. They are then filtered out as the freshly brewed beer cools. Again, this can impact the flavor and aroma of the finished beer. This process is referred to as “dry hopping,” which is critical for certain styles of IPA.
Are IPA Beers Popular?
Within the world of craft beer, IPAs are incredibly popular. If you have ever visited a microbrewery, you have probably noticed that they offer at least one type of IPA.
While IPAs are becoming popular amongst beer enthusiasts and regular beer drinkers, they are also fun and exciting for brewers, allowing for plenty of experimentation. Since they often offer intense aromas, flavors, and unique colors, they also appeal to beer drinkers that want to try something new and exciting.
Think of IPAs like a strong and flavorful scotch whisky or robust and intensely flavorful red wine. While they may not appeal to everyone, those with a genuine appreciation for flavor and aroma tend to have a soft spot for IPAs. On the other hand, those just looking for a refreshing beer that is light on taste may find IPAs somewhat off-putting.
What Are the Characteristics of IPA Beer?
As we have mentioned, IPA beers are rather unique. They have intense flavors, higher alcohol contents than most types of beer, as well as numerous other unique characteristics.
We will go over these characteristics to help you know what to expect from a freshly poured glass of IPA beer. With that said, it is essential to remember that IPAs will differ depending on the style, the brewer, the freshness, and which country the IPA is brewed in.
Higher Alcohol Content/Higher ABV
One of the first things you might notice about a typical IPA is the relatively high alcohol content. While some milder IPAs, like modern session IPAs, usually sit around 5% ABV (Alcohol by Volume), most IPAs sit around 6% to 7% ABV.
In fact, some strong IPAs have an alcohol content that sits at 10% ABV and above! These strong IPAs are meant to be enjoyed slowly, as it helps the drinker appreciate the various flavors and aromas of the hops. As you will learn, the stronger IPAs tend to be labeled as Double IPAs or Imperial IPAs.
Where milder types of beer, such as light lagers, are made for refreshment and easy drinking, a typical IPA is made for flavor and slow enjoyment.
As we have mentioned, each IPA will have its own unique flavor; however, there are some commonalities that just about every IPA shares.
Most tend to have a sweet flavor; however, the sweetness is usually combined with bitterness. If the brewer has added extra hops to their recipe, the IPA will taste even more bitter.
Many seasoned IPA drinkers also enjoy an IPA’s fruity flavor, which many claim they can detect more tropical fruit flavors, like a strong citrus flavor. While these flavors are indeed in a typical IPA, they can be a little difficult to detect at first, as the bitterness of an IPA can be a bit of an acquired taste. First-time drinkers often struggle to get past that bitter flavor.
Overall, an IPA will have a more complex combination of flavors than a milder type of beer, thanks to the heavy use of hops during the brewing process. While there are milder IPAs out there, most will be far more complex than a typical lager, pilsner, or amber beer.
Very Noticeable Hop Aromas
The extra hops added when brewing an IPA give the finished product a unique aroma. The hop aroma gives the beer a far more complex smell than a typical beer. Many IPA drinkers claim that the scent is reminiscent of pine needles, citrus peel, and malt.
Different Styles of IPAs
Given that there are so many different styles of IPAs out there, it is beneficial to list and describe the different types. Doing so will make you a more informed beer drinker and help you recognize different types the next time you are in a microbrewery or beer retailer.
India Pale Ale
While IPA is an acronym for India Pale Ale and all types of IPA are technically India Pale Ales, the term IPA is often used in the beer-making industry to describe a classic recipe. They usually sit around 6% ABV and have strong, hoppy flavors.
With that said, you can also use India Pale Ale to describe any type of IPA.
West Coast IPA
As the name suggests, West Coast IPAs originate from the west coast of North America. They are typically known for their bold hop aroma and highly bitter taste. Many claim they can detect prominent notes of citrus and pine.
The intense flavors come from the fact that they are typically made with higher volumes of hops during the boiling process than other types of IPAs.
Double IPAs are known for being particularly strong in terms of flavor and alcohol content. They have a much larger malt and hop profile and usually sit around 8% ABV, so they are designed to be enjoyed slowly.
Some brewers have even begun developing Triple IPAs, which are even stronger; however, they are usually only available through microbreweries rather than larger commercial breweries.
New England IPA
A New England IPA is a style of IPA that features very noticeable fruity flavors and hop aromas. They are heavily dry-hopped, which gives them their iconic cloudy color, smoother taste, and less bitter finish than a typical IPA.
Thanks to the fact that they are less bitter than most IPAs, they are quickly becoming one of the most popular IPA styles. The reduced bitterness is easier for casual and first-time IPA drinkers to enjoy.
Imperial IPA is just an additional name for a Double IPA, so they tend to have the same flavor profile and high alcohol content of around 6% to 8.5% ABV.
Black IPAs are a relatively new type of IPA that is growing in popularity. As you may have guessed, one of the defining features of a Black IPA is its extremely dark color. With that said, Black IPAs are not just darker types of IPA; they also have a unique flavor, which many describe as floral and piney.
They use darker strains of hops, which, in some cases, can even give the finished product a roasted caramel or coffee flavor. Like coffee beans, the hops are also slightly roasted before they are added to the mash, which helps give the finished Black IPA its uniquely dark color.
Hazy IPAs have a cloudy appearance that is almost entirely opaque. The foggy appearance looks great in a glass, but these unique IPAs offer more than an eye-catching look.
They tend to have less bitterness than other IPAs and taste a little bit less like hops than you would expect from an IPA. Instead, they are usually fruity in flavor with very prominent citrus notes. Despite their smooth, fruity flavor, many Hazy IPAs are fairly strong in terms of alcohol content, with most sitting around 6% to 7% ABV.
A Session IPA was first designed to allow beer drinkers to enjoy that iconic hoppy taste and aroma IPAs are famous for, but with lower alcohol content. Like other types of “session” beer, Session IPAs are also designed to be less filling, which helps with drinkability.
If you want to get into IPAs, a Session IPA might be a great place to start. To learn more, check out Beau’s Guide to Session IPAs.
East Coast IPA
East Coast IPAs are less bitter than West Coast IPAs. They are also much smoother. They tend to have tropical notes, so you can expect an East Coast IPA to have a slight taste of melon, pineapple, and lime.
The British IPA, or English IPA, is one of the stronger types of IPA. They use English hops, which have more earthy and floral tones than their North American counterparts.
Not only do they tend to have more robust flavors, but British IPAs also have an increased alcohol content, with most sitting well above 6% ABV.
Belgian IPAs have intense fruit flavors and are usually quite spicy, thanks to the use of Belgian yeast, which has been used for centuries to give Belgian beers unique flavors and aromas. They have some of the most complex flavors of any type of IPA and are usually much stronger in alcohol content than a typical India Pale Ale.
American IPAs use American hops, which gives the finished product a milder flavor than most European IPAs. They tend to have a reddish-gold appearance, which makes them almost look more like an Amber than an IPA. In most cases, the alcohol content will sit between 5% and 7.5% ABV.
A Rye IPA uses malted rye grains in the mash, which gives the finished product a tangier flavor than a standard IPA. They can also be quite hoppy, so they are a better option for regular IPA drinkers who enjoy that strong hop flavor.
Triple IPAs are incredibly strong and take things one step further than a Double IPA. Not only do they have robust flavors, but the alcohol content also tends to sit above 9% ABV. The intense flavors and stiff alcohol content give some Triple IPAs a thicker consistency than a typical beer.
Brut IPAs are one of the lightest types of IPA. They are far less bitter than a usual IPA and have a much lighter appearance. They are one of the newest IPA types, so they are still relatively rare.
Red IPAs are similar to East Coast IPAs but usually have a cleaner finish. Most claim that they can detect notes of caramel and toffee, which means Red IPAs are generally much sweeter than a standard IPA.
For More Information
If you want to know more about IPAs, consider reading the Bon Appetit Complete Guide to the India Pale Ale.
Upstream Brewing Company also has a thorough writeup about the taste and aroma of IPAs – What Does IPA Beer Taste Like?
Finally, if you want to find a retailer that carries IPAs, you can use our Liquor Store Locator!