IPAs From History to Today
The India Pale Ale was born a long time ago at the height of the British Empire, but since the mid 2000’s, they’ve REALLY evolved. We’ve got new and exciting types, different ways to use the hops, and have come up with a whole new beer phenomenon that anyone drinking IPA’s from Burton on Trent in the late 19th century would be hard pressed to recognize. Today’s IPA’s are a credit to craft brewers, good science, and a whole lot of experimentation by homebrewers and craft brewers alike! This week, we’ll explore IPA’s a little deeper, get hopped up on a little history, and maybe even speculate (drunkenly, of course!) on what’s next!
This is such a romantic beer story that even though most beer enthusiasts already know it, it should be immortalized (again) in the annals of the interwebs. At the height of its glory, the British Empire had folks that needed beer all over the world, and the colonies in India were major outposts in need of massive amounts of beer. Demand was high enough that some enterprising brewers in London (mostly George Hodgson, who had connections to the East India Company) decided that they could make some money and nail the export market by teaming up with the East India Company to sell beer to the Indian colonies. They also found that their more traditional British style beers did not make the trip well.
They figured, since the beer was probably being watered down to stretch supply anyway, why not make it stronger? Higher alcohol and more hops, unbeknownst to them, made all of the difference during transport, both being natural preservatives and helping to stave off infections like lactobacillus and other sour bugs. By the time the beer hit the colonies, it was delicious! Flavors had melded over the long trip to make a new beer style that is still around today, albeit a bit different in today’s world.
By the time the early to mid 2000’s rolled around, we already had a few beers on the market that were decidedly more bitter than the average American fare. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company paved the way in the 80’s and 90’s with their Pale Ale, proudly boasting a big, bitter forward hop character balanced with an almost English style malt profile.
By the time brewers like Stone Brewing Company started unapologetically putting out beers like Stone IPA and Arrogant Bastard, we were all getting a taste for those bitter, West Coast style IPAs, and it’s like it was game on.
Then, people discovered Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, and the whole concept of West Coast IPAs was changed forever. Now they were bigger, bone dry, exploding with hop character, and everyone wanted one.
If you’ve been drinking craft beer for a while, you can probably remember back to when this whole phenomenon started. For me, it was a little later than it actually started, somewhere around 2010 or 2011, but it’s no less poignant in my mind for that, especially in retrospect. At the time we were frantically driving down to Santa Rosa to get our hands on some Pliny, a similar phenomenon was happening on the East Coast…. well, kind of the East Coast. Bell’s Brewery has been pushing Two Hearted just as long, and it fights Pliny for supremacy to this day.
This also helped spark a weird East vs West thing, like Biggie vs Tupac, only with beer. All of this rivalry made lots of beer nuts, beer snobs, and the public definitely took sides, but all of us beer drinkers were the winners in the end, no matter who’s side you fell on - if any!
I always remember thinking of New England style IPAs as malt bombs with no solid hop flavors (cut me some slack, my palette was still being educated), and these West Coast style IPAs more like home. To be fair, I’m a West Coast boy, so that’s what I had the best access to.
Boy was I wrong! Little did I know in my IPA infancy, The Alchemist was putting out Heady Topper around the same time. As I stood on my soapbox, loudly proclaiming for the West, incredible beer was happening a mere half a country away! I’ve learned my lesson now, though, and always try to give all of the beer a chance, regardless of origin or purported style. I learned the hard way that beer snobbery does not fit my worldview well, and all beer has a time and place.
The wonderful thing about all of these new IPA sub-styles is that there is literally something for everyone! I can’t tell you how many times we talk to someone who HATES the whole concept and style of IPA, thinking of that over-bittered, 2000’s trend, only to be floored by a milkshake or hazy IPA. There is literally an IPA sub-style for every color and flavor profile. This makes it really hard not to be a hop head in today’s beer world.
Evolution of Hops and Hopping
Whether you’re a beer drinker or a brewer, you’ve probably noticed all of the different hops hitting the market. From Cryohops (brush up on your Cryohops here) to new and exciting varieties like Hallertau Blanc and Azacca, it seems like new hops are coming out of the woodworks, each more tropical and unique than the last.
One thing that most IPA end users may not realize is that it takes 10+ years to develop these fancy new hop varieties! If you think about it, it makes sense. Splice, wait a whole season for it to grow and collect data. Splice again, wait another season, and on and on until they have something consistent. So even though it seems like we’re seeing 10 new hop varieties every month, we’re drinking the fruits of literally decades of labor, science and toil!
Hopping techniques have also made leaps and bounds. I remember listening to a podcast with Jamil Zainasheff maybe 10 years ago where he was talking about playing around with ‘hopbursting’, or adding massive, late boil additions and thinking, “Wow, that makes sense. No isomerization, just flavors.”. As we know now, late and whirlpool additions are the bread and butter of Hazy and New England juicy IPAs, and even the classic West Coast styles are upping their game to get as much flavor as bitterness!
It’s truly a beautiful time to be a hop head, and we’re all waiting with bated breath to see what they’ll come up with next. I thought for sure the Glitter IPAs were going to be more popular, just because it’s so off the wall and fun, but unfortunately those died before they really got off of the ground. After the popularity of hazies, juicies, milkshakes and New Englands, I think the coolest recent IPA has been the Brut, a trend started by Kim Sturdavant from San Francisco’s Social Kitchen and Brewery using a well known distiller’s amylase enzyme (Glucoamylase, or amyloglucosidase) to make a beer with a finishing gravity of 1.000 and little to no bittering hops. You can brush up on your Bruts in here to get all of the science behind them, but suffice it to say that these are a fun, delicious and decidedly sciency way to IPA.
Let us know in the comments below your favorite IPA, and what you think is next! Remember, there’s no wrong answer here. Who knows, it will probably be some crazy Chocolate Covered Oatmeal Cookie IPA or something, but give it your best guess!Don’t forget to connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest to see what new IPA we come up with! Check us out, like and subscribe on YouTube on BrewChatter TV to watch our antics and get lots of fun information downloaded directly to your brain! If you haven’t already, join our BrewChatter Newsletter so we can give you updates on new articles, new videos, sales and events! Most importantly, BREW ON!!