What is an IPA beer?
With its balanced flavour profile, smooth texture and high alcohol content there’s a lot to love in an IPA. With many beer aficionados having a deep appreciation for this alcoholic beverage, we explore the wonderful world of IPAs, including; where it originates from, the various sub-styles that have come to exist and what all that IPA terminology actually means. If you’re new to IPAs, we’re here to guide you through everything you need to know.
What does IPA stand for?
IPA stands for ‘India Pale Ale’. It has evolved over many years to become a firm beer favourite around the world. IPAs are highly popular thanks to their bitter, floral notes and refreshing taste. An IPA sits within the broader pale ale category of beer and typically has a higher alcohol content than other craft beers within this category. There are also many sub-styles within the IPA family including the British IPA, West Coast IPA and East Coast IPA - we will take a look at these in more detail below.
What makes an IPA an IPA?
Thanks to their increasing popularity, there are many stunning varieties of IPAs now available from craft brewers across the UK. But when it comes to an IPA these are the core characteristics that you can expect to enjoy:
- A pale ale with an emphasis on bitter and hoppy flavours
- Floral and fruity characteristics
- A higher alcohol content as standard (when compared with most other craft beer)
Where does the name ‘IPA’ come from?
You would be forgiven for thinking that IPA originated in India but actually history suggests it was thanks to Londoner George Hodgson who was tasked with creating a British beer for the colonial Indian market in the 1800s. Whilst there is some disagreement amongst historians the story goes…
Having previously tried to ship beer across to India in collaboration with the East India Company, Hodgson was struggling to find a beer that would withstand the 6-month treacherous journey without spoiling. In a last ditch attempt he decided to try “October beer” - a strong pale ale, also known as barley wine. This beer was rich, full of hops and needed to be aged in wooden casks for many months in order to become palatable. The long, arduous sea crossing to India proved to provide the ideal conditions and by the time it reached India the beer had not only survived (unlike most other brews) but had vastly improved in taste. Hence India Pale Ale was born.
Over the years the traditional IPA has evolved to become a paler, lighter and more refreshing beer. It has seen a large renaissance in America and the UK in recent years with the likes of New England, East and West Coast IPA varieties now readily available.
Is there a difference between a Pale Ale and an IPA?
Pale ale is a broad category of beer that encompasses beers that have a malty flavour and are golden/amber in colour. They include English Pale Ales, American Pales Ales and Blonde Ales. They are thought to originate from the 1700s when English breweries began to make beer using a different type of malt that resulted in a lighter, pale ale.
IPA sits within the wider pale ale category but it is made with more hops, to give it a stronger flavour. Whilst there is no standardised threshold at which a pale ale becomes classed as an IPA, IPAs typically have a higher ABV than other craft beers (averaging about 6%) and a higher concentration of hops.
IPA vocab: what does it mean?
There’s a lot of different vocabulary associated with IPAs, whether it’s a ‘Double’, ‘Session’ or ‘Fresh-Hopped’ version, we give you the lowdown to help you decide which IPA is right for you.
Hops give IPAs their wonderful flavour and play an important role in the creation of these beers thanks to their distinctive aroma. They are actually flowers that are harvested from the Humulus Lupulus (Hop) plant and are used primarily to add flavour and bitterness. There are many different types of hops and each is specially chosen for its specific aromatic properties. The number of hops used to create an IPA can vary significantly but most use 2-3 different types to create the unique IPA flavour.
Sometimes referred to as an Imperial IPA, this is an India Pale Ale with an extra helping of hops. ‘Double’ IPAs or ‘DIPAs’ are typically made using a lot more hops than standard IPAs and tend to have a much stronger and hoppier flavour. Some craft breweries have even started selling ‘Triple IPAs’, with you’ve guessed it - is even more hops! These IPAs tend to be on the stronger side and have a higher ABV, usually between 7-10%.
‘Session’ IPAs simply have less alcohol, expect an ABV of between 3-5%. These IPAs are easy to drink thanks to their lower alcohol content and make for a great after work beer. They tend to sit somewhere between a traditional pale ale and an IPA. You can expect the same great taste of a regular IPA but with a lower alcohol content.
Surprisingly, ‘Cold’ IPAs have nothing to do with the temperature they are served at, instead they are designed to bridge the gap between lagers and traditional IPAs. They use a different malt and lager yeast in the brewing process. A Cold IPA is also dry-hopped which gives it a crisp, light, hoppy flavour that IPA drinkers love.
As the name implies, a ‘Hazy’ IPA has a cloudy appearance thanks to it being unfiltered during the brewing process. These IPAs typically have a creamy texture, low bitterness profile and a fruity flavour. Hazy IPAs can be brewed to virtually any ABV range and have taken the craft beer market by storm in recent years.
Traditionally hops are added to the beer at the initial stages of brewing when the liquid is boiling away. Dry hopping is the term used when hops are added during the fermentation stage, which comes later in the brewing process. It’s also known as a cold infusion technique - it not only intensifies the taste but also gives the IPA a unique fresh hop flavour and aroma.
A ‘Single-Hopped’ IPA only uses one type of hop in the brewing process. Single hopped IPAs allow a brewer to showcase an individual hop and these IPAs have gained popularity in recent years alongside the growth of independent craft breweries.
‘Fresh-Hopped’ IPAs are usually only available during the harvesting season - between late August and September. They have an intense flavour and a stunning fresh aroma but should ideally be consumed as close to the brew date as possible to maximise on flavour. In order for an IPA to be classed as freshly-hopped, the hops have to leave the vine and be at the brewing plant in under 24 hours.
What are IPA sub-styles?
There is no standardisation when it comes to classifying a beer as an IPA - it is simply up to the brewer to decide how they want to brand their beer. This in turn has led to the creation of many different IPA sub-styles each with their own unique flavour and identity. The ‘style’ refers to the common ingredients that are added during the brewing process and these are broadly determined by the region that they are produced in. We take a look at the most common sub-styles that you might come across.
British IPAs tend to use hops that give a more earthy, floral character. When comparing them to American IPAs, British IPAs are smoother and more subtle in their finish whilst maintaining the strong hop bitterness that makes them so well balanced and rounded.
America brought IPA back to the mainstream market in the 1970s, when local craft breweries sought to recreate forgotten British styles. American IPA is broadly divided into two key categories; West Coast IPA and New England IPA. Both of which have their own distinct flavour profile.
West Coast IPA
West Coast IPA tends to pack a punch when it comes to the fruity flavours and high alcohol content. These IPAs are all about the hops which give West Coast IPAs their stunning citrus and pine aromas. Whilst they are exceptionally hoppy they tend to have a muted malt profile.
New England IPA (NEIPA)
This American style IPA boasts an intense hop and tropical fruit aroma. It is unfiltered (which makes it hazy) and has a fuller body, smoother flavour and is less bitter than other sub-styles of IPA. This is a great option to try if you are new to the world of IPA thanks to its less intense flavour and bitterness profile.
Best Bier Company IPA box
Here at the Bier Company, we only work with the best craft breweries from around the UK. We have searched high and low to bring you the finest selection of IPAs in one epic IPA Beer Box. There are three fabulous size options to choose from each containing an insane selection of craft IPAs including Bier Company exclusives. They make fantastic gifts with the addition of exclusive Bier Company snacks and beer mats. You can choose from:
- Medium IPA Beer Box: 8 cans of IPA from 8 different UK breweries, 3 Bier Co snacks
- Large IPA Beer Box: 16 cans of IPA from 8 different UK breweries, a selection of 6 Bier Co snacks.
- XL IPA Beer Box: 24 cans of IPA from 8 different UK breweries, a selection of 9 snacks from our delicious Bier snack range, 1 Bier Company Tasting Glass.
Looking for the best IPA gift? Look no further than our National IPA Day Craft Beer Box 20 different beers across 10 different styles. The delighted recipient will get to try the exclusive ‘Einstein’ 6% IPA by Brew by Number, the hazy ‘Skeleton Blues’ 5.2% IPA from Stewart Brewing and the crisp ‘Shameless’ 5.9% West Coast IPA from Red Willow. There’s also Session IPAs and fruity New England IPAs in this stunning selection box. And that’s not all! You’ll find a selection of premium beer pairing snacks plus a Bier Co Golden ticket - all packaged in a beautifully designed gift box.