The American take on the India Pale Ale (IPA) has become one of the most
popular and in-demand craft beer styles.
While these ales have a long history, they are currently enjoyed largely as a showcase
for hops. Hops, which look like soft, green pinecones, impart bitterness but also, when
added later in the brewing process, amazing aromas ranging from pine to grapefruit to
tropical fruits like mango and guava.
The history of the IPA is somewhat muddled. Some have suggested that this name comes
from ales that were highly hopped for shipping to colonial India from England. Hops, known
for their preservative effects, could potentially keep the beer from spoiling in barrels during
the long voyage.
Recent research, presented by Stone Brewing Company’s Mitch Steele in his book IPA,
complicates this popular theory. While hoppy pale ales were being shipped to India, they
had many similarities with ales brewed for domestic consumption. The IPA name became
something of a marketing gimmick used by some British breweries to indicate a quality ale.
During the 20th century tastes changed toward cleaner, crisper, and lightly hopped pale lagers.
Many breweries discontinued their IPAs, though some like Labatt continued to have
a flagship IPA into the 1960s. American craft brewers like Sierra Nevada and homebrewers
in California, when it was legalized in the state in 1978, began rebelling against what they
saw as bland, fizzy, yellow lager in the 1970s and experimenting with hops like Cascade
which were unpopular with large commodity breweries. Modeling their ales after the few
remaining IPA examples, like the Americanbrewed Ballantine IPA, these brewers
virtually reinvented the style by emphasizing bolder, North American grown hops, using
less expressive yeast, and reducing residual sweetness.
As craft brewing grew, new hop varieties like Chinook and Centennial offered more flavour
and more bitterness. For a while it was trendy to bash drinkers over the head with hoppy
bitterness, however, recently newer hops like Amarillo and Citra have driven brewers
to create more balanced, citrusy and tropical IPAs. With new sub-5% alcohol “session” IPAs,
roasty Black IPAs, hoppy India Pale Lagers, and Witbier-hybrid White IPAs rolling out, brewers
have found no shortage of ways to integrate a bigger, fruity hop presence into their beers. The
shorthand for hoppy has become “IPA.” Visit any grocery store in the United States and
you’ll be confronted with dozens of possible ways to get your hop fix. While Newfoundland
has a great British IPA from Quidi Vidi Brewery and fantastic American IPAs from Yellowbelly,
Muskoka’s Mad Tom IPA is our only regular option for the bold, hoppy flavours of American IPAs.
Fortunately, there are talented homebrewers in Newfoundland who produce amazing IPAs. The
recent Newfoundland homebrew competition yielded twenty-two unique examples with Chad
Levesque’s tasty offering taking first prize. If you can’t find an IPA on the shelves, find a
homebrewer friend. Hop aromas quickly fade with age, so it’s best to drink your American IPAs as
fresh as possible and direct from the source.